Sunday , 17 January 2021

Urban Mobility in Pandemic times

A Case Study of Silk Board Junction, Bengaluru
R M. Alagappan

After months long national lockdown, the state governments have relaxed many restrictions including the functioning of all offices and partial operation of public transport. However many IT/ITES companies are still continuing the Work From Home Schedule. Educational Institutions are closed. Are these changes really creating any paradigm shift in urban traffic? In this article, R M. Alagappan, Chief Operating Officer (Transport Planning & Data Services), DataCorp Traffic Private Limited tries to answer that by taking one of the city’s most congested destination, the Silk Board Junction as a case study

The rapid development of the city of Bangalore with many start-ups, major global & Indian IT companies and unlimited employment opportunities has led into an influx of more private vehicles within the city and has resulted in heavy traffic. As per Tom Tom’s Traffic Index report, people in Bengaluru end up spending an extra 243 hours, which is equal to 10 days and three hours, every year in traffic. As per the draft Comprehensive Mobility Plan-2019, nearly 84% of household owns the motor vehicles of which 60% owned at least a two-wheeler and 20% of the household have one car. Further, this is much more evident from the average speed of core Bengaluru city during peak hours, which is less than 11 kmph. However, the mobility restrictions over four stages of lockdown led to empty roads and reduction in congestion& pollution. As per KSPCB website, presence of harmful pollutants in Silk Board Junction especially PM 2.5 level on March 04 stood at 114 ug/ m3 which had reduced to 37ug/m3 on March 25. Similarly, Carbon Monoxide (CO) levels had also gone down from 105 mg/m3 on March 04 to 43 mg/m3 on March 25.

The Silk Board Junction is a gate way to two important IT clusters, Outer Ring Road towards the east and Electronic City towards the south. According to a survey conducted by OLA, the Silk Board Junction found a place in the top seven notorious bottlenecks across the country in normal working days.

At DataCorp Traffic, we had conducted an internal study for the Junction, during a normal working day on March, 2019. According to the study, the morning peak hour was observed between 09:30 – 10:30 h with 15507 vehicles recorded, typically the start of office hours with the majority of vehicle share (85%) coming from private vehicles. Some of the interesting findings were that there were no major variations between the peak hour and the off-peak hour traffic and the flow was consistent during the morning hours between 9 and 11. This evidently necessitates the need for a mass transport system, predominantly a good metro connection which is already under the consideration of Namma Metro with an inclusive of first and last mile connectivity.

We were very much eager to understand the current traffic flow in the Silk Board Junction after the substantial relaxations in the lockdown by the state government. The objective of the current study is to understand whether the partial movement of public transport system and partial opening of work centres complimented each other in balancing the traffic by reduction of vehicles or if any supply/demand gaps are reflecting on the urban roads. Our data collection team was mobilized with necessary permissions and cameras were installed on a typical working day for capturing the traffic in the Silk Board Junction. In parallel, we mobilised our team for conducting the passenger Origin -Destination (O-D) survey during the morning peak hours. Also a nearby bus stop was chosen for conducting the bus passenger interviews. Our team targeted to collect 10% samples combining all the modes as a standard practice. In the O-D survey, we made a small change from the regular questionnaire wherein we asked the current road users if they had any change in their travel mode due to the impact of COVID-19. We felt this change would help us in understanding
the travel behaviour after the impact of COVID-19. When we started compiling, the results were interesting.

In the current study, the peak hour is observed between 8:45 hrs- 9:45hrs and the total number of vehicles recorded are 20,074. Also, the peak flow of vehicles are observed from 8:30hrs onwards and the same is maintained till 11:00hrs. It’s quite interesting to know from the O-D survey that around 80% percent of trips are work trips. Surprisingly the number of vehicles have increased by 20%

when compared to last year’s trend even without the inclusion of the educational trips.

Interesting Findings

When we compared the mode share between the years, two-wheeler share increased from 10113 to 13477, car share increased to 4283 from 3454 and auto rickshaw increased to 1126 from 845. Further, the total number of buses decreased to 362 from 632. Out of the total cars recorded in the year 2019, the distribution between private cars and taxis were around 73% and 27% respectively. However in the present context, share of private cars further increased to 94% and the taxi share drastically reduced to 6%.

The major findings of our study for the Silk Board Junction are as follows:

• Number of vehicles on the Silk Board Junction increased by around 20% in comparison with the previous year. This may be due to partial availability of public transport and low confidence on cleanliness ;
• The Peak hour is shifted by one hour; however, a peak period is maintained between 8:30 to 11:00 hrs which is similar to the previous
year; Based on our past experience, we would like to summarise some of the suggestive measures for the relevant stakeholders and policy makers:
• When the city gets restored with the functioning of all the activities including the educational institutions, if necessary measures are not taken by the city’s stakeholders, it will result in the choking of traffic in the Silk Board Junction which is a very good indicator of what would happen across the city too. Hence public transport needs to be restored with all the necessary precautionary measures to gain the public’s confidence before the city reopens all its activity centres.
• It’s an ideal time for the city’s stakeholders to promote the nonmotorized transport within the city by developing the necessary infrastructure
• As transport experts always say, the need is for organized public transport. This COVID-19 impact also necessities the need for a good public transport, else could lead to further increase in travel time, cost and decline of the so-called improved pollution levels

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