Last-mile factor crucial for Metros: Survey

Jul 18, 2023 12:36 AM IST

The WRI survey notes that women travel shorter last-mile distances than men, but tend to pay more for the same.

People who travel on the Metro on a daily basis, especially women, are averse to waiting for last-mile transportation, and modes of transit that have a frequency greater than 10 minutes are unlikely to be preferred, a survey of commuters released on Monday said.

According to the report, the Metro is primarily used by people aged between 19 and 35 years. (HT Photo) PREMIUM
According to the report, the Metro is primarily used by people aged between 19 and 35 years. (HT Photo)

The survey, conducted by WRI India and Toyota Mobility Foundation across commuters in Delhi, Bengaluru and Nagpur, and titled “Improving Metro Access in India”, also notes that women travel shorter last-mile distances than men, but tend to pay more for the same. The survey observes that the aversion to waiting makes some women choose more expensive, faster last-mile modes.

“India’s central government has invested heavily in Metro rail systems to tackle urban traffic congestion, higher transport emissions and road crash fatalities. Although these systems have improved the commute for millions of citizens, their severe underutilization—in some cases, just 10% of the projected ridership has been achieved—is concerning. Poor access to stations (the last-mile problem) is a major contributor to low ridership. Pedestrian and cycling infrastructure is usually inadequate, and motorized modes such as feeder buses and shared or on-demand paratransit to metro stations can be infrequent, unsafe, uncomfortable, and unaffordable. This deters commuters from taking the metro,” the report says.

It adds that last-mile planning continues to be driven by the “intuition” of local-level planners rather than by data, and there is often a lack of understanding of commuters’ last-mile requirements, how these vary across commuter segments, and what data need to be collected and analysed to design commuter-centric last-mile services.

According to the report, the Metro is primarily used by people aged between 19 and 35 years, who use it to commute for work or education. “The Metro also attracts a specific income demographic, which is those with monthly household incomes between 10,000 and 40,000. More affluent users (with personal vehicles) are yet to shift to the Metro, and low-income users are priced out of it. Metro users also primarily walk or use low-cost shared last-mile modes,” the report says.

The survey adds that Metro users primarily walk or use low-cost, shared last-mile modes. This is likely because of high-price sensitivity, which makes the more costly, on-demand last-mile transportation modes unviable, the report said.

Shared paratransit such as shared auto-rickshaws is especially popular, according to per the report.

In all the three cities surveyed, walking and shared modes contributed to over 75% of last-mile trips.

“The predominance of walking—despite the poor pedestrian infrastructure available in Indian cities—might stem from the Metro’s relatively young demographic. These commuters are likely to be physically fit and less likely to be deterred by low-quality or unsafe pedestrian infrastructure. However, this finding underscores the need for improved pedestrian infrastructure within the walking influence zone of the Metro station, to attract commuters who are reluctant to walk or find it difficult to walk,” said Sudeept Maiti from WRI India, one of the authors of the report.

Of the two primary shared transportation modes -- shared auto-rickshaws and buses -- the former commanded a considerably higher share in Delhi. Shared autos comprised 35% of all last mile trips in Delhi, while the figure was 14% in Nagpur and 9% in Bengaluru. Despite the rise of app-based services in metro cities, these are rarely used as last mile modes -- taxis comprised only 3% of all last mile modes in Delhi, 1% in Bengaluru, and were negligible in Nagpur.

One interesting point that the report notes is that in all three cities, Metro users are willing to travel up to 20 minutes to access the network, including the time spent waiting for last-mile modes, which indicates that the “catchment region” of a Metro station is determined more by access time than by a fixed area in kilometres.

The report concludes that planning for Metro systems and complementary transport often takes place in silos -- without considering actual commuter preferences. Therefore, the lack of high-quality last-mile infrastructure and service provision has created a paradox -- a high-quality system hampered by poor access.

“The paradox here is that although the Metro rail journey itself is reliable, safe, and convenient, accessing the Metro (including non-motorised modes such as walking and cycling) often entails unreliable, expensive, unsafe, uncomfortable, and inconvenient modes. Commuters choose a travel mode aligning closely with their overall travel requirements. If the first- or last-mile component of their journey fails to meet their requirements, the Metro is unlikely to be a compelling choice,” the report says.

It recommends last-mile planning processes that ensure high frequencies, ideally by clearly aligning last-mile mode capacities with demand.

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