Traffic in Mumbai (Vijayanand Gupta/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)
  • Ride-sharing helps people save time and money, and lead significantly better lives.

Indian roads are notorious for traffic congestion. But have we ever wondered why there is so much traffic? The most common answer to this would be increasing vehicle population, especially the mushrooming of two-wheelers and three-wheelers. But have we ever questioned the efficiency of all these vehicles on the road?

The number of four-wheelers has skyrocketed in the last few years. Government data shows that the number of registered vehicles in India has gone from 49 crore in 2000 to 183 crore in 2013. The number of four-wheelers alone has increased from six crore to 25 crore in the corresponding time period.

However, what is important to note is that a vast majority of the four-wheelers isn’t utilised to the maximum – or even optimum. They go unutilised 90 per cent of the time, with an average occupancy rate of a measly 28 per cent – in a four-person car, the vehicle on an average carries just 1.15 persons. This is highly unsustainable in the long run as noted by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH).

Enter ride-sharing.

Ride-sharing, as the name suggests, involves multiple people using the same vehicle, thereby increasing the efficiency of a vehicle. There is a common misconception that ride-sharing is the same as a taxi service, but there is a thin line that separates the two. While traditional taxis – the kaali peelis (black-and-yellow) of Mumbai and Chennai, for example – are essentially vehicles for hire, thus making them more efficient than private vehicles, they too are under-utilised for several reasons. Taxis, by virtue of operating under a static or fixed fare model, may be reluctant to ply outside their “areas”. Further, they are restricted to limited working hours which undermines the operational efficiency of the vehicle.

Ride-sharing has managed to solve this with two simple attributes: technology and labour flexibility.

On the technology front, it allows drivers to choose the area they wish to operate in, along with permitting the app to automatically add new passengers as they near their destination.

This generates optimal efficiency in terms of vehicle occupancy rate, and at same time, helps alleviate the demand and supply issue when it comes to public transport.

Where labour is concerned, it makes it easier for the driver to choose when to work and when to go offline. Some drivers may choose to work at night when they might get bookings from those working in the information technology (IT) or IT-enabled (ITES) sectors. Some may choose to be active at times when they know they will get passengers along certain routes.

Pioneered by Uber and Ola, with their UberPool and OlaShare platforms, ride-sharing and pooling allows for multiple passengers heading in common directions to be ferried by the same vehicle at a reduced cost. For the commuter, it reduces the costs while it increases the profits made by the driver.

At the same time, since it works analogous to public transport – akin to a small bus, it increases the occupancy of the vehicle, thereby bringing down the ratio of people to vehicles on the road. The net result: fewer vehicles on the road, ferrying the same amount of people, leading to reduced congestion.

A spokesperson for Uber says that one in every five Uber rides in Delhi and Mumbai is an UberPool trip, thereby increasing average occupancy of vehicles. Even a conservative estimate – that each of these pool trips carries half of its actual capacity – vastly reduces the commuter-to-vehicle ratio.

Uber claims that UberPool operations across seven cities has reduced 81,22,000 kilogram of carbon dioxide emissions, saved 34,49,000 litres of fuel, and cut down 7,33,81,000 kilometres of travel.

But then, the question arises, why not a bus? The answer to that is simple. A bus operates on a fixed route; pooling, on the other hand, gives a slight leeway to alter routes and afford more customised pick-ups.

This brings in a “chain of efficiency” in the mix. Simply put, the chain is when the driver accepts one ride and multiple rides get added on. This creates a chain of passengers who get picked up and dropped while the driver is en route. While this may mean that the driver is continuously driving end-to-end for a long ride, it also means that the vehicle is occupied for a significant amount of time, and as discussed earlier, this means lesser congestion on the road.

We have, to a safe extent, managed to ascertain that ride-sharing contributes to reduced traffic on our city roads to a significant extent. If this can be scaled up, won’t it be good for our cities?

There are two ways to accomplish this.

First is to allow private vehicles to double up as cabs under a ride-sharing platform. The advantage of this is that it allows under-utilised private vehicles to be utilised better, and at the same time, can be an additional revenue stream for the owner or driver of the vehicle.

Many buses that ply on corporate trips or contract trips also lie under-utilised. Due to their larger size and increased carrying capacity, buses being idle is more unsustainable than cars being idle.

If buses are allowed to ply under the same pattern of ride-sharing, albeit with a few modifications for optimal route efficiency, it would certainly reduce congestion.

Given that ride-sharing has captured such a large market and influences the lives of so many people, the impact of it is something that needs to be discussed at some stage or the other. For the average commuter, ride-sharing saves time. When time is saved during commutes, it gives people more freedom to pursue other activities. While for some, it might be something as simple as spending more time with family or friends, for a significant lot, it would mean they can work on something else, or get more work done.

At the same time, for the driver, it would mean a better income, thus affording them a better economic status and a better quality of life. Many a driver has said that ride-sharing has improved their lives vastly, given them a shot at a better life than what they had earlier and the opportunity to lead a life of dignity.

Economically and ecologically, ride-sharing has managed to significantly impact the nation. People are saving time and money, and leading significantly better lives – all at the tap of a button.

This article is a part of our special series on urban mobility.

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