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Building a robust public discussion on sustainable mobility

Our roads have been planned and built to cater to motorists, particularly private vehicles. Space and consideration for low carbon modes of commute (walking, cycling, and public transport) is not a priority. This is in spite of the fact that these are sustainable modes of transport - causing minimal pollution, taking little space, being affordable and accessible by all. 

Public debate, including in the media, on transportation problems in our cities inevitably focuses on increasing road width, building flyovers, etc to ease traffic congestion. Global research and experience has shown that these are temporary measures that in the long run only serve to increase the volume of motorised traffic. In a country like India, where 60% of trips are by walk, it makes sense to prioritise walk/cycle/public transport. For this to happen, the tenor of public conversation needs to change. With this in mind, CAG organised  a workshop for  media personnel on February 16, 2023.

The workshop provided an open forum for media professionals to discuss and share ideas about sustainable mobility. Previously, CAG’s Sustainable Mobility team members conducted a research analysis of newspaper articles that covered sustainable mobility, over a one-year period. The findings of the newspaper article analysis were compiled into a report, which was then presented at the workshop. G.Ananthakrishnan, Senior Journalist, Felix John, the Bicycle Mayor of Chennai, and R Devapriyan, a Senior Anchor from News 18, were invited to share their expertise. 

The workshop and the day's presenters were introduced by Ms Sumana, Senior Researcher, CAG. Divya and Mohan,  members of the Sustainable Transport and Mobility team, CAG presented the article analysis. The analysis covered major Tamil and English articles from both online and newspaper prints. The analysis found that the concept of sustainable mobility is often not highlighted in many transport-related articles.  The majority of the transport-related articles only give basic information about schemes and don’t provide any analysis or learning from case studies. It was also observed that most of the transport-related articles were published in English newspapers, with Tamil newspapers bringing in only a much smaller level of coverage. In addition, online articles tend to give more analysis and details than newspaper print. The report also  highlighted that only 1 in 10 news articles are written about livelihood cyclists, the rest of the articles were solely about sport cycling. 

Mr. G. Ananthakrishnan, a senior journalist, formerly with The Hindu, spoke on the different transport service providers in Chennai and the need to see the big picture. He said, “We are not seeing mobility in terms of social and environmental issues. Perspectives such as quality, safety, accessibility for the physically challenged and improvements in the ticketing systems are crucial to bring in users. In addition, we need to see mobility as a service rather than looking at it as a profit-making mechanism. Only when we start reporting from a different angle will we be able to create awareness on the prevailing transport issues." 

Mr. Felix John, Bicycle Mayor of Chennai (BYCS) highlighted the importance of reporting pedestrian and cyclist issues on various media platforms. He spoke on ways to achieve equitable mobility which prioritize marginalized user groups (such as pedestrians and cyclists). “Our policies only emphasize bikes and cars, not cyclists and pedestrians. But we need to change that, the road is for all user groups”, said Felix John. He also added that improving the quality and quantity of public transportation is one of the most effective ways to reduce emissions and congestion. Individual transportation is the true competitor of collective transportation; so it is critical to provide high-quality, frequent public transport services. 

Mr. R Devapriyan, Senior Anchor from News18, spoke about ways to put forth civic issues in different media platforms. He spoke about the difficulties in reporting and tactics for better outreach with the public. “We approach news as a story and look to showcasing issues that connect with the viewer,” he noted. He said the impact on the public can be considered when the outreach is done properly.

A discussion followed with the speakers and the participants highlighting issues faced. The event finished with felicitation of the speakers.

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Figure 1: Felix John shares his experience of being a cyclist and the various issues he faces on a daily basis, riding in Chennai. 

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Figure 2: Mr. R Devapriyan, Senior Anchor from News18 addressing ways to improve media reach among the public.

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Figure 3: Mr. G. Ananthakrishnan senior journalist speaking about different ways to look at mobility in Chennai.

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