For most middle and upper middle class Indians, owning a car is a status symbol and given this trend, the streets of India's leading cities are increasingly clogged and polluted. Research suggests that the growth of car ownership in India would be among the fastest anywhere in the world for years to come. The absolute numbers would also be large, second only to China. India is going to be the world's third largest car market by 2030, said one study recently.
However, while Indian cities are beginning to face the same terrible issues akin to cities in China thanks to burgeoning growth of traffic, especially cars, cities like the Finnish capital of Helsinki are thinking future-forward in terms of the ability of citizens to live without needing a car.
Helsinki, for instance, has set a goal of having zero individually owned cars by 2025, according to a thesis project written by transportation engineer Sonja Heikkilä of Aalto University and commissioned by the Helsinki City Planning Department.
Her thesis points to the use of Intelligent Transportation Systems and the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) in order to transform the passenger transport sector in Helsinki. The MaaS idea is that Helsinki would have a city-wide mobile application that would guide users from their starting point to the final destination through bikes, trains and ride-sharing, depending on location and weather.
Entrepreneur.com cites her thesis to describe a day in the transportation life of a future Helsinki resident, if Heikkilä's plan were to be instituted: "Piritta boards a tram, alights from it a couple of stops later and hires a bicycle to travel to work. After work, she orders a car of demand responsive transport and travels to the sport hall, where her training equipment already waits for her. Finally after practice, she shares a ride in a shared car and travels home. Piritta uses all services through her personal mobility operator and the use of services is charged directly from her account."
Payment by Helsinki residents would either be through a single public services card, a monthly bill or via smartphone. Part of the communal transportation system would rely on the use of rentable lockers, located throughout the city, for residents to store their belongings, according to Heikkilä's paper.
"Baby boomers and the Generation X pursued freedom through driving cars, but Millennials find freedom through the Internet and other information and communication devices," writes Heikkilä, who notes that "Transportation consumes 20 % of the total energy spent in Finland and 40 % of the energy produced from oil. In addition, transport induces emissions, such as greenhouse gases. Transport induced 26 % of the global CO2 emissions in 2007 and 27% of the greenhouse gases in Finland in 2012...Moreover, transport causes noise pollution, unties particles from road surfaces, and adversely affects the nature. In urban passenger transport, private car naturally causes relatively much emission."
A study by academics Debabrata Das, Subhash Dutta and Sharifuddin on "Car Ownership Growth In Delhi" (Decision, August 2010) noted that "personalised vehicles accounted for 93.73% of the total vehicles " in Delhi. Cars and jeeps have registered a decennial growth rate of 126.49 per cent, which is highest among all the categories of vehicles followed by two wheelers (i.e. scooter, motorcycle and moped) with 77.82% respectively. (Economic Survey of Delhi, 2007-08).
These academics have forecast that the total number of cars (including jeeps) in Delhi will rise from 14.67 lakh in 2005-06 to 34.83 lakh in 2020-21 under certain saturation limits. If the saturation limit is doubled, it will be 41.94 lakh which is around 20% of the projected population at that time. That would mean passenger transportation perils in extremis for India's capital city.
Passenger transportation is experiencing a serious restructuring in parts of the developed world, according to Heikkila. The study has gone deep into several aspects of the transportation issue - from governance (including fresh legislation), telecommunication, business networks and possibilities, creation of infrastructure for mobility, et al in the expectation that the MaaS concept could be implemented across 10 years, from pilot programs to reality in 2025.
India too, especially Delhi, is seeing enough evidence of passenger transportation pressure to call for serious restructuring of its passenger transportation systems being brought about by "the natural trends appearing in the society, such as social change, urbanization, the development of technology, and alternating requirements of people concerning transport. In addition, the scarcity of financial resources, environmental issues, and capacity shortages, due to the increase in the population, push to the transformation."
The widespread penchant for and use of mobility technologies among Indian masses should also be an enabler of a passenger transportation revolution. It would do India's city transportation planners to look to the Helsinki model and urgently draw up domestic plans to come up to speed with the MaaS concept by creating a pilot programme in New Delhi or another metropolis facing traffic jams and smog and see how far it can go to bring about a passenger transportation revolution by 2025.
[The author is a senior journalist who has just retired from the Deccan Herald. This article reflects his personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of IBTimes India.]