Urban Mobility in India – A Puzzle to Resolve

Mobility can be defined as movement of people from one place to other or ability to move physically. In urban cities mobility of some people can be fast while mobility of some people can be slow. Mobility is highest in places that accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users as well as drivers. In many instances, passengers and freight movements are complementary to one another.

Urban Mobility in India

Across the world urban mobility has seen various phases. Highways were built to connect the central business district to outlying areas and in many cases complete or partial ring roads were built.

Urban Mobilty in India
Urban Mobilty in India

The personal mobility provided by the automobile has lead to change in terms of lifestyle, consumption patterns as well as residential areas. The automobile decreased the friction of distance considerably, which led to increase in urban population. The evolution of the residential areas created a new landscape in which public transit did not fit well. Transit ridership went down and transportation companies ran into financial adversities and eventually transport services became subsidized, publicly-owned enterprises.
In India also, the automobile has become a dominant mode of travel and is now catching up speed in India for the past decade. Fast urban growth has given a great boost to the transport infrastructure.
Urban transportation is organized in three broad categories of collective, individual and freight transportation.

Collective Transportation (public transit)

It provides publicly accessible mobility over specific parts of a city. The systems are mostly owned and controlled by an agency and its access is open to all as long as a fare is paid, that is the reason why they are called public transit. Its competency is based upon transporting large numbers of people and achieving economies of scale. It includes modes such as buses, trains, and auto.
Individual Transportation
Here mobility is the outcome of a personal choice and means such as the automobile, walking, cycling and the motorcycle. Majority of people prefer walking, to satisfy their basic mobility, but this number changes according to the city considered.
Freight Transportation
Urban activities are accompanied by large movements of freight. These movements include delivery by trucks moving between industries, distribution points, warehouses and retail activities as well as from major terminals such as ports, rail yards and airports.
As urban development is occurring across the globe, it has lead to increased quantities of passengers and freight moving within urban areas.  Movements also tend to involve longer distances, but evidence suggests it has always remained approximately 1 to 1.2 hours per day. With technology, movement has gradually shifted to faster transport modes and therefore larger distances could be travelled using less amount of time. Different transport technologies and infrastructures have resulted in a wide variety of urban transport systems.
Now, the question comes how does the future of urban mobility look like in India?
First, we need to understand the infrastructure that is available for freight transport and the impacts of freight transport. Small changes have already started taking place in terms of policy and infrastructure, like prohibition of commercial vehicle entry in cities like Delhi and Mumbai during the day. Truck terminals have been created on the periphery of city. Roads and by-pass roads have been developed to minimize freight interaction with the city traffic. GST will also lead to better urban mobility solutions.

Research studies claim that only 15-25% of VKT (vehicle kms travelled) is commercial traffic, but takes up 20-40% of road space and causes 20-40% of all CO2 emission.

In India, Freight holds for almost a 40% share of total metropolitan vehicle travel. In India Volume of urban freight will continue to grow as Urbanization gathers pace and People become wealthier. We are witnessing rapid urbanization, globalization, and inflow of technology in our daily lives, also ground breaking changes to the economy and government is also contributing well for the industry so there is good opportunity for entrants.
India is a big country and each city has its own mode of transport system with different development stages. Delhi, as a capital city, has worked a lot in establishing a more systemized and modernized urban transport system by increasing its number of buses and starting the first metro line in India. However, Delhi transport system still needs some improvements so that it can function much better.
In order to accomplish an effective menace of transportation system that facilitates both government as well as the local public, there are still many developments required. It is a slow, but yet a positive move towards betterment of customers.
[The author is Sumit Sharma, Co-founder of GoBOLT, one of the tech-logistics companies based out of New Delhi. He can be reached at sumit.sharma@gobolt.co.in]

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