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Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), artificial intelligence, and hackathons. In its attempts to push its Digital India initiative in the transport sector, the Indian government is seemingly taking tech buzzwords and hurling them at India’s mobility issues in the hopes that something will stick.

The need for this intervention is vital. As the roads of India’s urban centres grow increasingly more congested, an intelligent overhaul of India’s public transport system is required to keep the country moving. According to a report from the Boston Consulting Group, the economic cost of congestion is as high as Rs 1,50,000 crore ($21.44 billion) per year for four of India’s major cities—Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Mumbai.

At the forefront of these efforts is the Niti Aayog, the government’s policy think tank, which is currently in the process of drafting a National Intelligent Transportation Systems Policy. ITS, by definition, is simply the advanced use of technology to improve transportation. Even technologies like those used by ride-sharing companies can be classified as a form of it.

ITS is no new concept. It finds mention in past policy documents, stretching all the way back to the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP), 2006. The erstwhile planning commission, which Niti Aayog replaced, also took recommendations on how to invest in ITS as part of the 12th five-year plan consultations in 2013. But in line with the government’s Digital India pitch, NITI Aayog is striving to build on these past efforts.

Having signed a Statement of Intent (SoI) to co-operate in the field of ITS with the Geneva-based International Road Federation (IRF), Niti Aayog is making increasingly louder noises about modernising India’s transport sector.

In fact, in the biggest show of this yet, it is organising a sprawling event—the Move Summit—in early September. Dubbed India’s first global mobility summit, it aims to bring together stakeholders, both local and international, to chart out a framework for “a shared, connected, zero emission and inclusive mobility agenda”. A hackathon—Move Hack—has also been launched, looking to crowdsource solutions for the future of Indian mobility. The summit and the hackathon provide an interesting glimpse into the focus areas for Niti Aayog when it comes to transport.

A look at Move Hack’s problem statement shows that Niti Aayog is looking beyond the traditional ITS systems deployed in the country, such as Delhi auto rickshaws with panic buttons and GPS-tracked Bengaluru buses. Instead, it is mooting the usage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) along with cashless payments. Through these, the think tank is hoping to build India’s transport capacity.

It is proposing to use ITS along with AI as a means to end our enforcement problems in managing transportation infrastructure.


Srinivas Kodali

Srinivas Kodali is an interdisciplinary researcher working on cities, data and internet. He was previously a project associate at the Intelligent Transportation Systems Laboratory at IIT Madras.

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