What springs to your mind when you think of Bengaluru? That it is India’s IT and startup capital. If you persist, that thought is replaced by another: traffic jams. Anyone from the city, or who has been to the city, would have horror stories about being stuck on the road for hours. It is yet to match Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata in commuter dissatisfaction, but it is getting there.
Tejasvi Surya, Member of Parliament representing the Bangalore South constituency, was truly voicing the thoughts of his people when he said in his maiden speech in the Lok Sabha: “Bengaluru is facing the worst traffic jams and is the city which is moving at the slowest pace.”
An analysis by The Energy and Resources Institute in India estimates that 60% of trip lengths in Indian cities are less than 5 km, and 80% are of less than 10 km. Yet, in Bengaluru, the time to commute is only getting longer. Priya Chetty-Rajagopal, founder and managing partner, Multiversal Advisory, a CXO search and advisory firm, says she once spent close to two hours covering just 4 km in the central business district.
“Data actually shows that the average speed [of driving in the city] has gone down from 30 kmph to 10 kmph in five years,” Nandini Maheshwari, head, business development, Uber India and South Asia.
The taxi-hailing service provider, which operates across 40 cities, recently launched quadricycles on its ride-hailing platform, in Bengaluru, under a new category called UberXS. The service has been launched on a pilot basis in partnership with Bajaj Auto, which makes the quadricycles called Qute. At present, it’s available in select locations across the city like Indiranagar, Koramangala, HSR Layout, and parts of Outer Ring Road. Uber India believes offering people cheaper and cleaner transport options can help the situation in Bengaluru, which is among its top three cities on the basis of the total number of rides.
According to Maheshwari, these vehicles are highly fuel efficient and are affordable for both drivers and passengers. “For the CNG variant we have a rated fuel efficiency of 43 km per kilogram which actually makes it cheaper to run than some two-wheelers,” says Samardeep Subandh, senior VP, Bajaj Auto. The Qute has a petrol variant as well which boasts a fuel efficiency of 35 kilometres per litre. As a vehicle, the quadricycle, which is widely used in European nations, has less power and a much lower max speed than a conventional small car.
UberXS, which seats three passengers, is priced between UberAuto and UberGo, its entry-level service. “The driver [of the quadricycle] can earn more than an auto rickshaw driver, and for a daily use commuter the UberXS is cheaper than UberGo,” says Maheshwari. “This [the quadricycle] is an innovative solution for drivers, riders and cities—the main three stakeholders from Uber’s perspective,” she adds.
To be sure, the Garden City is not new to experiments in urban mobility solutions. Lithium Urban Technologies has been running electric vehicle cabs for corporates in Bengaluru. It presently operates a fleet of over 400 electric vehicles, part of which is deployed in Delhi-NCR. While not specific to Bengaluru, Uber’s domestic rival Ola, too, has hopped on to the electric bandwagon. “We launched Ola Electric with the aim of developing platforms and infrastructure that positively impact the ecosystem and make electric mobility a reality for a billion Indians. Towards this end, in the short term, OEMs wants to roll out 10,000 electric three-wheeled rickshaws within a year,” said an Ola spokesperson
However, the root cause of Bengaluru’s traffic woes is rapid, unplanned growth. What hasn’t kept pace with the growing population and vehicle numbers in the land of opportunity for techies is infrastructure. Poor transport planning is also to blame. You would find bus stops located right before entries and exits of flyovers.
The economic toll of traffic jams is huge. A November 2017 report in The Hindu said that traffic congestions in the city is “estimated to cause losses of around ₹3,700 crore annually in terms of man-hours wasted.” Citizens like Chetty-Rajagopal have been vocal about the issue. “Why is it that we don’t have a unified metropolitan transport authority [in the city]?” She has initiated an online petition on the matter on www.change.org. One of her peeves with the local authorities is that the planned metro station in Bengaluru’s Cantonment Area is about a kilometre away from the main Cantonment railway station—an instance of lack of coordination among authorities concerned. But “until the transport authorities speak to each other there is no hope,” Chetty-Rajagopal says.