SITREP | Congestion in India & Strategies to Mitigate It

SITREP | Congestion in India & Strategies to Mitigate It

By Aparajita Chakrabartty and Sudakshina Gupta
Centre for Urban Economic Studies, Department of Economics, 
University of Calcutta, Kolkata, India

SITREP | Congestion in India & Strategies to Mitigate It

In India, high population growth, high rate of urbanization and a high growth in the number of vehicles have led to the problem of congestion. In the absence of sufficient public transport, private vehicle ownership has grown in leaps and bounds and this is the reason why most of the Indian cities are chock-a-block (packed) with traffic.

As incomes rise, car loans proliferate and the auto industry churns out low-cost cars. Indians are rushing headlong to get behind the wheel. Indians bought 1.5 million cars in 2007, more than double of that in 2003. The cumulative growth of the Passenger Vehicles segment during April 2007-March 2008 was 12.17 percent. In 2007-2008 alone, 9.6 million motorized vehicles were sold in India. By some estimates, India is expected to soar past China this year as the fastest growing car market. India’s population and its traffic are concentrated within its cities. The contrast between urban and rural India is far more pronounced than in most Western nations. The migration of rural population to urban areas in search of better job prospects has made cities densely populated. About 27% the population lives in urban areas. There are 4000 cities and towns in India. About 400 cities have a population over 100,000. Eight cities have population more than 3 million (Uddin, 2009).

India has more truly congested cities than any other nation, which is not surprising, since it is also the world’s second-most populous country, after China. Vehicles in India are distributed somewhat unevenly. Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru have 5% of India's population but 14% of its registered vehicles. Traffic is growing four times faster than the population in six cities: Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad. Indeed, Delhi is now said to have as many cars as Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai combined. Traffic is well known for moving at the pace of its slowest component. Most countries have automobiles, buses, trucks, trains, motorcycles, motor scooters and bicycles. But in India, in addition to this routine urban transportation, and contributing substantially to the congestion, are networks of auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers, as well as bullock carts and hand-pulled rickshaws (disappearing from some urban areas). There has been a staggering 100 fold increase in the population of motorized vehicles; however, the expansion in the road network has not been commensurate with this increase. While the motor vehicle population has grown from 0.3 million in 1951 to over 30 million in 2004, the road network has expanded from 0.4 million km to 3.32 million km, only an 8 fold increase in terms of length during the same period. However, upgrading of roads by way of widening of carriage-ways, improved surface quality, strengthening/reconstruction of old/weak bridges and culverts, etc. has been carried out (Uddin, 2009) 

A number of studies on congestion have been carried out for different cities of India. The effect of different types of vehicle on congestion has been captured on the basis of marginal congestion by Maitra et al. (2004) . Using congestion models, the marginal congestions have been estimated for different road widths, traffic compositions and on-street parking levels. The peak hour vehicular composition and volume level vary for different roads in an urban area. Therefore, for assessing the operating conditions for different roads based on a comparable quantitative measure, the marginal congestion caused per Passenger Car Unit (PCU) of mixed traffic stream has been estimated and denominated “Marginal Congestion Index (MCI)”. The use of MCI for prioritization of management actions for different urban roads has been discussed.

Singh & Sarkar, (2009) made an attempt to determine congestion pricing in central area of Delhi that is Connaught Place with a view to ensuring desired Level of Service. Two methods for the determination of optimal pricing were adopted. The first method was related to the Point of pricing where the external costs were met by the revenue generated by the pricing level while the second method was the Pricing level needed to maintain a level of service C. By using these methods, pricing for car and two-wheeler motorized vehicles had been determined.

Varmora and Gundaliya (2013) in their study in the city of Ahmadabad have shown that due to change in carriageway width and vehicle composition, the traffic stream speed and flow also encounter more congestion level along the length of link.

Roy et al. (2011) discuss a novel and interesting way to detect the congestion on the urban arterials in India. They suggest using a Wi-Fi signal emitting device and a receiver across the road to identify the congestion. This method was found to be successful in terms of high accuracy of classifying the road as congested or free flowing (Rao & Rao, 2012) .

Sen et al. (2009) discussed the characteristics of the ITS techniques that need to be developed to cater the traffic conditions and congestion in developing regions and presented a brief description of a few efforts being made in this direction (Rao & Rao, 2012),

While the transport situation in India’s rapidly growing cities is challenging, it is not hopeless. Indeed, local, state, and national governments could almost immediately undertake decisive actions that would greatly improve the situation, or at the very least, prevent its worsening (Pucher et al., 2005)

Improved Public Transport System: One of the ways to reduce congestion is to improve the public transport system. An efficient, fast, attractive, clean public transport system can reduce the number of private vehicles on the road. There is considerable evidence to suggest vehicle owners will use a mass transit system, if a good one is available. In fact, because of traffic snarls and the problem of finding parking space, many commuters in cities like New York and London choose to travel by the metro rail network (Uddin, 2009) . In some routes in Kolkata, particularly those leading to the IT sector in Salt Lake, buses are air-conditioned, attractive and well maintained. These are used even by the private car owners (Chakrabartty & Gupta, 2014)

Improved Traffic Management: This includes installing improved and technologically advanced traffic signaling devices. Stricter enforcement of traffic regulations on the road can also curtail congestion. This should also include proper training to drivers so that they maintain lane discipline and not overtake continuously. Overtaking aggravates the problem of congestion. In Kolkata, as compared to say Mumbai drivers do not have any road discipline which causes more congestion(Chakrabartty & Gupta, 2014).

Improved Rights of Way for Pedestrians: When the pedestrians overflow into the roadways from the footpaths then congestion is aggravated and the risk of accidents also increases.Thus, there is a need to keep the footpaths clear of encroachments so that people can walk on them and not on the roads. There is also the need to build subways and footbridges where necessary and convenient. There are a number of footbridges in Kolkata but people hardly use those (Chakrabartty & Gupta, 2014).

PPP in Maintaining and Running Buses: More private participation and investment in public transport, mainly buses, is needed. This can lead to more efficient and attractive public transport compared to the government owned ones. Public Private Partnership (PPP) is also required in building and maintaining roads (Chakrabartty & Gupta, 2014).

Congestion Charging: Cities around the world such as Singapore and London have introduced congestion charging schemes to reduce traffic. For instance, in London, drivers are charged a fee for entering the Central London zone. The idea was to ensure that those using the road infrastructure made a financial contribution towards it, discourage vehicle owners from making unnecessary journeys and encourage the use of public transport systems. The results were impressive indeed: traffic in central London went down by about 21 per cent, and traffic speeds went up by about 10%. Congestion charging brings with it a dual advantage: it reduces traffic on the roads and generates funds that can go towards improving alternative systems of transport (Uddin, 2009).

The government of India is planning to introduce congestion charging in the city of Delhi followed by those of Pune and Bangalore. ( In Kolkata congestion charges can be introduced on a few roads leading to the Central Business District (Dalhousie Area), in the morning peak i.e. from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. collection of the toll or tax by an automated machine would be difficult, however, because of the investment involved in installing these machines and further in their maintenance, and also for administering difficulties, unless private sector can be drawn in (Chakrabartty & Gupta, 2014).

It is true that congestion charge will dissuade people from making unnecessary trips during peak hours, but it may lead to distortion in income distribution. Many lower income people need to travel by public transport during peak hours. If they are made to pay the congestion charges in the form of raised bus/tram fares, they have to be compensated somehow, may be in the form of transport allowances; the government may not take that additional burden. On the other hand, transport price without congestion charge is itself a subsidy. In that case, public transport may be barred from entering the CBDs (Central Business District) in peak hours and riders made to walk. So, instead of raising bus fares in peak hours, car owners and other private vehicle owners may only be imposed the congestion charge (Chakrabartty & Gupta, 2014).

In the coming years traffic is expected to grow substantially in response to the mobility needs of the expanding population. Given the limited road space in the core city areas, this vehicular growth will lead to acute congestion in most of the Indian cities. To deal with these problems steps have to be taken, like inducting skilled staff, imparting administrative and technical training to the staff, utilizing more private resources, etc.

This article is an abridged format of a technical report, titled
Estimation of Congestion Cost in the City of Kolkata―A Case Study" 
Copyright © 2015 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY).
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