More cars or more transportation alternatives: what will the world choose?

AuthorHerro, Alana

As Tata Motors, one of Asia's leading automakers, prepares to tap into India's middle-class market by releasing the "world's cheapest car," other countries with a long history of car dependence are grappling with ways to limit the social, health, and environmental costs of motorized transport. One alternative is so-called bus rapid transit (BRT), which operates like rail transport but is far cheaper and offers more flexibility in routes. The systems are gaining popularity in cities in the automobile-loving United States as well as in rapidly developing nations in Asia and Latin America.

Tata plans to sell its "affordable" four-door vehicle at a sticker price of $2,500, or half the cost of the cheapest new car available in India today. As disposable incomes rise in the country, the vehicle may lead India's 1.1 billion people closer to Western patterns of car consumption--and bring similar environmental and traffic problems. In 2004, India had 145.9 persons per passenger car, compared with 2.2 persons per car in the United States.


"Can you imagine if even half of the 1.1 billion Indians owned a car?" Mahesh Mehta, an environmental lawyer based in New Delhi, observed in a recent Washington Post article. "We should not be following the Western model of car ownership. I think this will be disastrous." As an alternative to more cars, Mehta supports better public transportation to improve the Indian quality of life.

The development of Tata's new car is "kind of unfortunate," says William Vincent of the Breakthrough Technologies Institute, a group that supports bus...

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