By Rameesh Kailasam & Madhabi Sarkar

The availability of transportation and having access to it is a basic human right. Next comes how easy it is to move and whether transportation is a comfortable or a horrid affair wherever you move. The ease at which a person gets access to a mode of transportation minus the stress and the subsequent feeling of comfort, pleasure, convenience, safety and security is one of the important aspects of “ease of moving”. This holds true for humans and their access to goods as well and hence, there is a need for governments to ensure that mobility is safe, reliable, affordable, financially viable, as well as environmentally sustainable.

Strengthening mobility has been at the heart of the reforms that prime minister Narendra Modi has stressed upon. India today has embarked on a 25-year journey of Amrit Kaal with an aim to become a developed nation by 2047. If cities are the growth engines of an economy, a robust mobility system is the key enabler to the system. The PM Gati-Shakti National Master Plan for Multi-modal Connectivity will reduce travel time for people through better last mile connectivity. Initiatives like Pragati Ki Nayi Gati are committed to building world-class road infrastructure, greenfield expressways, and highways at an unprecedented pace. Initiatives such as Cycle4Change and Transport4All under the Smart Cities Mission are just two of numerous projects initiated by the government to mainstream sustainable mobility. The Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) campaign launched by the prime minister embodies the principles of active and shared mobility by enabling a shift to non-motorized transport.

The recently released Ease of Moving Index India 2022 report, a study by OMI Foundation, highlights nine such inter-related parameters and measures how 40 Indian cities fare on them. The Index measures the degree of digitalisation of mobility services across our cities. The survey indicates that over 95% of commuters have smartphones in all the cities surveyed, which supports the future of mobility through digitalisation of mobility services such as journey planning, ride-sharing, hyperlocal deliveries, discovering public transport services, and making digital payments.

The Index evaluates how cities take these and other everyday economic actions by measuring their performance in the adoption of cashless payments for mobility-related services. For example, Aizawl, Hyderabad, and Ludhiana have the highest approval of cashless payments for public transport and related services at 34.31%, 26.36% and 25.48% respectively. At the same time, some of the leading city bus systems in the country like Chennai and Bengaluru still issue pre-printed paper tickets and are yet to transition to digital forms for fare payments, thus affecting efficiencies and preventing possible leakages.

The Index, through its survey in 40 cities, also analyzes the penetration of smartphone applications used for ease of movement as well as service delivery. Kolkata seems to have a higher percentage of shared mobility, while many smaller cities like Jabalpur, Bhopal, and Dehradun too have over 50% mode share for personal mobility. Mumbai (69.75%), Pune-Pimpri Chinchwad (63.87%), and Coimbatore (57.78%) have shared mobility.

In terms of air cleanliness, the PM2.5 levels and air pollution-related deaths in some Indian cities have been particularly high. Indian cities constituted for 39 of the 50 most polluted cities in the world in 2022. The Index reports that some cities are transitioning to electric buses—Pimpri Chinchwad has 650 electric buses, Bengaluru has 1,311 buses, and Delhi has 1,500, but at the same time, Chennai is yet to augment.

In Ahmedabad, the Index highlights that a high percentage of respondents (79.56%) are open to switching to electric personal vehicles. Similarly, 52.34% of respondents in Jammu also said they are open to owning a personal electric vehicle. However, the overall average for all cities surveyed remains relatively low around 30%. Again, accelerated policy reform for both the consumers as well as the manufacturing, retailing, and enabling businesses in the EV space is needed to drive this number higher.

Looking deeper into the Ease of Moving Index 2022 and cross-referencing it with municipal budgets across Indian cities also throws some light on challenges of disparity. For example, Mumbai and the twin cities of Pune-Pimpri Chinchwad have two of the highest per capita municipal budgets in the country at Rs 30,000 and Rs 29,000 respectively and are, therefore, able to invest heavily in public transport and mobility sectors by building metros and augmenting electric buses. In contrast, the per capita municipal budgets for Kohima and Dehradun are less than Rs 1,000 and are therefore likely to be limited in their ability to invest.

Investments in the public realm like pedestrian and cycling infrastructure will encourage more people to walk, cycle and use public transport, thus increasing farebox revenue, reducing vehicular traffic and therefore, reducing emissions and road abrasion.

When it comes to government initiatives, there is a need for greater state and city participation. For example, according to the 2022 study Waste to Wheel: Mainstreaming Bio-CNG for Mobility in Indian Cities, the use of wet waste to produce Bio-CNG fuel for public buses in Indore is a great case of Swachh Bharat Mission’s layered impact. A similar circular economy approach of converting waste to fuel will enable our cities to take carbon credits, reduce emissions and promote clean mobility.

Data is critical for decision making and exercises like the OMI-Ease of Moving Index are a must to power insights that will move us towards a more sustainable, resilient and equitable future for our cities.

The authors are Respectively, CEO and senior manager, public policy,

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