Post-Pandemic Urban Mobility

June 28, 2020
Blog

By - Naresh Bana, Domingo Penalver, Shubham Joshi and Lovesh Gupta

Picture courtesy.

https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/delhi/2019/sep/05/dedicated-cycle-and-pedestrian-corridors-on-anvil-to-reduce-delhi-traffic-2029176.html

Introduction

Urban mobility and commuting have largely relied on mass rapid  transportation systems (MRTS), especially in the major cities around the world.  A major advantage of MRTS (light rail, tramway, metro/underground, regional  rail, bus rapid transit, etc.) is the way it handles elasticity in demand peaks as it can carry on an enormous number of passengers through optimizing space as  well as increasing the frequency of convoys.

Until COVID-19 arrived, space optimization was achieved through an unlimited progressive declining of passenger separation. A typical image that we all have in mind is, for example, the case of the Japanese metro during peak hours, where space optimization onboard is achieved by incremental compression among passengers. After the pandemic MRTS’ capacity has dropped down dramatically. Suddenly the capacity to transport an astonishing number of passengers is no more decided by “elbow distance” or lack of it, but by pandemic dictated social and physical distancing norms, which in most countries implies keeping some two-meter distance between co-passengers. In the case of  bus public transit, it translates into a reduction of carrying capacity from 80 to 20 passengers each trip, i.e. a reduction of 75%. Even assuming that some 25% of previously MRTS’ users might work from home, there still remains a 50% reduction in capacity for bus transit. So we now suddenly have a demand for three buses for each bus that provided service before the pandemic. 

It is obvious that creating a significant increase in the capacity of MRTS will be very challenging as supporting infrastructure i.e. roads and tracks, is already at optimum exploitation level. This lack of elasticity in the offer side implies that there is now a pressing necessity for innovative solutions to deliver adequate MRTS services so as to limit the eventual rise in socioeconomic costs (time, safety, health, etc.). In this sense, private involvement in the proposal and development of technical solutions in hard and soft infrastructure financing is appearing to be assuming a central role. It is worthwhile noting that, at this precise moment in time, economies are under scrutiny, so additional costs on state finances could be detrimental for national recovery strategies.

In short, metropolitan cities find themselves in an extraordinary situation where transport authorities envisage a reduction in carriage capacity to one third or quarter with respect to the pre-pandemic capacity. Fortunately, the remedy to such an extraordinary challenge does not appear to rely on developing more physical infrastructure. It rather appears that smart individual mobility solutions, based on (quick) technology development and thus simpler to operate could be a solution to overcome the mobility needs of society, at least in the short and medium-term. In this sense, point to point connectivity through electric-powered bicycles, duly complemented with last-mile connectivity options, appears as an attractive alternative for every day commuting.

What Commuters Say?

A limited survey was conducted in the National Capital Region of India with the aim of obtaining inputs from the MRTS’ users, who just took metro or bus to reach the workplace before the pandemic Covid-19. Salient findings are presented below:

  • 65% of respondents stated that they took metro or bus for commuting before the lockdown was enforced.
  • 60% of respondents spent 30 mins to 60 mins daily for commuting. 20% of them took more than 60 mins.
  • Only 30% of the respondents confirm that they will take public transport in future.
  • Almost all the respondents stated that, given a choice, they would prefer to use personal transport for commuting. When specifically asked for their preferences on public options for personal mobility, the following conclusions were reached:  
  • Having a dedicated bicycle track is an outright ‘Yes’ for most for distances up to 20 Km.
  • They pointed out that bicycle corridors would need to be accessible, safe as well as provide protection against rain and sun in order to be useful for commuting.
  • Electric powered smart bicycles are the preferred option. Nonetheless, there are additional issues that have to be taken into account in order to achieve a state where bicycle corridors and smart bicycling become a real alternative for commuting in the Indian context, post-pandemic. In particular: 
  • A lot of awareness is needed to neutralize existing prejudices about the status of bicycle riders. People from all economic strata need to embrace smart bicycles. 
  • A challenging issue is the avoidance of accidents with errant automobiles as well as limiting thieving and vandalism against bicycle riders.
  • Besides, intercity corridors should be connected with urban ones in order to offer a seamless experience for riders.

Proposed Solution

The Concept

  • Dedicated bicycle, rickshaw and segway corridors. Heavily oriented to e-mobility services. Riders/vehicles to be equipped with devices and official apps to ensure that stipulated social/physical distance is maintained along the way..
  • Corridors’ cross-section should be drawn up paying attention to different type of riders, even taking into account those riders who express willingness to pay for value-added services.
  • Corridors’ longitudinal profile should limit ramps in slope and length in order to make commuting more comfortable.
  • The corridor to be fenced to provide protection to users. It may have special security measures next to roads to guard against errant automobile-drivers. Such measures will also protect the rider against criminal assaults.  
  • The corridor should count on multiple (smart) access/exit points as well as charging stations distributed strategically..
  • Connectivity should be available for corridors’ users beyond access/exit points and charging stations.
  • Maintenance services should be planned in order to keep clean and safe corridors, which includes proper sanitization measures. 

Development of Dedicated Bicycle Corridors

  • Public-private partnership (PPP) Design-Finance-Build-Operate-Transfer (DFBOT) model appears to be most suitable  to get bicycle corridors ready and running.
  • Deadlines for corridors implementation should be established in coordination with the national pandemic recovery strategy. This implies that detailed and accurate analysis  of both the scaling down in capacity and the limitations of the procurement/PPP  framework.
  • Transparency and competition will help generate innovative technical solutions considering field factors (e.g., weather variability, geotechnics, etc.) while ensuring that proposals are resilient and in sync with the environment, economically efficient and financially
    sustainable.
  • Once the corridor project pipeline is channeled through PPP deals, it would lead     to optimum risk allocation between the public and the private sector (e.g., land acquisition, corridor design, technical requirements, operation and maintenance   parameters, security management, etc.)

Typical Features of the Corridor

  • There have been many proposed solutions with respect to micro-mobility but very few regarding the future of urban mobility post  pandemic. Most of such solutions are as per the dynamics of developed countries. Necessary support measures would be needed in the context of developing countries like India where there are fundamental challenges like safety and societal norms attached to the bicycles.
    .
  • The Delhi government proposed corridor is mainly targeting existing bicycle commuters, which in general are blue-collar employees. The corridor now being   proposed is also targeting the white-collar executives for whom going in the scorching heat of Delhi will not be a viable option. Hence it is proposed to have mist dispensers along the way in corridor to maintain the temperature while keeping enough air circulation
  • The corridor may have two covered lanes, one normal and other premium. The cycles to be electric-powered as peddling in the scorching heat in cities like Delhi might not be preferred by daily office commuters.
  • Safety is one of the concerns that make bicycling unattractive. Since it is expected that robbery and snatching cases might increase, the safety of the rider is of utmost importance. The proposed corridor will be access controlled and dedicated to bicycle riders only to make them feel safe. Along with that  proximity sensors will be there to maintain social distancing, which will also be helpful from the safety point of view.

Conclusion

Personal mobility is critical for the survival of those who could use the public transport earlier. Junior to mid-level employees in almost all offices / enterprises are either working from home or unable to reach office. In such situation, the concept of dedicated bicycle corridors appears a workable simple solution, which can be adapted quickly to provide mobility to those who need it most to ensure normalcy in day to day life in urban areas. Proposed solution could also be applied to other metro cities and other countries in the world. This corridor appears to be taking care of the most crucial part for economic development- i.e., Personal daily commute to the workplace. It is economic, eco-friendly and an aid to the good health of the user. In fact it is a befitting example of sustainable development and achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Authors:

Naresh Bana, F.I.E., M.I.M.A.  is an international PPP consultant based in New Delhi. He can be reached at. Email naresh@wappp.org  LinkedIn  www.linkedin.com/in/narebbv4237

Domingo Peñalver, PhD is Spain based scholar specialising in PPPs. Email domingo.penalver@wappp.org , LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/domingo-p-4a165014/

and Lovesh Gupta are MBA students in University Business School, Panjab University, Chandigarh and currently on Internship. Email : Shubham Joshi shubhamjoshi.ubs@gmail.com LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/mwlite/in/shubham-joshi-158234176; Lovesh Gupta loveshgupta.ubs@gmail.com  LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/mwlite/in/lovesh-gupta309