By Aishwarya Raman & Jagriti Arora
India’s top 4 cities are not only 149 per cent more congested than comparable cities in Asia but are causing losses of over $22 billion per year in peak traffic hours. Such alarming socio-economic costs associated with congestion warrant immediate corrective measures across the country. But before prescribing the cure, it is imperative to diagnose the causes.
Where’s the Congestion
Urban congestion can be defined as the excess demand for travel over its supply, often represented by speed. To sense the gravity of congestion in India, here’s a look at the average speed in India. According to Ola Analytics, the average speed in Indian cities is 19.8 kmph, while New York and London drive at 28.3 kmph and 31.1 kmph. In 2017 alone, the average speed in India dropped by 2.9 kmph compared to the previous year, with traffic in both Mumbai and Delhi slowing down.
Indian cities are responding by curtailing travel demand through sporadic measures such as augmenting public transport, improving walking and cycling conditions, and by integrating transport and spatial developments to limit motorised journeys. The move from constructing more roads to restricting demand can be attributed to the government’s acknowledgement of a possible ‘induced demand’: adding more roads would lead to more vehicles plying.
Thus, the question is whether the number of vehicles has started outweighing the capacity of Indian roads. Indian cities witnessing growing ownership of private vehicles and decreasing use of public and non-motorized transport is a telling indicator.
Shared mobility is a panacea that provides users with flexibility and door-to-door connectivity, without adding extra vehicles on the road. The global phenomenon of cab aggregation is a striking example. Consider the case of a cab aggregator platform that completes 20 lakh rides a day. Without cabs, it would take around 7 lakh private vehicles to complete the rides. On the other hand, a cab can carry up to four passengers at a time.
Considering that a cab completes 12 rides a day, it would have taken only 41,700 cabs – which is only 6.2 per cent of the corresponding private vehicles. In fact, even if all 2 million rides were to be taken by non-shared taxis, it still would have taken around 25 per cent of the corresponding private vehicles.
Shared vehicles, thereby, make possible sharing – and not owning an asset – to achieve mobility. For instance, when a passenger hires an auto rickshaw they don’t start owning it; they only use it as a service. Auto, taxi, e-rickshaw, cycle rickshaw, bike, taxi, bus and train – all qualify as shared mobility enablers, the economical way of transportation shared by users on an as-needed basis.
However, demand for speed, safe and comfortable travel, along with door-to-door service and on-demand vehicular availability has driven people to buy their own vehicles. Looking at numbers only, private vehicle ownership often entails trade-offs at various levels. Now if a user bought a sedan in Mumbai for Rs 5,90,000 at a 10 per cent down-payment and started making two trips daily to traverse 25 km, they would incur a monthly expenditure of Rs 14,752, including, Rs 8,463 on EMI, Rs 4,655 on petrol, Rs 1,634 on insurance, services, and maintenance.
If they choose to take a cab to traverse the same distance, their monthly cost would reach Rs 9,300, with a base price of Rs 50 for 2 km and additional Rs 13 per subsequent km. Thus, hiring a cab would cost them 35 per cent less than owning a private car.
The benefit increases should the cab be shared with other commuters and when the journey can be seamlessly covered by public and intermediate public transport such as cabs, auto-rickshaws, bike-taxis, etc., together. Yet people continue to buy private vehicles, indicating the numerous passenger demands that shared mobility needs to cater to.
McKinsey Global Institute predicts that cities that employ modern technologies can cut their congestion by 15-20 per cent. The mobility ecosystem could take a cue and augment public and intermediate public transport in more ways than one. Active initiatives can help predict possible challenges in a fast-changing mobility scenario, and take preemptive measures to embrace the future openly.
(Aishwarya Raman is the Head of Research and Associate Director at Ola Mobility Institute; Jagriti Arora is the research associate with Urban Mobility track at Ola Mobility Institute. Views are the authors’ own.)