Delhi shares the same problems as most of the mega cities in developing countries and emerging markets do: ~25 million people in the metropolitan area with massive urbanization and a fast growing middle class claiming motorized private transport and big cars as status symbols. The city cannot cope with this growth and the consequences are massive: people wasting millions of hours in traffic jams and facing severe health risk through air pollution. Can Mobility as a Service be of help? 

Smog and air pollution in Delhi costs >4 years of its citizen’s live time in average – far more than any other thread being it war, terror, accidents or diseases. (c) Sumita Roy Dutta

Delhians are well aware of this thread and take some actions such as fostering the switch from gas-powered vehicles to CNG or LPG, erecting a new mass rapid transit system with 8 metro lines or establishing bike sharing schemes – but these improvements are not well coordinated and get outnumbered by negative effects and the situation gets worse every year, impacting tens of millions of lives.

Ride hailing companies like Uber and Ola added a large number of cars to the streets and cannibalize public transport. In addition they operate inefficiently, e.g. despite of the existing dedicated pickup points at the airport for Ola and Uber passengers with dozens of ride hailing cars queuing up, customers cannot take the next available car like in a taxi queue but have to stick to their app-based dispatching system – leading to unnecessary long waiting time for customers and unnecessary traffic. It is time to rethink the ride assignment policy in such locations for the benefit of all. 

Ride pooling or carpooling seems to gain traction. Wunder Carpool, which is operating in New Delhi and some other similar mega cities, recently passed the 5 million rides mark. Even this achievement makes Wunder one of the most successful carpool systems on earth, it is just a drop in the ocean. Other pooling attempts like Uber Pool might scale better simply due to their size. Nevertheless even increasing car occupancy with ride or car pooling, will not sufficiently compensate for the lack of mass transit systems which could provide the traffic density needed.

Motor and bike rickshaws as well as cargo bikes are common means of transport in the inner city of Delhi (c) Nico Smit

First attempts to set up bike sharing schemes have only been successful in some satellite districts with lower traffic density and many tech-savvy users around. Bike schemes in the inner city failed so far probably simply due to a lack of bike infrastructure. Newly established bike lanes often get used by speeding motorbikes or get blocked by push carts, making cycling almost impossible. Without further investments in bike infrastructure and strict policy enforcement, bicycles will not become a last mile alternative in he city center but remain the domain of slow bike rickshaws and overloaded cargo bikes.

Cargo bikes and even push carts play a vital role in the inner-city logistics and secure jobs opportunities for deprived demographic groups, such as the so called “dalits”.

Traffic in Delhi is neither safe nor efficient. The drivers are artists in squeezing through the traffic jam while being alert of other cars, rickshaws, bikes, push carts, pedestrians and of course holy cows crossing their paths from all sides. The many dents in most cars and the high death toll witnesses that it does not always work out to be alert but otherwise ignore most traffic rules. Slow traffic and unnecessary high pollution is the other downside of this lack of governance.

Traffic in India follows its own rules – but no written ones. In the city center moving by car is not faster than walking – but it is for sure safer.

New attempts to enforce traffic rules include speed limiting devices in all commercial vehicles, limiting their speed to 60-80 kmph. Speeding accounts for almost 70% of all lethal accidents in India. Automated ticketing for ignoring pedestrians on zebra crossings is another attempt. If you have ever tried to claim your right way of as a pedestrian on an Indian zebra crossing – you either learned to jump quickly or you got likely hit by a car. In future at least an automated image will be taken of this event and the driver might get a ticket 😉 A massive change in behavior will be a prerequisite to be able to manage traffic but it will take time and effort.

Public mass transit is key in the fast growing mega cities. The Delhi metro airport line is cheap to use and has an excellent standard – but is still underutilized.

Like in all dense mega cities only efficient mass transit systems can cope with the massive demand. Individual mobility options can only supplement on the first and last mile but by no means take the main share of traffic. Metros, subways and commuter trains are the backbone of these systems complemented by buses – and ideally complemented but not cannibalized by shuttles, cars (taxis or ride hailing), bikes and scooters.

In Delhi, as in most other fast growing mega cities, the public transport hasn’t got sufficient capacity in some areas yet – nor is very inefficient in other areas, which in the end leads to frequent traffic infarcts. 

While building railway and subway infrastructure will take decades, improving operational efficiency of the existing system could already help short term: payment for rides is mainly based on tokens valid only for certain lines, available on in certain queues of certain stations – highly inefficient. The DMRC app does not yet provide end to end schedules and payment options nor does it allow foreign payment options – leaving all foreign visitors stranded. Also there is no connection to other means of transport yet. A low hanging fruit to grab! And this is where MaaS could help.

Update on Dec. 29, 2018: The ride hailing companies Ola and Uber partner with Delhi Metro for last mile connectivity by setting up kiosks to support ride hailing even without the app. Time will show if this will really complement public transport or just move it from the Metro and
rickshaws to cars.

MaaS for Mega Cities? Impressions from Delhi.
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