Abstract Urban travel demand and oil dependence need dramatic change to achieve the 1.5 °C degree target especially with the electrification of all land-based passenger transport and the decarbonizing of electric power. In this article we investigate the transition of ‘oil-based automobile dependence’ to ‘urban rail plus renewable energy’ to cater for transport demand in Indian cities. India is perceived to be a key driver of global oil demand in coming decades due to the potential increase in car use driven by a fast growing national average income. However, it is possible that India could surprise the world by aggressively pursuing an electrified transit agenda within and between cities and associated supporting local transport with electric vehicles, together with renewable power to fuel this transport. The changes will require two innovations that this article focuses on. First, innovative financing of urban and intercity rail through land-based finances as funding and financing of such projects has been a global challenge. Second, enabling Indian cities to rapidly adopt solar energy for all its electrified transport systems over oil plus car dependence. The article suggests that Indian cities may contribute substantially to the 1.5 °C agenda as both policies appear to be working.