Just as a child experiences growing pains as it goes through the various stages of development, so too it seems, does a country. At least that appears to be the case in India as it slowly comes to terms with some of the by-products of its status as a developing nation. As the economy has grown, so too has disposable income, which in turn has led to an increase in the number of cars on the Indian road network.
There were 1.5 million cars sold in India in 2007, a figure which represents more than double the number sold in 2003. And the apparently insatiable appetite of Indian for motor vehicles shows no signs of being sated. It is widely predicted that this year will see India overtake China as the world’s fastest growing car market. The introduction of the world’s cheapest car, the Tato Nano, has played a significant role in the increase in cars on Indian roads. Priced at a mere USD 3,000, the model has opened the way for a significant number of first time buyers to own a car, something which had previously been unthinkable for all but a tiny minority of India’s population.
Compounding the problem created by the increase in cars on India’s roads is how disproportionately the vehicles are distributed. Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore are home to just five per cent of the country’s population. Yet the same four cities are also home to 14 per cent of India’s registered vehicles. What’s more, in six cities the amount of traffic is growing at a rate equivalent to four times faster than the population. It is clear that the current rate of growth in the number of cars on the Indian road network is unsustainable, but what is the most effective way of addressing the issue?
One solution which has been widely touted as the answer is the development of expanded, and more efficient, public transport systems. Existing networks such as those in London and New York are viewed as examples of how an effective public transport system can function, with officials in India are keen to introduce similar schemes to Indian cities. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pushed for a metro rail network in Mumbai and it is likely that similar schemes could be implemented elsewhere if it were to prove a success.
While these schemes would likely be a popular move among the population, the huge investment that would be required remains the elephant in the room. With the worldwide financial crisis likely to take some time to improve, it is more likely that the authorities will seek cheaper alternatives to the increased number of cars on India’s roads. One such alternative is to reduce traffic through the introduction of a congestion charging scheme or by providing incentives for car-pooling. The congestion charge in London has proved a very effective way of reducing congestion, with traffic falling by 21 per cent and traffic speeds increasing by around 10 per cent. The revenue raised through such a scheme could then be channeled into improving existing public transport networks. This could provide good food for thought for the government.