Category Archives: Research

A portrait in human commuting pain

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[Editor’s Note: A Facebook thread on auto rickshaw drivers in Bangalore, commuting in urban cities, and a carrot vs. stick policy led to this interesting commuting survey conducted by IBM in 2011. Thanks Sridhar Pabbisetty. Two of the 20 cities surveyed are Bangalore and New Delhi. I’ve cherry-picked the most interesting insights with a bias towards what Indian commuters are saying.]

8000+ survey respondents in 20 cities across six continents. The following 20 cities (which figure in the  world’s  top 65  in terms  of size and economic activity) are:

  • Asian cities: Bangalore,  Beijing, Moscow, New Delhi, Shenzhen, Singapore
  • European cities: London, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Stockholm
  • North/South American cities: Buenos Aires, Chicago, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Montreal, New York City, Toronto
  • African cities: Johannesburg, Nairobi

At the extremities..

Mexico City showed up as the ‘most painful’ city for commuting, while Montreal, London, and Chicago came out the ‘best’.

Consider some of the extremes: In Nairobi, 35% of drivers reported that they have spent three hours or more in traffic, and in Moscow, over 45%. In Beijing and Shenzhen, anger from traffic is by far the highest among the cities surveyed, while in New Delhi, Shenzen and Beijing, huge numbers of drivers have simply turned around and gone home rather dealing with the frustration of their intended journey.

Surprise surprise! driving is the predominant way to commute..

Across cities, driving is the predominant way to get to work or school (55% drive a car, 5% a motorbike, and 5% carpool on a worldwide average), with public transportation ranking a distant second (13% use the bus, 7% a train).

For all of the cities, the average one-­way length of the commute is 12.8 miles, taking about 33 minutes – meaning they are traveling a little over 23 miles per hour, a pace most would probably consider frustratingly ‘leisurely.’ American respondents (New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles), as well as inhabitants of Johannesburg, have the most miles to go (15+), while those in Mexico City, Moscow, Bangalore, Beijing, and Africa (Nairobi and Johannesburg) spend the most time (close to 40 minutes, on average) on the road to get to their workplace or school.

Can you believe Bangalore and New Delhi commuters are claiming “improvement”??? New Delhi’s metro a definite contributor.

Forty-­one percent of the respondents overall believe that traffic has worsened over the last three years in the areas where they commute, while, by contrast, 34% believe it has improved. Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing, and Shenzhen showed the highest percentage of people claiming improvement, while Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Paris, Milan, Moscow, and Johannesburg showed the highest percentage reporting decline. The large investments in transportation infrastructure in China and India could explain the improvements there.

Only New Delhi, Beijing, and Shenzhen commuters indicated that, net, traffic had become significantly better. And, in those cities, the results were resoundingly better: the improvement out-­‐stripped the negative by 30% or more. Clearly, in some very-­high‐traffic cities, some efforts to fix traffic are paying off.

Stop-and-start Traffic – does ANYONE love it?

Traffic comes in all forms, none of it pleasant, but stop-­and-­start traffic is considered the worst part of the commute (51%), followed by an unreliable journey time (31%), low speed (28%), and rude or aggressive drivers (27%). Only 11% say there is nothing to complain about. Further on this score, some local differences surfaced. Drivers in Los Angeles, Mexico City, India, China, Singapore, and Johannesburg seem to be particularly vexed with the stop-­and-start rhythm.

Stress and commuting – an obvious correlation!

The survey also looked at whether traffic had any subjective negative effects on respondents’ health. Forty-­two percent declared their stress level had increased; 35% reported more anger; 16% percent each, respiratory problems and less sleep; and 13% claimed to have been involved in some sort of traffic-­related accident.

Stress from driving is notably high in Mexico City, Milan, Bangalore, and Johannesburg (over 50% of respondents in these cities reported it). Respiratory difficulties arose most often in Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing, and Shenzhen. Drivers in Moscow, India, China, and Singapore were the angriest about traffic congestion, while those in Milan, India, China, and Singapore suffered health‐affecting traffic accidents more than in other cities.

What commuters want – public transportation and more timely information

25% of respondents said they would greatly appreciate more-­‐accurate, more-­‐timely information about road conditions, and 20% would prize the option to work at home. These are, of course, possibilities that technology has made far more available. The drivers most hopeful about the public transportation option are in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, New Delhi, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Nairobi, while drivers particularly craving better road-­‐information are in Chicago, Los Angeles, Moscow, and the Indian cities.

Consequences of traffic

A little over one-­third of respondents reported changing the way they get to work in the last year, while the remainder clung to habit. Drivers in Mexico City, Milan, Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing, and Shenzhen were the most likely to have changed, while Americans, Canadians, Londoners, Muscovites, and residents of Stockholm, Madrid and Nairobi were the most resistant – whether because they were the most habitual, or because change was simply impossible.

Forty-one percent of all respondents reported that at least once in the last three years, traffic was so bad that in the midst of a journey, they just turned around and went home (possibly encountering the same traffic jams on the way back!). The incidence of this about-face was especially pronounced in Mexico City, as well as in the Indian, Chinese, and African cities.

Even worse, 47% of all respondents said that in the last month they decided to forego a planned trip due to anticipated traffic at least once. Such discouragement particularly afflicted residents of Moscow, Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Nairobi – again, the prime victims of traffic in our survey.

A purely hypothetical question…

Finally, if people could be liberated from the specter of traffic, what would they do with the additional time? The survey revealed that 56% of people would spend more time with family and friends, 48% would exercise (or exercise more), 40% would spend more time on recreation, 29% would sleep more – and 24% would work more. In this last category – more work – those especially prone to do it are in Milan, Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing, and Nairobi.

Source links for IBM survey: press release [PDF]

IBM Commuter Pain Index

Auto rickshaws and sustainable urban transport

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Baap Ka Baap (that's Father of Father in Hindi)

Vicky Baba – Baap Ka Baap

Auto rickshaws were introduced in India in the 1950s. Seven decades later, urban denizens might love them or hate them but can surely not ignore them. Here’s how the numbers look like in the top four cities – over 1.2 lakh auto rickshaws in Mumbai and Bangalore, over 80,000 in Delhi, and approaching 1 lakh in Chennai.

Embarq (a division of the World Resources Institute) released a report in Feb 2012 analyzing the role of the auto-rickshaw industry in improving sustainable transportation. The Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) framework, one of the key approaches to promote sustainable urban transport, is the basis of the Embarq study. The ASI framework is based on three key strategies: (1) avoid unnecessary trips, (2) shift to more sustainable transport modes, and (3) improve performance in all modes. The report is chock full of insights and I’ve cherry-picked just a few for this blog entry.

The market size of auto-rickshaws in Indian cities currently varies from around 15,000 to 30,000 in Tier II cities (population between 1 and 4 million) to more than 50,000 in Tier I cities (population greater than 4 million). Based on population statistics, it is estimated that Tier I and II cities have 4 to 16 auto-rickshaws serving every 1,000 people on average.

Analysis of mode shares for select cities shows that auto-rickshaws serve between 10 and 20 percent of daily person trips made on motorized road transport modes. For these cities, auto-rickshaws constitute a small percentage (2-11%) of the total number of motor vehicles, but they account for a higher percentage of mode shares since they serve multiple users over the course of a day and night.

In Bangalore, for example, auto rickshaws represented 3% of motorized vehicles in 2005 but their mode share was 13%.

ASI sees “sustainability” in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving energy efficiency, reducing traffic congestion, and protecting public health and safety by promoting alternatives to the private car, among other strategies.

The findings from this study indicate that auto-rickshaw services in cities can help meet the objectives of the Shift strategy — of promoting public transport and reducing private motorization—based on the  following aspects:

  • First and last mile connectivity to public transport: Auto-rickshaw services, integrated as a feeder mode providing such connectivity, can complement public transport systems by ensuring that all parts of the city have easy access to public transport stations.
  • Door to door transport alternative to private motor vehicles: The door-to-door on-demand service provided by auto-rickshaws will ensure that transport needs requiring door-to-door connectivity, such as occasional trips to the airport or emergency trips for health care, can be met in cities without having to rely on private motor vehicles.

Link to Embarq report [PDF] “Sustainable Urban Transport in India: Role of the Auto-rickshaw Sector,”