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Insights into Editorial: India’s urban mobility and congestion problem

Insights into Editorial: India’s urban mobility and congestion problem


India is a country with the second largest road network in the world. Out of the total stretch of 5.4 million km of road network, almost 97,991 km is covered by national highways.

Traffic congestion has increased dramatically in India. Congestion and the associated slow urban mobility can have a huge adverse impact on both the quality of life and the economy.

It is already a huge challenge for the Indian government to provide world-class roads, due to the sheer magnitude.

To add to it, India has to spend almost around ₹20,000 to ₹30,000 crore on the maintenance of roads every year. The reason behind this is the increase in the private vehicle ownership and the overburdening of roads in all major cities of the country.


Answers need to be identified for the following:

Are all cities in India congested or just some of them?

Are Delhi and Mumbai less or more congested than, say, Patna and Varanasi?

Are mobility and congestion different within cities across the centre and periphery, and at different times of the day?

How congested are Indian cities compared to cities in the US? What does the future hold?

Roads in cities are multi-purpose public goods, used by various classes of motorized and non-motorized vehicles to travel and park, as well as a wide variety of other users such as street-sellers, children playing and animals.


Understanding the problem of Congestion:

Our understanding of the underlying reasons for congestion is still evolving.

A popular view is that urbanization leads to ever larger cities and increased rates of motorization. These two features eventually lead to a complete gridlock and congestion.

However, economic growth also brings about better travel infrastructure, which facilitates uncongested mobility and increases the pace of urban mobility.

Indian cities have experienced both these trends. These changes are taking place at a much faster pace in India than in the UK and the US.

Transportation investments constitute the largest component of lending of many global development institutions.


Data on urban transportation in India is scarce. In the UK and the US, knowledge on urban mobility and congestion stems from surveys of household travel behaviour.

However, such surveys are prohibitively expensive to carry out in India. We used other methods to examine urban mobility and congestion.

World Bank used a popular web mapping and transportation service to generate information for more than 22 million trips across 154 large Indian cities.

The multi-purpose nature of urban transport also impacts urban mobility in India.


Policy challenge that need to be addressed by Area-Specific Approach:

The unique Indian travel patterns imply that country-specific and city-level policies are necessary.

Standard policy recommendations such as congestion pricing or other types of travel restrictions may do little to improve mobility.

Instead, potentially costly travel infrastructure investments may be the only way to improve uncongested mobility.

Better uncongested mobility generally correlates with the process of faster economic growth.


Slow urban mobility in India is primarily due to cities being slow all the time, rather than congested at peak hours. However, congestion is not a nationwide problem. It is concentrated near the centre of the largest Indian cities.

Given their importance to the Indian economy, these areas with the highest levels of congestion, such as the city centres of Kolkota and Bengaluru, should be the focus of policy efforts to alleviate congestion.



Investment in urban transport also plays an important role in influencing property prices.

A deeper understanding of the interactions between urbanization, urban mobility and congestion will help improve investments in transport and city competitiveness.

Recently, the odd-even scheme devised by the Delhi CM created a lot of buzz, but did not seem enough, unless it is supported by other grass root level measures.

More primary roads and regular grid patterns are need to be associated with faster urban mobility.

There can be an 80% cut in CO2 emissions if cities embrace 3 revolutions (3R) in vehicle technology: automation, electrification, and, most importantly, ride sharing.


Way Forward:

Some of the solutions which can be used are given below.

Any solution is expected to be successfully implemented, it will definitely require effort and planning on a huge scale. This is especially for when we are coming up with plans which can reach the entire country.

  • Corruption will have to be curbed, and it will be extremely vital that the raw material is of the highest quality are used for the longevity and strength of the roads.
  • Road pricing system – people should be charged based on the length of the road and the duration for which they use the road. This will be difficult to implement and will require huge technological investment to become possible.


  • Improvement in public transport and additional schemes like BRT. The Bus Rapid Transport is implemented in some cities like Pune, and it can be very helpful if implemented correctly.
  • People should try and use carpooling and bike pooling as much as possible. Use of bicycles for smaller distances also improves individual health along with reducing pollution and road congestion.


  • Strict and stringent measures against traffic violators. A regulation in the traffic rules and fines levied for breaking them.
  • Metro can play a huge role in improving the traffic issues to a great extent. If Nagpur metro becomes successful, it will pave the way for implementation in other cities as well which can be very beneficial.


  • Increase in the use of CNG and electrical vehicles and providing relief to those who use the same.

It’s time that city leaders and officers in India recognize the benefits of sustainable mobility and incorporate well-defined strategies and policies into their own public agendas. The future of their economies and their citizens depends on it.