Urban India’s mobility challenges need solution rooted in data, evidence

Published: February 22, 2019 12:45:58 AM

People view EVs, first- and last- mile connectivity, better footpaths, cycle tracks, shared mobility and improved coverage of public transport as key measures.

Urban India's mobility challenges need solution rooted in data, evidenceUrban India?s mobility challenges need solution rooted in data, evidence (Representational Image)

By K Yeshwanth Reddy & Aishwarya Raman

Indian cities are engines of economic growth. But they grapple with challenges brought about by decades of unplanned growth. Mobility is a major area, given its impact on the economy. As per an IIT Madras study, the economic cost of congestion in Delhi alone is $8.9 billion per annum and could rise to $15 billion by 2030. To drive economic activity, people need to be able to easily travel within the city. As average incomes and population go up, the demand for mobility solutions is bound to explode.

Cities such as Tokyo, New York, London have well-established central business districts served by an effective public transport network; unlike their Indian counterparts. As of 2014, only seven metro cities in India had local rail services and 65 had organised bus services. Smaller cities lack extensive public transport; bigger cities struggle with affordable last-mile connectivity. These voids are filled by personal vehicles. Two-wheeler ownership rose from 8.1% of total vehicles in 1951 to 75% in 2016. Net loss faced by state transport undertakings rose from `4,73,710 lakh in 2010 to `10,51,016 lakh in 2015, despite growing ridership.

Tackling the issue of mobility requires a concerted, well-formulated effort that involves all stakeholders and is mindful of ground realities. The recent ‘MOVE’ event, India’s first global mobility summit, was a great first step because it focused on the future of mobility. For any policy to be successful, it needs to be rooted in data and evidence. Governments are increasingly using evidence-based policymaking, including indices such as the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ and the ministry of housing and urban affairs’ Liveability Index. Even policies laid out in NITI Aayog’s ‘Strategy for New India@75’ and Digital India support this.

The Ease of Moving Index (EOMI) by the Ola Mobility Institute can be an effective framework to help cities evaluate their mobility scenarios on the three pillars of people, infrastructure and sustainability, based on 50 distinct parameters. It can act as a guideline for policymakers, planners, practitioners, businesses and citizens alike. While authorities such as the urban affairs ministry have data on urban mobility indicators, these are largely supply-driven. But EOMI brings in residents’ points of views in creating urban mobility indicators. Tracking how these perceptions change over time, in line with improvements in sustainable mobility, can show us how government investments benefit people.

EOMI 2018, based on survey of 43,000 people across 20 cities, had some interesting insights: While cities such as Chennai, Jabalpur and Pune have enacted policies and provided infrastructure to enable non-motorised mobility (walking and cycling), Kolkata and Delhi embraced shared mobility to increase access and improve utilisation of public transit. Also, over 60% people in these 20 cities use public transport. Almost 70% of public transport users rely on cabs, autos and non-motorised means to access buses, metros and other modes of public transit. Around 60% of non-users are willing to shift to public transport if coverage, first- and last-mile connectivity, frequency, and comfort improve.

Integrating intermediate public transport with other modes of public transit through offline and online multimodal terminals and fare integration can augment public transport usage. Delhi is paving the way for this by making metro rail cards usable on buses. The growth of smartcards and app-based services has made digital currency more acceptable. On platforms, over a third of cab and autorickshaw rides are paid for using digital wallets. Kolkata has taken steps to digitise its transport sector through app-based parking, bringing use of public transport to over 70%.

Safety in public transport seems to be a top concern—10% users find public transport safe in general; 36% find it safe except at night; and 19% find it unsafe. To change this, many cities are making mobility gender-friendly. Kochi has all-women metro stations, pink taxis for women and encourages women to participate in mobility as service providers.

Citizens view electric vehicles, better first- and last- mile connectivity, better footpaths, cycle tracks, shared mobility, cashless mobility and improved coverage of public transportation as important measures. EOMI could provide the magic mantra to policymakers based on citizens’ insights.

Reddy, a public policy expert in transportation, leads Urban Mobility Track at Ola Mobility Institute, where Raman is associate director

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