Home > politics > policy > Snap Fact | Slow travel times in India: It’s not just traffic

Mumbai: Last week the NITI Aayog announced a global hackathon, “Move Hack", to generate solutions for India’s urban mobility problems. While urban mobility has long been acknowledged as an important policy objective, not much is known about what hinders mobility in Indian cities.

A new, preliminary study by Prottoy Akbar of the University of Pittsburgh and others sheds light on these factors. The authors use Google Maps to construct 22 million trips in 154 Indian cities and use the associated travel times to analyse urban mobility. Unsurprisingly, they find large differences in mobility across cities: in the fastest 15 cities, travel is 30% faster than in the slowest 15.

Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad are India’s slowest cities; smaller cities such as Ranipet (Tamil Nadu), Srinagar and Kayamkulam (Kerala) are the fastest.

This variation is driven primarily by what the researchers call “uncongested mobility", which accounts for 70% of travel time variation, rather than the usual suspect—road traffic (which accounts for less than 30%).

Uncongested mobility, defined as “free flow" speed in the absence of congestion or traffic on the roads, depends on a range of factors such as roads, land area and population. Large populations or bigger land areas make cities “intrinsically slow" and this slows down travel more than overcrowded roads at peak hours. Surprisingly, researchers find that development and increased rates of vehicle ownership are associated with faster mobility despite a negative congestion effect.

While the paper does not provide concrete policy advice, the innovative use of Google Maps data to measure mobility could be a way for city planners to quickly assess the impact of any changes in transport policy.

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