Rs 1.44 lakh crore. That is the avoidable social cost of traffic congestion in just four major Indian cities, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata. Incidentally, that amount is 50 per cent more than what the government allocated for updating India's education infrastructure in Budget 2018.
The Uber-commissioned report by the Boston Consulting Group, "Unlocking Cities: The impact of ridesharing across India", reveals more bad news. On an average, road congestion in peak hours among the Indian cities studied averaged 149 per cent, which is significantly higher than comparable metropolitan cities in South East and East Asia. This means that Indian commuters take 1.5 times longer to travel a given distance in peak hours compared to travel time during non-peak hours.
The average peak hour congestion for 10 comparable Asian cities, including Bangkok, Manila, Singapore, Hong Kong and Hanoi, stood at 88.5 per cent. The congestion levels in Kolkata and Bangalore stand alarmingly higher at 171 per cent and 162 per cent respectively, while Delhi emerged as the least congested city (129 per cent).
How did this dismal state of affairs come to pass? The obvious reasons are India's high population density and our under-developed public transportation network. Since 1980, the country's population has nearly doubled (~90% growth) while the GPD per capita multiplied by over 5 times. In the bargain, the report claims that travel demand in India has grown eight-fold in the same period.
Given that the country's public transport infrastructure has lagged behind, private car usage is obviously high in the country - in fact, it is the most common mode of private transportation in the cities surveyed. "Among the commuters surveyed, on average, 87 per cent plan to buy a new car in the next 5 years," said the report, which aimed to assess how rideshare could help these cities to relieve congestion.
The silver lining is that "over 79 per cent of the above respondents also indicated that they would consider aborting their purchase plans should the availability and timeliness of ridesharing equal or exceed private car ownership". According to the study, substituting ridesharing for private cars could eliminate 46-68 per cent of the total cars on the road in these cities, reducing traffic congestion by 17-31 per cent - in the optimal scenario - and hence upping their 'liveability' quotient. Apart from reduced pollution, "this could significantly help these cities improve their amenity by saving approximately 760 acres (Kolkata) to 22,000 acres (Delhi) of unnecessary parking space in each city," added the report. This land could then be re-allocated to enhance living conditions, say, providing additional housing and social infrastructure. The possibilities are endless.
"We continue to be at the forefront when it comes to unlocking the true potential of ridesharing for India. Through this study, we are hoping to draw the attention of administrators and urban planners on how shared cars and mobility can be part of the solution vs individual car ownership," said Amit Jain, President, Uber India and South Asia, while releasing the study yesterday. Uber's Global COO Barney Harford had ominously added that "If car ownership trends continue, Indian cities risk coming to a complete standstill in only a few years." According to him, "ridesharing can be part of the solution to traffic congestion because it uses technology to get more people into fewer cars. We can unlock our cities and their full potential, but we have to do it together."
According to the study, rideshare currently represents an average of 10 per cent of transport used in India. "In the majority of cities surveyed, two-thirds of current non-users state that they would be willing to adopt pooling if price, availability or speed worked out to be better than that of their most preferred mode of transportation."