The geographical expanse of India and dispersion of points of production and consumption make the transport sector a crucial driver for the country's GDP growth. Road infrastructure plays a major role in on-surface transportation of both goods and passenger traffic in India, which transports 2,871 billion tonne kilometres of freight as well as 18,109 billion passenger kilometres annually, says a report by Nomura Research Institute.
The report, titled ‘Transforming Mobility’, details why the quality of the Indian roads needs vast improvement, and cites the example of commercial vehicles in India which ply an average about 250-300km per day as against 700-800km in developed countries. On the other hand in the urban scenario, congestion leads to drastic drops in speed with average speed in the capital being around 26kph. The World Economic Forum ranks India as 55th in terms of road infrastructure.
The report findings states that even within Indian cities, multiple challenges on account of heterogeneity of traffic for instance, slow speed e-rickshaws sharing roads with cars, leads to plenty of zig–zag movement and hence congestion.
Additionally, the lack of parking facilities further aggravates the issue as it increases congestion due to roadside parking, creating reluctance in switching to public transport with the first and last mile being in private vehicles due to limited parking at metro stations, and public transportation hubs. Furthermore, the lack of proper parking areas for app-based cabs which stay on the road for as long as eight to 12 hours also leads to additional congestion on busy roads.
While buses are one of the popular mode of public transport, India, with a penetration of about 1.7 buses per 1,000 people, lags behind many countries such as Thailand (8.6), South Africa (6.5), USA (2.7). It states while Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) corridors have been introduced in various parts of the country, it has not been able to succeed in most of cities, except for Ahmedabad and Surat being the only outliers.
Need for sustainable, scalable and all-encompassing solutions
“Transformation of mobility is becoming vital, on the back of an increasing population and higher migration of people towards our already congested cities. The government is also cognisant of the situation and has rolled out initiatives such as the Smart City Mission to address this issue. It is essential that in our quest for transformation of mobility we ensure that solutions are sustainable, scalable and also all-encompassing,” said Ashim Sharma, partner and group head, Nomura Research Institute Consulting and Solutions India.
While metro and mono rail infrastructure is growing in Indian cities, the ridership is still not very high compared to other global cities. For instance, the ridership per km in Delhi is 10,879 as against 14,593 in Shanghai, 14,467 in New York and 27,811 in Sao Paolo. On top of that, cities other than Delhi do not have an expansive metro network.
The report states the challenges for urban transport in India includes low-quality infrastructure and poor on-time performance, uncoordinated timetables, lack of connections at transfer stops, buying a new ticket with every change of mode and no single authority to maintain and coordinate urban transit network. All this leads to a lower percentage of population opting for public transport.
As a result, three-fourth of the 227 million vehicles running on Indian roads are two-wheelers, with several people also using in-efficient intermediate public transport such as shared autos, e-rickshaws and over-crowded vans, coupled with journeys on foot.
All these factors have led to hazardous levels of pollution in many Indian cities. For instance, while the number of vehicles per km in Delhi (using registration data) is 176, the Air Quality Index (AQI) is (Hazardous) 457 while London with 220 vehicles per km has an AQI of 58 (Moderate) and Tokyo with 132 vehicles per km has an AQI of 66.
Mentioning factors such as dust on roads, construction dust and to some extent other forms of vehicles for instance heavy trucks plying through cities, which have a big contribution to the high pollution levels. In addition, while the overall number of road accidents has decreased, there has been an increasing severity of accidents has emerged as a major challenge. About 11 people per 100,000 were killed in road accidents in 2014.
Suggestions for improved mobility in India
Nomura Research Institute's report states there is a need for development of mobility that is safe, clean, affordable, shared and smart. It suggests that Indian mobility can be improved by:
- Creating public transport systems which are well integrated with each other that fulfils the need for transit in a smooth and hassle free manner.
- Adoption of zero/low emission vehicles and measures for reducing non-vehicular dust related pollution.
- Introducing intelligent mobility solutions such as smart traffic lights and lane management systems, redesigning of roads after identification of bottlenecks, and planning separate lanes for slow moving traffic for reducing heterogeneity of speeds on roads.
- Smart parking management. For instance, integrated database of parking with app-based parking spot finder, dynamic pricing of parking spots, parking regulations for app-based taxis as well as for parking in residential areas.
The initiatives should be taken for sharing transport infrastructure and making sustainable transport options more affordable and acceptable for instance car pooling and making public transport more affordable to enable people who take inefficient intermediate public transport or non–motorised options to switch to public transport.
Prirotising and customising solutions
Nomura concludes that while it is important to prioritise these measures in terms of the impact/coverage of the population as well as the ease of implementation. For instance, footpaths and walk-ways maybe easier to implement and will impact a large portion of people who make their journey on foot.
Similarly, there needs to be stringency to check vehicle pollution, which will help bring down pollution, stricter traffic law enforcement will also reduce congestion and make roads safer.
In addition, simpler measures such as vacuum cleaning of roads and creation of vertical and median garden and enforcement of dust control norms in construction sites will reduce dust and hence pollution levels.
In the mid- to longer-term, India could also implement the next set of improvements such as an integrated traffic management system and smart parking solutions among others. In a nutshell, it is essential that in our quest for transformation of mobility we ensure that solutions are sustainable, scalable and also all encompassing.