India is one the fastest growing economies of the world. The rapid urbanisation and increasing motorisation are constantly fuelling India’s demand for mobility, leading to inevitable mobility challenges such as congestion, air pollution and increased time of travel. It is estimated that by 2050, 70 per cent of India’s population will be residing in cities and urban centres. In order to transform its cities into world-class smart cities, the country is investing heavily in transport and infrastructure. One of the key defining features of a smart city is smart and efficient mobility. It is an approach that promotes affordable commuting, multiple modes of transportation, including rapid mass transit systems, bike sharing and the adoption of last-mile connectivity so that people switch to the use of public transport.
Working towards better mobility
The mobility landscape in India faces several challenges, last-mile connectivity being one of them. To address this issue, the local authorities are increasingly striving to integrate public transport such as Metrorail with other transit services like feeder buses and electric rickshaws, bike and other vehicle sharing, and non-motorised solutions, thereby making public transport more viable. With capital-intensive projects such as Metrorail coming under the scanner over their financial viability in smaller cities, the government has come up with the proposal of Metrolite in Tier II and Tier III cities in the Union Budget 2021-22.
In a notable development, the Toyota Mobility Foundation (TMF), in collaboration with the WRI India Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, has initiated the Station Access and Mobility Program, focusing on high quality first and last-mile connectivity solutions to metro services. It aims to support the government’s initiatives to enable mass transportation by increasing ridership and seamless mobility for the public. So far, this multicity initiative has worked with metro rail agencies and other partners in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kochi, Mumbai and most recently in Pune, to improve first- and last-mile connectivity, making it easier for the public to access mass transit metro stations. In July 2021, MahaMetro planned to join hands with Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited, autorickshaw unions, cab aggregators and bus operators in this regard, and has signed 14 MoUs for feeder services so far, with various service providers. It is also collaborating with Indian Railways, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, and the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation for a seamless switching experience between different transport services.
Recently, in October 2021, a fleet of 25 electric rickshaws was launched for providing last-mile connectivity to commuters to and from the Noida Electronic City metro station. The initiative was launched by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), in collaboration with ETO Motors, which will eventually cover more metro stations on the DMRC network in the future. It is expected that the fleet will be increased to 100 by the end of November 2021, covering more stations in the Noida section of the Blue Line, which include Noida Sector 62, Noida Sector 59, Noida Sector 61 and Noida Sector 34. In a similar development, DMRC partnered with Navnirman to operate e-rickshaws from Shakurpur and Rithala metro stations. The first organised fleet of 40 e-rickshaws commenced from these metro stations in August 2021.
Another initiative to enable last-mile connectivity is public bike sharing (PBS) and car sharing. Cities such as Bhopal, Pune, Mysuru, Jaipur and Delhi have undertaken initiatives to promote the same. Bhopal introduced a PBS system in 2017, as a safer, more economical, healthier and eco-friendly mode of transport. The project provides first- and last-mile connectivity to and from the bus rapid transit (BRT) system in the city. Pune has a Pune Cycle Plan, which was developed in 2016 to help make Pune a cycle-friendly city. Under this, users can hire a cycle from any docking station, located at convenient places in the city, use it to go anywhere they want to, and return it to a docking station located near their destination. Such stations are located near popular destinations, BRT areas, train stations, etc. Mysuru was the first smart city to launch the PBS system, Trin-Trin, in June 2017. It has 48 cycle docking stations spread across the city, which make 450 cycles available for use by the public. Further, a central control centre has been set up for controlling and monitoring the system, along with a website and a mobile app for enquiries and registration. Shared mobility services are also being offered by Ola and Uber in the form of shared cab and motorbikes. Another organisation that offers shared mobility is Yulu. It has a fleet of more than 10,000 electric vehicles and is currently operational in Bengaluru, New Delhi, Mumbai and Pune.
To sum up
The pace at which the transport infrastructure is evolving is expected to transform the way India will commute in the future. However, it is of utmost importance that citizens are encouraged to increasingly opt for public transport. It is essential that the city has a seamless transport system with smooth synchronisation between different modes of transport and a customised user experience. Going forward, India needs to undertake more initiatives to build last-mile connectivity infrastructure. Policies and government interventions for the same will give sustainable and smart mobility the much-needed push.