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How are Indian cities coping with high levels of travel demand?

“The solution lies not in increasing the supply, but in managing the demand.”

Indian cities have had a high growth in population due to urbanisation which has lead to a sudden growth in travel demand.

Researchers from IISc studied on travel and mobility patterns in five cities -- Delhi, Bangalore, Indore, Guwahati and Lucknow -- by collecting data about different aspects of travel: demographics, economy, transport demand and supply as well as transport policy and transport costs.

People living in bigger cities seems to use more public transport, like Delhi (43%) and Bangalore (35%); smaller cities like Lucknow have a higher two-wheeler usage. In fact, Bangaloreans seem to have travelled 62.73 million km per day using public transport, in 2011. The growth in public transit in most cities has not been sufficient to cater to the increased demand, and is now resulting in growth in private vehicle ownership. Further, Between Delhi and Bangalore, although the area of both the cities is comparable, the passenger km per person per day by public transport for Delhi is more than twice of that of Bangalore -- suggesting heavy usage of the metro services in Delhi.

The size of a city directly influences the trip lengths and subsequently the choice of mode for travel; the density plays an important role in determining transport demand, like the capacity of public transport and road infrastructure required. Bangalore has an area of 1,241 sq km and a density of 6,851 persons per sq km. The need for work-based trips was high in Bangalore, with workforce participation rate of 38.5 %, followed by Guwahati and Delhi.

From 51 cars per 1000 population in 2007, the numbers in the country went up to 90 cars per 1000 population in 2011. Although Delhi has the highest car ownership rate, the growth in car ownership has been the steepest for Bangalore -- with an increase by an enormous 75 % in 4 years since 2007.

80% of Bangalore’s roads share roads with footpaths. Even at places where these cycle paths and footpaths have been provided, they are often occupied by hawkers and utilised for on-street parking. Also, the pavement surfaces are not up to the mark. The pedestrians and cycle users are hence forced to share the same right of way with bigger vehicles, thereby increasing the risk of road accidents.

Public transit and non-motorised transport together constitute the majority of trips, but are slowly being replaced by private vehicles due to lack of proper infrastructure to support these trips. The increasing congestion encourages people to use personal vehicles over public transit, which in turn is adding to traffic congestion. Commuting within city limits can be tough -- speeds range from 15 kmph in Lucknow to a maximum of 20 kmph in Guwahati, where as it is 17 kmph in Bangalore at peak hours.

The road length per population is much lower in India compared to the cities in developed countries. It ranges from 0.79 m per population in Indore to 2.06 m per population in Guwahati. Irrespective of the size, all the cities are facing similar issues of congestion with a peak hour speed ranging from 15 to 20 kmph. The fatalities are also alarmingly high, especially for the cities of Indore and Guwahati.

“The solution does not lie in building more roads, or increasing the capacity of existing roads, but in providing more sustainable options for the people. Also, for the smaller cities that are growing at a fast rate, the two-wheeler ownership is increasing sharply and needs to be controlled by providing suitable alternatives” says Dr Verma. The trend clearly suggest that there is an opportunity to leap frog for Indian cities to achieve sustainable mobility much faster than the cities in saturated economies.

About the study

This research was a part of the larger study called the ‘Global Mobility Monitor Network’ that aims to study the recent history, status quo and future prospects of mobility patterns in the BRIC countries, the USA and Germany.

Their research was published as a chapter in the book titled, “Developing Country Perspectives on Public Service Delivery” published by Springer recently.

About the authors

Dr. Ashish Verma is at the Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru and CiSTUP (Center for infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning).