India’s metro cities suffer from congested traffic, stagnant bottlenecks and massive on-road delays, daily. Analytical insights on traffic patterns can help city runners plan routes and traffic management strategies better. Paromik Chakraborty of Electronics For You speaks with Prabhjeet Singh, head of cities, India and South Asia, Uber, about how their platform Uber Movement can improve the notorious urban traffic conditions.
Q. What are the major challenges faced by Indian roads, and how heavily do those lead to peak traffic conditions?
A. Transportation in India is highly fragmented and disorganised across various modes, with poor infrastructure and low public transport density. Delhi has the highest share—45 per cent—of people using private cars for commuting, whereas Bengaluru sees 38 per cent of people doing so.
According to an April 2018 study done by Boston Consulting Group, traffic congestion during peak hours in four major cities, namely, New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, costs the economy a whopping US$ 22 billion annually.
Travellers in these four cities spend 1.5 hours more on their daily commutes than their counterparts in other Asian cities during peak traffic times. Peak-hour congestion, which indicates the excess time taken during peak traffic to travel a given distance, in these four Indian cities is estimated at 149 per cent. This is much higher than the Asian average of 67 per cent. In such a situation, riders and drivers have to undertake multiple challenges daily.
Q. How does Uber Movement collect necessary traffic data and generate insights?
A. Uber Movement is a free public website that makes Uber’s network data available to help governments and urban planners, regarding travel times in various transport corridors. It is designed to address the challenges faced by urban planners and departments of transportation staff, and help them make informed decisions on infrastructure, urban mobility and traffic management.
Uber Movement shows data from billions of rides taken with Uber, aggregated into zones covering standard boundaries used by urban planners. It matches anonymised GPS trace pings from Uber trips to zones (such as Census Tracts), selects the median ping for each zone a trip passes through and then measures the elapsed time between medians of various zones to provide zone-to-zone travel time aggregates at an hourly level.
Q. So far, in how many cities has Uber Movement been deployed? Can you share some case studies?
A. Today, users can explore and analyse data for Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad. We will keep rolling out the service in additional cities around India in coming months. Some of our most important findings revolve around different observed patterns of travel times, how cities move at different times of the day, week and year.
For instance, in New Delhi, Uber Movement conducted a study mapping the impact of the festival Dhanteras on traffic and travel times. Data pointed to about 30 per cent increase in travel times between Ambedkar Nagar and Moolchand, and around 20 per cent hike throughout the city. A consistent pattern in inbound traffic towards the city centre was also observed.
In yet another example, by analysing Uber Movement data, we were able to examine the impact of London Bridge closure in late 2016 on travel times throughout London. Data showed about 65 per cent increase in south-bound travel times and 30 per cent increase in north-bound travel times on either side of River Thames, along with a noticeable shift throughout London.
This not only highlighted the cascading effects of the city’s reliance on the bridge but also stressed on the need for alternative river crossings, and effective management of road planning and infrastructure closures.
Q. What benefits can Uber Movement platform deliver to urban traffic administratives?
A. Uber Movement was launched to help civic authorities, local governments, transportation researchers, think-tanks and policymakers in the aforementioned cities to discover ways to apply data to improve road infrastructure, and plan urban mobility and traffic strategies better.
The platform can be applied to any given set of facilities or services, be it traffic patterns in Gurugram or monsoon-led disruptions in Mumbai. The movement’s data has various use cases, and has been proven to be very useful in enabling data-driven decisions about transportation challenges, such as congestion, prioritising infrastructure investment, improving safety and more.
Q. How cooperative has the government (central as well as state) been in helping with its deployment?
A. The government has been extremely welcoming and approving of Uber Movement. Together, we have been able to extract information around traffic trends and to measure the impact of extended Metro lines, first- and last-mile connectivity options, traffic interventions and more, to strengthen a data-led approach to urban planning.
We intend to engage with more policy makers, academia and civic authorities across the country to apprise them of the potential of Uber Movement in the near future.
Q. What will be your most important tip to city-level decision makers in controlling urban India’s vicious traffic conditions?
A. High-quality data is the foundation of operations as public transport becomes increasingly digitised. It is crucial to find effective data-sharing solutions (what to share, how and with whom) to make the most of the gold mine the industry is sitting on.
Private companies have the technological know-how to build an application that would work towards improving the future of multi-modal transport, but combined efforts and development of a public private-partnership is imperative to utilise the best resources, create sustainably-optimised networks and transform the mobility landscape of the country.