What’s stopping Gurgaon from being another Copenhagen?

A recent survey among close to 3000 employees of an IT company in Gurugram highlighted the city's traffic woes. But it also yielded interesting data points that indicate improved cycling infrastructure could change things here.

A private car should ideally carry four to five people. But a recent survey in Udyog Vihar Industrial Area in Gurugram showed that it carries only 1.6 persons on average. The survey was conducted by the IT company Nagarro among over 2600 of its own employees.

Among the survey respondents, 42 percent were using private cars to come to office, contributing to the infamous congestion in the city. The majority of them did not carpool. A quarter of the car users sometimes parked their cars on the street next to office, which could also congest the road. Another 19 percent used their two-wheelers to come to office.

Hence, overall 62 percent were using private vehicles for office commute, and a majority lived within Gurugram itself. The survey found that employees coming from neighbouring Delhi were more likely to use public or shared transport.

Traffic congestion severe, set to get worse

Employees’ travel time reflected the consequences of private car usage. Over half the respondents spent a total of three to four hours commuting daily.

The average travel time for all employees taken together was two hours. This is despite one third of respondents living within 5 km of office, and another 13 percent living within 5-10 km of office. Clearly, short commute time to office is a luxury that few in Gurugram enjoy.

A significant finding of the survey was that personal car use increased with age. Car use was lowest among employees aged 20-30 years – only a quarter of them commuted by personal car. And it was highest among those aged above 40, with 80 percent in this group coming to office by car. This means Gurugram’s streets are likely to get more crowded as the working population ages, says the study.

The survey showed that employees who lived closer to office were more likely to use private vehicles.

Gurugram could still be Copenhagen

Despite these bleak findings, Sarika Panda Bhatt, Head of Integrated Transport at the research organisation WRI India, feels that the study holds immense promise. Sarika works with the administration to improve transport in Gurgaon. She says that the most significant finding of the survey is that one third of the respondents live within five kms of the Nagarro office. When Nagarro repeated the survey among its security and housekeeping staff who are subcontracted, a similar proportion was found to live close to the office.

Sarika says that this pattern is common in Gurugram – a majority of people live close to their offices because of the city’s mixed land use. “Gurugram is compact, and there is mixed land use – commercial, residential and other spaces combined – almost everywhere. The IT sector employees in Gurugram are a floating population who tend to move across cities. Hence they prefer to rent or buy houses close to their offices,” she says.

This means that large numbers of people here can easily cycle to office, as is the case in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam. “Those living within 5 km of the office can easily cycle to office, if good cycling infrastructure is available. Currently they don’t, due to safety concerns. A person living 3 km from office may take 18 minutes to reach office by car, but only 10 minutes by cycle,” says Sarika.

She says that citizens in Gurugram are aware of how cycling can save time and money, reduce pollution, and improve fitness. This is reflected in survey responses too. While only one percent of respondents did cycle to office, 38 percent wanted better cycling and walking infrastructure.

Overall, Sarika says that the city needs better walking and cycling infrastructure, along with a good bus transport system. The survey had found that a dismal six percent of respondents used buses. And half of them used buses to get to Delhi Metro stations. However, a whopping 81 percent voted for better public transport with last-mile connectivity, implying that a majority were willing to use public transport if it was improved.

Delhi Metro popular, but few use buses

Gurugram’s recently launched city bus service ‘Gurugraman’ currently operates in only two routes. “There are only 40 buses running in two routes. And one of the routes is ineffective, with very few passengers. The bus network is poor, and there is no information available to people on bus schedules,” says Sarika.

Due to the lack of last-mile connectivity, very few prefer these buses. “The bus stop should only be 200-300 metres away from a person’s destination. Once I get down at a bus stop, I should be able to switch to another bus to reach my destination. If I have to take the bus for the first 3-4 km, and then have to take a cab again for the next few kilometres, I won’t use the bus,” says Sarika.

In contrast to the low preference for buses, 21 percent of respondents used the Delhi Metro. Even though Udyog Vihar is not directly connected to Delhi Metro, employees across different age groups preferred it. Most Metro users were those who lived in Delhi, which has good Metro connectivity.

Metro users also used autos, app-based taxis and motorcycle taxis for last-mile connectivity, which were sometimes shared. In fact, Metro users were more likely than others to use shared cabs.

The more expensive Rapid Metro of Gurugram was much less preferred; not even 0.5 percent of respondents used Rapid Metro on its own. But a fraction of Delhi Metro users used the Rapid Metro additionally. Sarika says that the Rapid Metro station nearest to Nagarro office has poor infrastructure for walking. Those who alight here have to cross a 16-lane road to walk to office, or to get into a bus or rickshaw.

Nagarro’s own shuttle bus service was used by 12 percent respondents, most of whom lived outside Gurugram. Overall, 23 percent of respondents used shared cabs.

The survey points to Gurugram’s current traffic crisis, but also its possibilities. Sarika says that more companies should do transport surveys for a better understanding of the transport needs in their localities. WRI India is currently trying to get more companies to take up this exercise.

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