The 4th Edition of the Volvo Nobel Memorial Seminar on Sustainable Transport was conducted in Bangalore on October 29, 2012. This annual seminar is conducted by Volvo Buses in India under the patronage of the Ambassador of Sweden to India and is part of the Sweden-India Nobel Memorial Week programme of the Swedish Embassy in India. In conjunction with the seminar Volvo conducts the Volvo Sustainable Mobility Awards ceremony too.
The event commenced with Akash Passey, Senior Vice President – Business Region International, Volvo Bus Corporation and Chairman of the Board of Volvo Buses in India, setting the pace. Akash, who conceived this event four years ago, brought out the need for all stakeholders to build a common vision, against seeing the issue merely through their respective circumstances. In his words, the essence of collaboration was a key in the way forward.
Akash was followed by the address by His Excellency Mr. Harald Sandberg, Ambassador of Sweden to India who brought out the spirit of the Nobel Prize, which marks this event and how closely it entwines with the values of sustainable mobility. Even as India and Sweden were markedly different countries, “we make excellent complimentary partners, with our respective strengths,” commented the Ambassador.
The topic of the event this time around was Our Roles and the Evolving Landscape of Public Transport. Ravi Venkatesan, Member of the Board at AB Volvo, set the ball rolling for the two panel discussions to follow. “The problem is not difficult to understand, the solutions not hard to spot. What we need is to turn our words and ideas into Action. Taking the simile of a balloon, he stressed, we need to find what is constraining us and cut the ropes that are holding us back from soaring in a systematic manner,” he said.
The Two Panel discussions constituted some of the most respected names in the subject cutting across a variety of fields – Authorities, Academia, Media, Policy Makers, and Citizen Groups.
This included S.K. Lohia, OSD (UT) & Ex-Officio JS, Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India; N. Manjunatha Prasad, I.A.S., Managing Director, KSRTC; Ashok Sajjanhar, Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia; Geetam Tiwari, MoUD Chair & Professor for Transport Planning, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT-Delhi; Gita Sen, Professor, Centre for Public Policy, IIM- Bangalore; Swati Ramanathan, Co-Founder, Janaagraha Center for Citizenship & Democracy; Sridhar Chari, Editor, CV Magazine; and V Sridhar, Deputy Editor, The Hindu. Akash Passey, Sr. Vice-President – Business Region International, Volvo Bus Corporation and Edward Jobson, Environment Director, Volvo Bus Corporation represented the industry in these panel discussions.
The lively discussions kept the audience engrossed for almost three hours. The deliberations ranged from highlighting the unique needs of each city; to global examples; to asking who the city belongs to; to highlighting the need to respect each positive step; to discussing the rights of pedestrians versus motor vehicles.
There were strong views on the policy framework.
Gita Sen, professor at the Centre for Public Policy, IIM-B, and winner of Volvo Environmental Prize saying, “Cars have become affordable and every day new cars are added on to the streets. The problem is of financial incentives. Electric Cars, which would have been less harmful for the environment, have not been subsidised and they remain expensive. Also, large institutions letting go of buses meant for employee pick-ups do not help matters either.”
There were bold statements from Transport Operators.
N Manjunatha Prasad, Managing Director, KSRTC, said, “There are multiple agencies working on various aspects of public transport. Only a greater understanding between multiple authorities can make sustainable public transport possible. Many departments have to work together to make sustainable public transport possible.”
Gita Sen added to this by saying that governance issues have a lot to do with the mind-set with which we approach the problem.
There was bold and progressive involvement from officials responsible for implementing Public transport policy
S.K. Lohia, OSD (UT) & Ex-Officio JS, Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, admitted to the point raised by other panellists that the multiplicity of agencies is a bottleneck in the speed of implementation of various infrastructure & transportation related initiatives. “Multiplicity of authorities is an issue and needs to have a perspective from which public benefits,” he said.
Mr. Lohia continued to highlight the demand his ministry has placed on all cities to adopt a single umbrella governance model, before being eligible for central support under the Urban Renewal Mission. He also highlighted how the ministry has involved a multitude of stakeholders before finalising the specifications of what kind of public transport that the country and cities (big & small) require. “One of the key demands of the manufacturers was standardisation and we have spent a lot of time to ensure that. Last JnNURM project some did not take this seriously and lost in delivery. This second phase, I am sure that the suppliers and cities know that we are serious in our mission,” he added.
There was a plea that ensuring human welfare and health of citizens is the centre of all solutions.
Geetam Tiwari, MoUD Chair & Professor for Transport Planning, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT-Delhi, highlighted issues related to pedestrian safety and health of people in general. “Safe pedestrian walkways are a definite need in our cities and until this issue is solved, people will continue to shy away from public transport. Sustainable transport is more than just a solution to drastically reduce natural resources. People's health has to be taken into account. It is about the health of the present and future generations,” she said.
There were request to support good examples, besides highlighting the problems.
Akash said, “While there is a lot to be concerned about and the issues that face us right now, it is equally important to highlight successes that make our day. It’s these pockets of examples that will help spread the positive message and inspiration for change. Think about it, and the last 10 years has seen far more change than we have witnessed over the 5 decades that preceded it and the next 3 years is going to see even far more change in the public transport industry.”
Swati Ramanathan, Co-Founder, Janaagraha Center for Citizenship & Democracy, supported this by saying, “We have in our organisation built and shown practical implementation of roads corridor pilots which ensure respect for pedestrians and all other form of mobilities in our Tender SURE Project. We have an INR 265 crore grant from the state government and if we can take this success further to more roads, we can inspire a change. It has to be a step-by-step approach.”
There was a demand to build an enabling environment.
Edward Jobson, Environment Director, Volvo Bus Corporation commented, “Often the solutions are there to implement. Sometimes, we miss them for large, high costing infrastructure-intensive solutions – like rail, elevated roads etc. A lot can be done if we can have an equitable approach to what delivers.”
When queried on the top 2 areas he would put his money on, Edward responded, “People walking would be my first choice. And buses would be second. It’s hard to beat the bus as the most eco-efficient means of public transport.”
There were insights that sought a paradigm shift
Mr. Ashwin Mahesh, Winner of last year’s Volvo Sustainable Mobility Award – when asked how can we implement one good solution across other cities, “For me it is not important to seek solutions as much as I want to see an increase in problem solvers in the city. If we can have more problem solvers from across all arenas, we will have relevant solutions as a natural outcome.”
Summing up the event Manish Sahi, Managing Director, Volvo Buses in India, said, “The Volvo Nobel Memorial Seminar has become the platform for experts in the field of sustainable transport & mobility to come together and share their vision on addressing various issues. Demand for sustainable transport by people has never been so strong and this will continue to rise in the future. The answer lies in adopting solutions that may cause some difficulty in the initial stages and can be beneficial in the long run. Volvo Buses is proud to be at the forefront of driving the quality of life and through this platform we are confident that our objective of spreading awareness will bear fruition.”
The Volvo Nobel Memorial Seminar aims to create greater awareness about the issues & concerns of all stakeholders towards creating a sustainable transport eco-system. This seminar brings together various stakeholders from across cities facing common issues and facilitates them to achieve the objective to develop & implement sustainable transport solutions through a shared vision.
Sweden – India Nobel Memorial Week
The Power of Innovation - Co-creating the Future
Every year, The Embassy of Sweden along with Swedish companies in India, celebrate the legacy of Alfred Nobel, the legendary entrepreneur and innovator behind the Nobel Prizes, whose ideas of development and internationalism still stands strong as ever. The Sweden-India Nobel Memorial Week brings about the inspiration and energy of innovations, through an extensive program of student activities, art and innovation exhibitions, seminars & CEO round tables among other activities.