GDP growth calls for holistic traffic management

GDP growth calls for holistic traffic management

T he odd-even rule is back in Delhi till the end of April and could well be a regular fortnightly feature going forward. Is odd-even the only solution to overcome the traffic mess in our cities? Traffic congestion will be a huge issue considering that India is poised for superlative GDP growth. Why? It is established that GDP growth correlates which car sales.

Before we jump into possible solutions, let us look at some data points on passenger car sales and GDP growth in India and other leading economies. India’s passenger car sales increased by about 10% to 2 million units in 2015 compared to about 1.85 million in 2014. China is the leader in the world with over 20 million cars sold in 2015, while 17.5 million cars were sold in the US.

Interestingly, until 1990, India’s per capita GDP and car sales were higher than China. However, by 2005, China had about 2.4 times India’s per capita GDP and sold 3 million cars, about 2.2 times India’s car sales. In 2011, China overtook the US to emerge as the number one market in car sales. India has less than 20 cars per 1,000 people, while china has over 50. The US, Japan and the UK have 500 to 750 cars. 

Notwithstanding the recent turmoil in the Chinese economy, over 25 million cars are projected to be sold in 2020. Thanks to India’s growth momentum, over 4 million units are expected to be sold in 2020. Increased affordability and aspiration for bigger and better cars (in terms of advanced infotainment features) can be attributed for significant addition of new cars.

Thousands of cars are added every week in our cities. In Bengaluru for example, 9,688 cars (including 2,089 taxis) were added on an average every month over the past 6 months. Another 25,000 new two wheelers are added every month and not surprisingly we experience all-day rush hour! The situation is similar in the other cities.

Congested roads mean significant stress on drivers and drastic productivity and economic loss. In fact, a study indicates that India loses over Rs 60,000 crore due to traffic congestion on our roads. Cars contribute to just 13% of the vehicles on our roads. We need a holistic approach from the government, car manufacturers and the general public to improve the situation.

Improving road infrastructure by widening roads or adding flyovers seem the most obvious solution. But, a study indicates that traffic will consume 90% of the additional capacity within 5 years. The government’s increased spend on smart cities can offer solution through integrated traffic management using sensors. Studies reveal that car drivers looking for parking space is the main reason for traffic pile-up. Perhaps an efficient smart car parking system needs to be developed which will provide timely parking availability information to the drivers on their mobile phones.

Congestion charge, which is imposed while driving during peak hours or in the central part of the cities, is being effectively used in London. But again, this will not work in our cities until we have efficient public transport system in place with park-and-ride or incentive parking facilities. Exactly for the same reason, odd-even formula may not work. China’s Shanghai city introduced auction of private car licences (number plate). Essentially, a fixed number of cars are allowed to be registered in a month. People trying to circumvent the system by registering cars in smaller towns are not allowed on the major roads of Shanghai during peak hours.

Although highways in India have improved over the past decade, several of them are crowded like any other city road. Just shows lack of foresight from the planners.  We will need top quality highways and expressway network similar to the one in the US or China. While China and the US have 1.2 lakh and 75,000 km of expressway, respectively, we are way behind at just over 1,300 km.

On-time completion

The government plans to add another 18,000 km of expressway by 2022. Let us hope for on-time completion, unlike the golden quadrilateral project which took 13 years for completing the 5,700 km highway. Eventually, the government’s short/long term vision and ability to deliver infrastructure projects on-time will remain the key.
Newer technologies like the vehicle-to-vehicle communication allow cars to communicate with other cars and with roadside objects, to help in reducing traffic congestion.  Car manufacturers along with the government could work closely in piloting such initiatives.

Driving licence is the first step towards responsible driving, but then, it is really easy to obtain a licence by using bizarre methods.  Should we blame the government or public or both? A recent newspaper report indicates that the failure rate in driving tests in India is just 3-7%. An experiment conducted in Pune where applicants were made to drive on special tracks monitored through CCTV cameras revealed that the failure rate shot up to 40%. The systemic issue needs to be addressed urgently.

Technology in the car can be used to determine driving habits and thereby annual insurance premium can be linked to the same. Basically, responsible drivers pay less compared to the reckless ones.

We need to sensitise the drivers to be responsible. May be car makers could use part of the mandatory corporate social responsibility spend for sensitising public on responsible driving.

The car makers could also tie up with not-for-profit organisations to spread safe driving. We should get students in colleges to undergo rigorous training, and through such an effort, we could see a large number of mature drivers on our roads in the coming years. 

(The writer is Adviser, Centre for Educational and Social Studies, Bengaluru)

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