Shared mobility can unclog India's cities

Since the 1990s, polluted and foul-smelling air was a condition typically attributed to Chinese industrial towns. Fast forward to the winter of 2017, when New Delhi superseded several Chinese cities in terms of particulate matter in the air. Smell and sound familiar?

A study by the United Nations shows India will add another 415 million people to its urban centres by 2050. That’s over and above the already clogged urban centres in the country, which move far slower than other neighbouring countries. A report by the Boston Consulting Group shows that the average commuter in Indian cities spends 1.5 hours more than his Asian counterparts just to get to and from work.

A study conducted by IIT Madras showed that New Delhi alone loses Rs 60,000 crore owing to traffic (this includes fuel costs, road accident costs, productivity lost and air pollution), and this number is expected to skyrocket to Rs 98,000 crore by 2030. To put these figures in perspective, the Indian government’s entire health budget earmarked for the ongoing financial year is Rs 62,398 crore. 

India has a total of over 30 million passenger vehicles. Shockingly, only 1.5 per cent of those, or 500,000, are commercial registrations. Data shows private vehicles in India carry only 1.15 passengers on an average, and are lying idle for 96 per cent of their serviceable life. This needs to change. Asset utilisation needs to be better, in order to meet the needs of India's expanding population. 

That the government needs to be an enabler in every step of this change is a given, but the role of the private sector is also critical. Public private partnerships are the key in this scenario, where multimodal transit systems combine shared and electric first/last mile commute with mass transit options such as electric buses and metro networks for the longer leg. 

Most developed cities in the world that lead growth and change have one common aspect tightened to clockwork levels — their transport systems, or in other words, how their people move. Helsinki was one of the first cities in the world to adapt to the concept of MaaS, or Mobility as a Service, where mass transit systems were married to the micro mobility options in the city, enabling planning and booking a multimodal travel seamlessly through one transaction. An analysis of travel patterns in the city showed that MaaS replaced up to 38 per cent of daily car trips, and even though commuters made the same number of trips daily, they were way more likely to use multimodal options. 

The concept of organised mass transit systems is only catching up in India now, with metro networks being made available to 11 of its larger towns recently, and work for some other towns in various stages of implementation, with timelines running up to 2025. This is a phase when India will truly unlock the concept of multimodal transport. 

One realises that multiple transit options tucked into one mega app alone can’t do that. We realise the need to give back to the public agencies by means of collaborating. We have gathered terabytes of data and intelligence on how cities move, and have leveraged technology towards journey planning. 

In 2018-19, China sold a total of 1.1 million electric passenger vehicles to combat pollution levels; India sold 3,600. How did India’s next-door neighbour find such quick solutions to its problems? Are there lessons to be learnt here for India and its clogged streets? 

It’s encouraging to see the government's scheme to subsidise electric mobility, FAME-II (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles), giving a pass to benefits for privately-owned passenger vehicles, thereby lending direction on the future of mobility. The intention of the government, too, seems to be one of prodding the urban citizen to make use of multimodal transport options, and more importantly, use shared resources to reduce the load on both our roads and the environment. 

A solution to this unsustainable situation must be grounded in a few principles that we all agree on: 

  • Efficient use of cars on the roads 
  • Much greater use of public transport along with robust first and last mile connectivity options 
  • We need to build a strong electric and sustainable mobility ecosystem in the long term. 
We need to assess on the double where we want our cities to be in the future; more needs to be done, much more quickly. It’s only together, as collective stakeholders, that the dream of smarter cities, and the future of transportation that is multimodal, shared and electric, can be achieved. 

The writer is vice chairman, CII National committee on eCommerce, and president, Uber India & South Asia

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