India’s progress is stuck in traffic jams: We need innovative solutions

NITI Aayog’s Global Mobility Hackathon, MoveHack, seems a step in the right direction.

 |  3-minute read |   09-08-2018
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Traffic jams cost $ 22 billion a year in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata. Los Angeles loses $19.2 billion a year to time wasted on the road. New York City traffic accounts for $33.7 billion lost by the city annually, or an average of $2982 per driver. The cost is $10.6 billion a year for San Francisco and $7.1 billion for Atlanta.

Between Britain, Germany and the United States, these costs totalled $461bn last year, or $975 per person. These figures are based on factors like the loss of productivity from workers stuck in their cars, higher road transportation costs, and the fuel burned by vehicles going nowhere.

Traffic jams cost $ 22 billion a year in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata.Traffic jams cost $ 22 billion a year in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata. (Photo: PTI/file)

Urban mobility is a global economic, social and environmental challenge. There is a reason why the term “road rage” exists, and in India, it sure manifests in ways that pose a real challenge to sanity.

“Kanwar” refers to a genre of religious performances where participants ritually carry water from a holy source in containers suspended on either side of a pole. Powered by divine blessings and Bollywood/hip-hop infused devotional songs blaring from loudspeakers, they feel free to erect tents on pavements and walk/dance on main roads and highways. Obviously, one can’t argue with God! That’s blasphemy.

In a slightly less divine occurrence on August 8, a group of over 20 kanwarias vandalised a car with sticks and iron rods in the middle of the road in Delhi. The video of the incident, which took place around 5 pm, went viral on social media. People were outraged for a while, discussed it at their dinner tables, and eventually retired for the night, in preparation of the long commute to office the next morning.

Fortunately or unfortunately, social media activism alone won’t solve civic infrastructure and mobility challenges. The time has come to take ownership of our problems, ideate innovative strategies and translate them into action.

Which is why I am enthused by NITI Aayog’s Global Mobility Hackathon, MoveHack.

MoveHack aims to cross-pollinate global best practices and bring about innovative, dynamic and scalable solutions to problems pertaining to mobility in India. The hackathon has a two-pronged campaign approach — “Just Code It”, aimed at innovative technology solutions, and “Just Solve It”, pivoted on new business models. 

In addition to significant funding and top-notch mentoring by experts and technology partners, three things stand out for me.

First, MoveHack has a citizens-first approach. Instead of providing a solution without asking the people, the government has crowdsourced problems, invited offbeat solutions and offered tangible incentives to innovators.

Second, the hackathon has adopted a truly global outlook, inviting participation from around the world. I believe this would result in partnerships that transcend religious, cultural and diplomatic boundaries. If we are to embrace the benefits of the 4th Industrial Revolution equitably and sustainably, we need to build bridges, not walls and firewalls.

Third, MoveHack has daring themes like urban aerial mobility, which are sure to push the contours of innovation forward and help shape forward-looking public policy.

Let us take Rwanda as an example, where partnerships with drone startups like Zipline save lives on a daily basis by delivering blood on-demand for emergencies. To make these partnerships truly scalable and viable, the government needed to frame policies that are adaptive, iterative and nimble. It rose to the occasion and made it happen.

India is globally recognised for process, cost, technology and social innovation — but none of it would reach its potential if urban infrastructure and mobility remain suboptimal. We have just broken into the middle-income country category and we can no longer wait in our cars and autos, taking pictures of traffic jams, as billions of dollars get washed away.

The future is never deterministic. It is a function of our choices today. Let us come together to solve the mobility challenges in India, for India and for the rest of the world. 

Also read: Kanwar Yatra has come to an end but Kanwariya hooliganism is here to stay


Utkarsh Amitabh Utkarsh Amitabh @utkarsh_amitabh

Utkarsh Amitabh works at Microsoft, is the founder of Network Capital, and is a ‘Global Shaper’ who represented the community at Davos. His views are personal

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