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Indian elite 'woos' pollution: Post-lockdown private cars preferred over public transport

By Rajiv Shah
As Indian cities continue to successively unlock themselves amidst Covid-19 pandemic, a major survey sponsored by the high profile Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation, and carried out by a top Indian environmental group, has found that in the post-lockdown period a whopping 34 per cent of those not owning vehicles would be buying new four wheelers, while 23 per cent said they would go in for two wheelers.
Results of the survey, which was undertaken by the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, carried out among middle and large income groups, published in the report “Pandemic and Mobility: Lessons from the COVID-19 crisis for building solutions”, authored by Anumita Roychowdhury, Anannya Das, and others, also show that the use of car in the post-lockdown period would also go up drastically, even as the use of public transport, especially metro would go down.
Among the respondents, 15 per cent were in the age bracket of 18-25 years; 57 per cent in 26-35 years; 13 per cent each in 36-45 years and 45-60 years; and 2 per cent in the age group above 60 years. Belonging to the higher and middle income groups, 27 per cent of the respondents earned more than Rs 1 lakh per month; 38 per cent between Rs 50,000 and 1 lakh; 24 per cent between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000; and 11 per cent below Rs 25,000.
The report, which confines itself to responses from Delhi Nation Capital Region (NCR), underscores, “In the distance range of five-10 km for work trips, the use of cars is expected to increase from 20 per cent at pre-lockdown level to 33 per cent.” At the same time, it says, “Metro usage will decline from 30 per cent to 10 per cent.” Also, it adds, “Para-transit use will increase from 10 per cent to 15 per cent.”
However, the survey finds that “below the five-km distance range, walking and cycling is expected to increase significantly from 14 per cent to 43 per cent; car usage would reduce from 23 per cent to 16 per cent; and metro usage will go down from 16 per cent to 5 per cent.” There is a caveat, however: For this to become a reality, city authorities would need to “intervene immediately” to provide infrastructure in order to ensure a viable “walking-cycling distance radius.”
Assessing the preferences for modes during different phases – initial six months after lockdown, and over one-two years and for a longer term – report says, “Within six months of post-lockdown, metro ridership is expected to decline from 37 per cent at prelockdown level to 16 per cent”, and “the share of cars and two-wheelers would increase from 35 per cent to 47 per cent.”, though, “encouragingly, walk and cycling share will increase from four per cent to 12 per cent.”
However, report says, “In the long-term scenario, public transport share will increase, with total bus and metro share regaining and increasing from 44 per cent to 47 per cent.” Also, the “intent to use personal vehicles shows an arrested trend – reducing from 35 per cent to 31 per cent.” Further: “Walking and cycling share will also increase from four per cent in pre-lockdown to nine per cent in the long term.”
It comments, “The survey results show that despite the initial setback to public transport and increased preference for personal vehicles, the preference for public transport and walking and cycling gains in the long run.” In fact, preference for cars may “plateau” and “decline” over time. Here too there is a caveat: To make the scenario possible, “policy needs to respond to this intent and stimulate the dormant demand for good quality public transport, walking and cycling and reduce dependence on personal vehicles.”
In fact, noting huge ifs and buts for the use of public transport facility in the longer run, the report says, “The respondents were specifically asked about their longer-term preferences if public transport systems... Majority of the respondents -- as many as 73 per cent -- preferred to move to public transport if systems meet high quality standards for services. Only about 22 per cent said that they will continue to use personal transport, while the rest would prefer to move to cabs and shared mobility.” 
At a Delhi-NCR wide level, close to 40 per cent do not have access to bus stops within 500 meters; and 69 per cent do not have access to metro stations within 500 meters
According to the report, “About 38 per cent have preferred public transport for reasons of connectivity; 23 per cent each for cost effectiveness and sustainability; and 16 per cent to avoid traffic congestions. This is a clear indicator for policymakers that a massive shift towards public transport, walking and cycling is possible if good quality and convenient public transport systems and well-designed walking-cycling infrastructure are made available.”
It underlines, “One clear impediment to using public transport that is evident from the survey is that the majority of the respondents do not have convenient access to formal public transport nodes in this region. At a Delhi-NCR wide level, close to 40 per cent do not have access to bus stops within 500 meters; and 69 per cent do not have access to metro stations within 500 meters. This will vary from city to city.”
Pointing out that “this makes using public transport inconvenient and people become captive users of personal transport”, the report says, only “about 34 per cent have access to a bus stop and 11 per cent have access to a metro within 200 meters”, adding, “Only para-transit modes are available more widely and within close proximity.”
This suggests the need for “economic reconstruction packages in cities need to be linked with transport and street-based infrastructure to improve access to transportation modes along with walling and cycling infrastructure”, the report says, adding, it also “requires local area plans and appropriate infrastructure along with public amenities and public parks within neighbourhoods to enhance the experience.”

Comments

There are two points I would like to make.

1.While in metros the state governments are trying to increase rail and bus facilities rural areas are sorely lacking in road connectivity even to the nearest hospital, which is a sad state of affairs.
2. Hopefully, with the new thinking of WFH, the need for more than 1 or 2 vehicles per household will decrease.

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