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Rethinking Urban Mobility in India

The good news is that there is an alternative to a world that looks like a parking lot and moves like a traffic jam. It’s a world where more people share rides and take public transit. The question is how do cities get there?

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The Smog that smothered New Delhi after Diwali this year brought health issues and inconvenience for millions of people. It also brought home an increasingly frightening reality: air pollution in the city risks making it unlivable.

Data from WHO shows that Indians are facing toxic air exposure levels that are anywhere 4 to 12 times the safe limit. There are several factors behind the emergency, including the burning of crops in neighbouring states, construction and industrial activities. Another is our addiction to private car ownership.

It’s easy to demonise the car. There are two billion in the world today: equivalent to the populations of China and Europe combined. But the problem is not so much cars themselves. It’s how we use them: individually.

Of course, all this individual car use comes at considerable public cost. In Los Angeles and Sydney people waste two whole working weeks stuck in traffic every year. It’s even worse in Mexico City. The congestion increases pollution. Today 22 per cent of all CO2 emissions globally come from cars.

But that’s just one part of the problem, cars sit idle 96 per cent of the time! There is a tremendous opportunity cost to parking, though it’s something we often don’t count. It’s space that could otherwise be used for bicycle lanes or more affordable housing. But, today, in most cities, parking is encouraged not discouraged.

To be honest, when our founders started Uber, they weren’t thinking about any of this. They were just excited about the idea that you could press a button on your smartphone and have a car turn-up. It was only once Uber got going—and ridesharing took off—we began to understand that today’s transportation status quo is insufficient, inefficient and unequal.

The good news is that there is an alternative to a world that looks like a parking lot and moves like a traffic jam. It’s a world where more people share rides and take public transit. The question is how do cities get there?

Ridesharing apps like Uber can reliably serve every corner of a city. Technology makes it possible and real time dynamic pricing ensures that the supply of cars can meet the demand from passengers.

But what about affordability? This is crucial too because people will only give up their cars if they have affordable and reliable alternatives to individual ownership. Policymakers have been talking about carpooling for years—but the idea never really took off at scale because it’s just too hard.

But now with technology, we can match riders going in the same direction at the same time ­­—all of it in real time—making it one ride instead of two, or even three! It ‘s good for riders, drivers and the city as well.

We’re already seeing attitudes to individual car ownership begin to change. In just a year since the launch of UberPOOL in India we have now taken the carpooling option to six cities across the country. Not just that, in India more than 20 per cent of our rides in India are now on pool. In India, since the launch of UberPOOL in December 2015, we have saved over 32 million kilometres travelled, over 1.5 million litres of fuel and cut over 3.5 million kgs CO2 emissions.

This is our ultimate hope for the future. Mass urbanisation is one of the defining trends of our generation. There is so much that is great about living in a city today. And by embracing shared modes of transportation we can make all cities less congested and polluted; with more space for people and parks; and where everyone, wherever they live and whatever their income, has access to affordable, reliable transportation.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Amit Jain

The author is President, Uber India

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