Four years ago, a survey conducted in twenty tier-1, 2, and 3 cities estimated that an average citizen in urban India travels about 1,000km a month, or roughly 35km a day. When you extrapolate from this estimate and tot up the distance travelled by a population as large as ours you have millions of kilometres logged every day. This means collectively we are responsible in a substantial way to polluting the atmosphere. Remember, vehicular emission contributes anywhere between 20–30 per cent of particulate matter (PM 2.5) and 8 per cent of total greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere in India.
It is because of the pollution caused by vehicle exhaust that there is so much focus on cutting down emissions and replacing petrol and diesel run cars and trucks with electric vehicles. It is true that the switchover to a fossil fuel-free world will not happen overnight but as responsible citizens we can lessen the emission load on the atmosphere through a few simple initiatives that require a little effort, perhaps an exertion on our part.
Though it may sound like a cliché, we have to take the recommendation of reducing our dependence on vehicles seriously. One of the cardinal principles to follow if you want to be part of the green movement is to walk to your destination whenever possible. Nothing could be more carbon neutral than that. The next option is the use of a bicycle, an e-bike or e-scooter. These help you in reducing your carbon footprint, besides saving fuel costs and giving you the satisfaction that you have not added to the pollution.
That walking or cycling is a very healthy alternative to driving a car is a given. Several European cities encourage people to walk or cycle to work. But unfortunately, the larger metros of our country do not have dedicated cycling tracks alongside the road network. Pavements are often so ill-maintained and narrow that you may think twice about walking to a nearby destination. In fact, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai or Bengaluru have so much hustle and bustle on their streets, with traffic moving at a fast pace and not enough discipline amongst vehicle drivers to make cycling hazardous. Even scooterists must trust their luck because of lack of traffic discipline and the penchant for those on heavier vehicles to edge them out.
What is needed is a mind shift among the country’s urban population to switch from private to public transport, from fossil fuel to electric, from vehicles for short distances to walking or cycling.
While promoting the use of two wheelers and walking, the government must also inculcate a sense of traffic discipline on the roads which respects pedestrians as well as those using greener modes of commuting like e-scooters and cycles.
Using public transport is a good option, be it the bus or the metro rail. Apart from the fact that it will reduce emissions that arise from the thousands of private automobiles that ply the roads, it is cheaper, cleaner and a great leveller. In fact, public transport has evolved over the years. We have switched from petrol and diesel vehicles to CNG some years ago. While this did help a bit, the sheer number of private vehicles outdid any gains made in clearing the air. Now there is a move to introduce e-vehicles in public transport, but this is still at a nascent stage as it will take a long time to build adequate infrastructure such as electric charging stations or a battery swapping mechanism. Besides, high costs make it a limited option in the short term.
Luckily, tier-2 and 3 cities have better infrastructure for two-wheelers and in some they have become a norm among the youngsters. However, what is needed is a mind shift among the country’s urban population to switch from private to public transport, from fossil fuel to electric, from vehicles for short distances to walking or cycling.
So, what can you do as an individual to promote sustainable mobility? If you travel to work every day and are not able to use public transport, it would be best to form a carpool of like-minded colleagues, with each one taking their vehicle on different days. This way you share costs, save on parking and can make good friends as well.
One must also encourage the carpooling concept among friends and in your neighbourhood. It may not be a bad idea if you live in a colony to get all the residents together and map out the route each of them regularly takes to work. You could thus comfortably fit four passengers to a car and thus reduce three additional cars adding to the congestion on the roads.
Socially conscious organisations could create carpool clubs in different neighbourhoods to encourage cutting down on vehicular emissions. Companies and offices could be persuaded to a have a car-free day once a month when employees come to work on a two-wheeler (preferably a cycle or an e-scooter) or use public transport. A few years ago, commuters on the metro in Gurugram were pleasantly surprised to spot the CEO and senior management staff of a telecom company in their midst. They were heading to work on a car-free day.
Initiatives such as these need to be popularised and promoted. So too must efforts to improve last mile connectivity between metro stations and industrial and commercial complexes. This would encourage more people to commute by metros rather than drive to work.
Finally, we must make green commuting a popular and positive activity. That will go a long way in decongesting our roads and help us breathe easy.
The writer is a senior journalist who writes on environmental issues