The costs of congestion: A case study of Mumbai | Opinion
Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune and New Delhi are among the 10 most congested cities in the world, according to the just-released 2019 TomTom Traffic Index. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who lives in or has visited these cities. People in these cities pay higher fuel costs, inhale toxic gases, and are unable to efficiently manage their time. There are wider economic consequences too. An IDFC Institute study reveals the consequences of the congestion for Mumbai, and how to address them.
The average Mumbai resident wastes 11 days a year stuck in traffic. That is a significant loss of productivity in a megacity that accounts for approximately 17% of Maharashtra’s gross domestic product (GDP). With more than 700,000 people entering Mumbai for work every day, it is, in urbanist Alain Bertaud’s words, a labour market, as are all cities. In a well-functioning city, firms can optimise the costs of finding employees and of transporting goods and services to their consumers. People, in turn, can find work that match their skill sets and are more likely to switch jobs either for convenience or better opportunities. Being able to move around the city quickly is key to ensuring that such markets are dynamic and function smoothly. However, congestion has reduced such mobility in Mumbai, resulting in inefficient labour markets and severe economic and environmental consequences.
To measure and analyse the impact of such congestion, we used publicly available Uber Movement data points from 2016 to 2018. The average commute on Mumbai’s critical routes is longer than one hour. That’s double the averages of Hong Kong, Singapore and New York. Car speeds also differ substantially depending on which direction a person is travelling in. For example, residents can drive twice as fast when starting from the South (Marine Drive) as compared to East Mumbai (Chembur) when commuting to their jobs in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC).
The extra time stuck in traffic commuting between northern residential areas of Mumbai, such as Borivali, and some of the city’s central business districts, such as Lower Parel, impose economic costs of over Rs 350 everyday per person. In particular, blocked roads are causing travellers to lose more than Rs 100 in wages and spend an additional Rs 250 on fuel every day. Such high individual costs hurt the city’s productivity, since residents of North Mumbai will most likely not seek a long-term job in the South even if it matches their skill set. As a result, firms in these business districts are unable to access the most suitable candidates to employ and vice-versa.
While individuals bear the economic costs of congestion, these commutes impose heavy charges on the city’s environment. It has been previously estimated that it costs Indian cities $0.086 for every kilogram of carbon dioxide emitted. Using this figure, we find that trips taken in Mumbai typically cost between Rs 6 and Rs 60 in additional carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, longer distances don’t always mean higher emissions in the city. For instance, the 14 km trip between Borivali and Andheri East costs Rs 22 for additional emissions, in comparison to the 27 km commute trip between Marine Drive and Andheri East costing just Rs 6. Mumbai is already the fourth most polluted megacity in the world. New Delhi currently occupies the top spot. Left unaddressed, Mumbai’s air quality will worsen, turning into a severe public health problem.
Chokepoints along Mumbai’s major routes contribute the most to high costs of congestion. For example, drivers suffer speeds less than 10km per hour when entering and exiting major business districts such as Lower Parel and BKC. Driving speeds on side lanes has decreased significantly with commuters facing less than 8km per hour speeds on certain roads. Most worryingly, new chokepoints have emerged between 2016 and 2018. For example, driving between Kandivali and Borivali was relatively fast in 2016, with average speeds then close to 40km per hour, as compared to 2018, when this figure nearly halved to 23km per hour. While construction for the Mumbai metro system has played a role in increasing congestion, data shows that these new chokepoints emerged before work began.
Eradicating chokepoints should be the government’s first step in improving ease of movement. This can be achieved by conducting granular interventions as well as pilots of the Intelligent Traffic Management System (ITMS) at these bottlenecks. The ITMS plans on retrofitting radar-operated traffic signals and CCTV cameras across Mumbai. By choosing to install the first batch of intelligent traffic lights at the identified bottlenecks, the government will maximise the impact of the system on Mumbai’s traffic flow, reduce congestion, and increase the city’s economic productivity. Mumbai’s contribution to state GDP would be even higher if the negative impacts of congestion were removed. Hence, to boost growth, the government needs to prioritise addressing Mumbai’s traffic problem. By doing so, it will catalyse India’s financial capital in reaching its economic potential.