Car ownership must become a relic of the past
I grew up in Mumbai, travelling in jam-packed suburban trains. I put up with the daily commute because that helped me get to my college classes on time. But I did, at times, feel tempted to travel in the comfort of an air-conditioned car.
In the last few years, car travel in most metros has become a nightmare. Moving around by road in Bengaluru, for example, is nearly impossible with the average speed going down from 30 kmph in 2005 to less than 10 kmph in 2018. The city loses an estimated ₹38,000 crore annually as a social cost of traffic congestion.
A recent report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) says that Indian cities are 149% more congested than their Asian counterparts. The biggest reason for the rising congestion in major metros and cities is a mismatch between the development of public transport infrastructure and a rising number of private vehicles.
More Indians are buying personal vehicles because they consider it as a sign of success. From 1951 to 2000, the country added seven million cars, and in the following decade, another 8.5 million.
Asset utilisation of private vehicles is very low. They carry 1.15 passengers and their idle time is typically 96%. A study by the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, found that 14% of the available space in India’s capital is taken up by parking. The space could otherwise be used for bike lanes, affordable housing or greener and oxygen providing parks.
According to a 2019 Health Effects Institute report, air pollution kills more than one million Indians every year, and seven out of the world’s ten most polluted cities are in India. And nearly 83% of all carbon monoxide emissions can be traced to vehicles, making them a major source of bad urban air.
In this scenario, what’s the alternative transport solution that can reduce congestion, air pollution, our carbon dependency, and help build smarter, more sustainable cities?
In the short-term, ride-sharing — with improved safety standard and shortened waiting time — is a convenient and affordable way to reduce traffic congestion. Mandating private vehicles to pool passengers can immediately improve asset utilisation and reduce congestion by 17%-31%, shows a study by BCG.
In the medium-term, as electric vehicles become cheaper and the charging infrastructure improves, we can deploy two/three/four wheeled electric vehicles on a larger scale as our preferred ride-sharing choice.
In the long-term, we need to build a more robust public transport system based on the public-private partnership (PPP) model. One PPP solution is designing a multimodal system that combines shared and electric first/last mile commute with metro/bus system for the longer leg.
A study published by the United States National Academy of Sciences found that 43% of shared-mobility users reported an increase in their use of public transport, while only 28% of individuals reported reduced use. The study suggests that ride-sharing, when integrated with public transport network, can support a sustainable “car light” lifestyle.
It takes a London commuter merely a touch on her mobile app to access the city’s public transport data, which incorporates real-time information about the city’s underground and overground train and bus networks. Such a technology has game-changing potential if Indian cities could replicate the idea to integrate multimodal transport system, such as state-funded buses, railways, metros, and two/three/four wheeled shared services by aggregators.
For all the private vehicles we have put on the road in the past decade, India still has the lowest per capita car ownership: 22 per 1,000 inhabitants as compared to 980 in the United States, 850 in Europe and 164 in China, according to Amitabh Kant, chairman of the Niti Aayog, quoted in a leading financial daily. This gives us a golden opportunity to leapfrog individual car ownership and benefit from the new wave of a shared, electric and multimodal transport system.
The recent dip in car sales in India is a sign of things to come. Millennials are making wiser choices for society’s benefit. It is high time Indian cities join the likes of London, Singapore and New York to further discourage private car ownership. Polluters must pay. Every Indian citizen needs to develop sustainable transportation habits and dump car ownership as a relic of the past.
Pradeep Parameswaran is the president of Uber India and South Asia
The views expressed are personal