When it Comes to Reducing Car Congestion, India’s Cities Can Learn from its Businesses
Bangalore TDM India

The Indian city of Bangalore is engaging the private sector to shift how employees commute to work, reducing traffic congestion and costs for everyone. Photo by Miroslav Čuljat/Flickr.

A century of car-centric urban development has left our cities polluted, congested, and searching for sustainable solutions. Transport Demand Management (TDM) strategies can provide these solutions by combining public policy and private sector innovation to reverse over-reliance on private cars. The Moving Beyond Cars series—exclusive to TheCityFix and WRI Insights—offers a global tour of TDM solutions in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico, providing lessons in how cities can curb car culture to make sustainable transport a reality.

The number of cars on India’s roads has been doubling every 8-10 years—and it’s costing the country. A WHO study from 2014 found that 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India.  The country experiences 120,000 deaths per year due to traffic fatalities, more than any other country.  And traffic congestion in Bangalore alone costs the city approximately 5 percent of its economic output.

City governments in India are still focused on investing in road expansions and overpass construction projects rather than curbing car dependence and improving public transport services.  Instead of waiting for local governments to act, a handful of Indian businesses are taking the initiative to implement transport demand management (TDM) strategies, improving the productivity of their employees and reducing the social costs of car congestion.

TDM Initiatives Reduce Costs for Indian Businesses and Employees

Employer-initiated TDM strategies have been especially common in the information technology (IT) sector, because most IT employees in India use private cars to commute to and from work. These strategies have been relatively easy to implement given the availability of information—such as employees’ origins and destinations, duration, and frequency of trips—for designing optimal transit and carpool routes.

Some initiatives have included providing employees with commuter subsidies for public transport or carpooling. Other businesses have experimented with company buses that transport workers from nearby metro stations to offices, providing much-needed “last-mile connectivity.”  These programs have successfully shifted 30-50 percent of the targeted employees from cars to public transport, resulting in reduced travel times and significant cost savings for employers. Not only are employees more productive from shorter commutes, bus and other public transit subsidies are much cheaper compared to private company buses.

For example, Wipro—a major IT business in Bangalore—worked with the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) on specific routes designed to move workers more comfortably and efficiently. This collaboration improved employees’ user experience, reduced costs, and shifted commuters from private company buses or cabs to public transit. BMTC introduced high quality bus services that were air-conditioned and convenient for WIPRO’s employees and other transit riders. This initiative encouraged employees to commute by bus rather that private vehicle and is credited with reducing employee GHG footprint by almost 16 percent in the first year of implementation.

Another example is the “I-Travel Smart” initiative from GENPACT—a business operations and IT solutions provider in the city of Gurgaon.  Demonstrating corporate social responsibility, Genpact has focused on innovating long term transport solutions for employeesThe initiative has resulted in reducing travel distances by about 1.2 million km annually and has saved about 335 tons of CO2 emissions. Their four step strategy includes:

  • A free shuttle service from nearby metro stations to all Genpact sites, addressing the issue of last mile connectivity;
  • A commuter guidebook for all employees containing comprehensive information about alternative transport options;
  • Preferred parking locations for employees who choose to carpool; and
  • Designated bus services for employees, in partnership with Haryana State Transport, Delhi Transport Corporation and Volvo.

Several other IT businesses have shown interest and are moving forward to implement TDM measures as well. For example, Infosys, a major IT company with 180,000 employees, recently announced to roll out its own TDM program over the next four years to reduce its employees travel emissions.

Bringing TDM to a Citywide Level

Worldwide, TDM strategies have been shown to reduce traffic congestion as well as the costs of building, maintaining, and operating city roads. In India, cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi have proposed congestion charging initiatives like London’s, but these plans have hit roadblocks.  While several cities have drafted street parking policies, implementation seems unlikely, due to opposition from commercial business owners and car users.

City leaders need to recognize the value of TDM strategies—both to the private sector and local communities—and support these measures by improving the quality of public transit without compromising affordability. City governments need to implement appropriate parking policies as a precursor to TDM to ensure success. Furthermore, strong communication campaigns are necessary for educating the public about the harmful impacts of car dependence on health, safety, and quality of life.

Building on Past Success

To address mounting car ownership, city leaders and decision makers need to implement a diversity of TDM strategies. The successes of employer-initiated TDM measures demonstrate the potential for citywide TDM and signal to political leaders that cost-effective solutions exist.  It’s time that city leaders in India recognize the benefits of sustainable mobility and incorporate TDM strategies into their own public agendas. The future of their economies and their citizens depends on it.

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