Can ride-sharing ease the traffic and pollution woes of a congested city like Delhi? | opinion$Comment | Hindustan Times
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Can ride-sharing ease the traffic and pollution woes of a congested city like Delhi?

A 2007 study published by Jamia Milia Islamia revealed that carpooling would allow savings of up to 1310 crores by not using over 3 lakh kilolitres of fuel per annum, which roughly translates to prevention of release of 930 metric tons of carbon emissions.

opinion Updated: Nov 13, 2017 18:24 IST
Like New Delhi, while most cities across the world have focussed on infrastructure investment towards building more roads and flyovers, global experience suggests that such measures will not adequately address the constant stress on our cities because of rapid urban migration
Like New Delhi, while most cities across the world have focussed on infrastructure investment towards building more roads and flyovers, global experience suggests that such measures will not adequately address the constant stress on our cities because of rapid urban migration(Saumya Khandelwal/HT PHOTO)

Schools closed, flights cancelled and untold health consequences for millions of people as Delhi drowns in a sea of smog. In what has become an annual event heralding the onset of winter in the capital, a blanket of toxic smog has enveloped the city choking Delhiites. We know what lies behind the misery: Vehicular emissions, industrial emissions, smoke from crop burning, and dust from construction. Ride-sharing companies have a significant role to play in addressing the first factor. By getting more people into fewer cars, and helping people get to and from public transit stations, we can reduce congestion and emissions.

Over the years, Delhi-NCR has grown into one of the world’s largest urban agglomerations with more than 46 million people living in the region and contributing nearly 7-8% of the entire country’s GDP. Even today, while public transit remains a preferred mode of commuting for millions of residents in the city, rapid urbanisation is not only creating economic pressures on citizens, but also directly hindering their ability to access a key public good — an efficient transport system. The stress created by rapid urban migration has led to gaps in public transit, which in turn has led to an increase in private vehicle ownership contributing towards congestion-bred pollution.

Like New Delhi, while most cities across the world have focussed on infrastructure investment towards building more roads and flyovers, global experience suggests that such measures will not adequately address the constant stress on our cities because of rapid urban migration.

A recent study on rethinking urban mobility in Indonesia demonstrated that if all personal travel shifted to shared modes, including public transport and ride-sharing, more than 71 million car trips could be avoided on Indonesian roads in 2020. Further, shared vehicles could reduce over 46,000 hectares currently devoted to parking in 33 Indonesian cities. The predicted effects were remarkable. Congestion eased significantly and traffic emissions were reduced by one-third. A 2007 study published by Jamia Milia Islamia revealed that carpooling would allow savings of upto Rs1,310 crores by not using over 3 lakh kilolitres of fuel per annum, which roughly translates to prevention of release of 930 metric tonnes of carbon emissions.

It is pertinent to note that this impact has been delivered solely through pooling on commercial vehicles. Ideally, if this model is extended to private vehicles in the city with adequate incentives, it can arrest the rising levels of vehicular pollution and disincentivise private car ownership. The Boston Consulting Group found that up to 70% of private vehicles on the road today in Asia could be removed if ride-sharing becomes a viable substitute for private vehicle ownership.

To disincentivise private car ownership and encourage public transport, it is important that walking distances are reduced, public transit is predictable and it’s close to people’s homes or mass transit stops. Ride-sharing and public transit modes share complementarities that can help in filling such gaps and minimise vehicular pollution. The rapid emergence of technology interventions on urban mobility choices and consumption, signify a growing need for demand responsive transport. Such demand responsive services, when integrated with public and mass transport services (road-and rail-based), could potentially fill in the current void of last-mile connectivity, while providing alternative travel choices for less accessible locations.

Today, though all eyes are trained on the national capital, there are several cities in India that consistently recorded very high levels of air toxicity during the year. As air pollution levels have breached the permissible standards by multiple times, stakeholder groups should collaborate to tackle this health emergency with a multi-pronged approach, that also focuses on encouraging shared transportation assets and limiting private car ownership. Re-imagining the utilisation of existing resources can help build a real alternative to a world that moves like a jam, looks like a parking lot and feels like a gas chamber. By encouraging people to share their rides, and make public transit more accessible, we can help Delhi keep moving and breathe easier, over the coming weeks.

Amit Jain is president of Uber India and South Asia

The views expressed are personal