As cities in India get ready to reopen economy in the post-COVID-lockdown era, people transport is one pressing matter that requires keen observation and strategy. Public transport is what keeps a city moving, however, social distancing is the ‘new normal’ that will remain so for many months to come. The need for personal means of mobility is expected to see a substantial rise as people scramble to invest in cars to keep themselves and their families safe. A recent analysis conducted by the Centre of Science and Environment (CSE) suggests that there will be an increase in car ownership and usage, while also pointing to the decline in use of public transport in the immediate future. However, in the long run, the need for sturdier and safer public transport will take centre stage.
“The future and the ‘new normal’ that we will be faced with post-lockdown will demand steps to rebuild confidence in mass transit systems while improving it, contact-free walking and cycling, and measures to cut unnecessary travel to reduce pressure on already stressed public transport systems,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director-research and advocacy, CSE.
CSE has laid out the key findings from its ongoing analysis of the impact of the pandemic on mobility and transport in India and around the to highlight the steps needed not only in the immediate emergency period but a longer-term strategy for the new normal.
The first flush of results, based on the survey of middle and high-income groups in Delhi and surrounding cities in the National Capital Region (NCR), show public mood is changing. While the use of public transport is expected to reduce in the short run, there is a positive shift in attitude towards high-quality public transport, contact-free walking and cycling and lifestyle adjustment to reduce unnecessary travel trips in the longer term.
Use of public transport came to a complete halt in India due to the nationwide lockdown but in countries that did not lock down completely and had their public transport running, there was a drastic decline of some 70-90 percent (that also brought along financial losses).
There are serious concerns around an increase in transit costs (bus and train), higher taxes on buses, and plummeting revenue. Intermediate transport and shared mobility have started to repurpose for emergency health services, deliveries of groceries and essentials, courier service, and fixed-route services. However, there is no financial package for rebuilding public transport systems so far.
The ongoing CSE analysis includes the perception of the middle to high-income groups and the perception of the lower-income groups will be made available later.
The analysis highlights that preference for car ownership and usage will increase in the short run but it will decline in the longer term. Of the respondents, 64 percent already own vehicles (car, two-wheelers including multiple ownership). Of the 36 percent who do not own a vehicle, about 43 percent have said they do not wish to own any vehicle in the near future.
The findings go on to support a positive sign for public transport, walking and cycling in the long term. This survey has assessed preferences for modes during the initial six months post locked down, and over 1-2 years and longer-term. Within six months of post lockdown, metro ridership will decline from 37 percent at pre lockdown level to 16 percent. But cars and two-wheelers share will increase from 28 percent to 38 percent.
Encouragingly, walk and cycling share will increase from 4 percent to 12 percent. In the long term, (1-2 years and beyond) total bus and metro share will regain and increase from 45 percent to 47 percent. But the intent to use personal vehicles shows an arrested trend – reducing from 35 percent to 31 percent. Walk and cycling share will also increase from 4 percent in pre-lockdown to 9 percent in long terms. Policy needs to respond to this intent and stimulate the dormant demand for good quality public transport, walking and cycling and reduce dependence on personal vehicles.