Can cars really be substituted with public transport?

There are various factors that affect the travel mode choice, and more often than not, cars have an edge over public transport . 

The compact nature of cities is usually known to promote walking and cycling as the primary modes of transport. However, the increase in the urban density, expansion of urban regions, and rising income in India has led to a surge in the car ownership. For instance, in 2013 the average level of car ownership was 13 out of 1000 people and is expected to increase to 35 per 1000 population by 2025. In order to reduce congestion and pollution due to this rise in private vehicle, government has tried various methods to promote public vehicles as a substitute. However, studies show that both the goods are not substitutes.

In their paper focused on Netherlands, Baanders et al. have pointed out that car and public transport are not “communicating vehicle” or substitutes as there are various factors that affect the travel choices. These factors include trip purpose, origin, destination, and distance. For instance, you might have notice that car owners tend prefer the personal vehicle if they are driving for a long distance on weekends. In addition to this, the availability and relative quality of public transport that differs between market segment also has a direct affect on the substitution rate. Bangalore Municipal Transport Corporation, for example, runs varieties of buses at different price ranges based on the quality of the buses, final destination and the duration of the travel. A common specimen being the Volvo buses that specially connect Bangalore city to Bangalore International Airport.

In India, public transport is still the primary mode of transport. However, the current dependence on public transport is essentially due to two reasons: one is that the cars are unaffordable and second, because of the time cost of travelling in a private vehicle, given the deplorable infrastructure. As more cars like Tata nano enter the market, it will not be easy to control the congestion on the road. Therefore, in order to ensure that public transport continues to be the the primary mode, the quality of the transport needs to be improved along with reliability on travel time.

Devika Kher is a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher.