Mumbai: Peak hour traffic in major Indian cities almost doubles the travel time along some popular routes, reveals data from Uber Movement, which provides anonymised, collated data of rides on its platform. The data also reveals that traffic is often skewed in one direction during a particular time of the day, reflecting that economic activity is often concentrated in a few parts of city.

In case of Mumbai’s Western Express Highway, travelling from the suburb of Borivali to Parel, an important commercial hub, takes almost double the time during peak hours compared to lean hours. Photo: HT
In case of Mumbai’s Western Express Highway, travelling from the suburb of Borivali to Parel, an important commercial hub, takes almost double the time during peak hours compared to lean hours. Photo: HT

Consider the time taken to commute from the suburbs to the city centre in Mumbai and Delhi. Average travel time during morning peak hour—from 7 am to 10 am—on a typical weekday is considerably higher than time taken during lean hours—midnight to 7 am—along the same route. In case of Mumbai’s Western Express Highway (WEH), travelling from the suburb of Borivali to Parel, an important commercial hub, takes almost double the time during peak hours compared to lean hours.

The metro construction work along the Western Express Highway may have exacerbated traffic congestion between January and March 2018. However, the situation was bad even a year ago, when the peak hour commute took 80% longer than travelling during the lean hour.

In Delhi, the addition to travel time was 77% along the Gurgaon-Delhi highway.

The direction of travel also often makes a difference. In Mumbai, the traffic flow is overwhelmingly skewed in one direction from the suburbs to the city centre in morning and vice-versa in the evening. However, in the case of Delhi, this is more mixed, with marginally more traffic flowing from Connaught Place towards Gurgaon (city centre to suburb), rather than the other direction. This suggests that the concentration of economic activity in a few hubs is more acute in Mumbai compared to Delhi.

There are also seasonal patterns at play. For instance, the monsoon months of July and August are particularly bad in both Mumbai and Delhi. May appears to be a traffic-light month in Mumbai, which is also the time when most schools close down for summer holidays.

A similar effect is visible in Delhi in June, at least for the selected routes examined by Mint.

Analysis also suggests that average travel time in both the cities increased between January 2016 and March 2018, the entire period for which Uber provides data.

However, the evidence is not conclusive as an increase was not witnessed along all the routes.

Nevertheless, several other studies point towards a deteriorating situation of traffic in India’s major cities. A study by Neema Davis and other researchers from IIT Madras found that average speed of taxis in New Delhi reduced from 34.2 kilometres per hour (kmph) to 33.6 kmph over the course of 2013. Their research suggested that increased congestion was the culprit behind slowing speeds.

Similarly, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai’s Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) released in 2016, expressed concerns over the state of worsening traffic and attributed it mainly to an increase in the number of privately-owned vehicles. The report’s analysis, using Global Positioning System (GPS) showed that average journey speed along major routes in Mumbai is only 20kmph during morning peak hours, compared to off-peak period average of 27kmph.

The spectre of deteriorating traffic congestion in cities should worry us, as the time spent by Indians in daily commute is already among the highest in the world, according to a recent survey by Dalia research.

Thus, there is an urgent need to improve traffic management in India’s cities. Measures such as introducing dedicated bus corridors or encouraging ride-sharing among commuters can be some of the useful quick fixes for the situation. However, a more long-term solution is likely to involve greater investment in mass rapid transit systems or metro, a theme we will explore in the second part of this series on metropolitan traffic.

Arjun Srinivas is a fellow, working with Mint as part of the Hindustan Times–Mint– How India Lives Data Journalism Fellowship.

This is the first of a two-part data journalism series on metropolitan traffic in India.

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