International Association of Public Transport (UITP) conducted a study to highlight key factors to make any city competitive – Economic Strength, Human Capital, Physical Capital, Quality of Life and Global Appeal. A good public transport is the key factor to make city competitive. Better connectivity drives higher job density and productivity gains for businesses. Further, it is highlighted that access to a larger variety of job and learning opportunities enables to build up skills and knowledge more quickly. The public transport plays a key role to make it happen.

India Census Bureau, Government of India, has recently published the results of the mode of transport people take to office collected for the latest Census 2011 data. The data clearly shows that most people in the city walk to office. More than 50% of workforce (excluding domestic and agriculture) continue to work at home or travel to their workplace by foot in the absence of adequate transport facilities. This is huge loss of skill manpower as the city failed to create supply of efficient workforce due to lack of transport facilities.

The public transport system in the country is not in good shape. The data clearly shows that there is lack of public transport and citizens are largely dependant on private transport. People are forced to depend on primitive modes of transport like bicycles (26.3 million) and two-wheelers (25.4 million) in rural and urban India. It is important to note that higher number of people use two-wheelers, compared to bus (22.9 million).

Mode Used to Travel to Work – India (2011) (Figures in %) 

At the national level bus transport, run either by the government or private owners, is the largest form of public transport. But unfortunately the public bus transport system provided for the transport needs a little more than one tenth of the total workforce.

People prefer to walk to office upto distance of 5 kms from home. The large number of people who walk to work are poor and can’t afford to spend on transport. Thus, they continue to walk to workplace in inconvenient and dangerous conditions. If the distance is beyond 10 kms then people prefer to take two-wheelers or use bus. However, two-wheelers remain the first choice. On the other hand, large number of people (1.8 million) prefer to travel by car even upto a distance of 5 kms.

Average Distance Travelled in KM – Mode Wise - India, 2011 (Figures in %)

Transport problem is more acute in rural India. Since none of the available transport options offer a ride of more than 4 to 5 km, people in these areas ply their trade or nurture skills concentrated in a tight geographical area limited by transport to how far they can venture. Unfortunately, more than a third in the rural sector continues to work at home and use no mode of transport to shuttle to their workplaces. This clearly shows the lack of opportunity.

Due to lack of access to transport facilities, 18.5 million workers are forced to walk to work in rural areas. Around 48% of rural workers walk between 2-10 kms to reach to work. This is one of the reasons that large number of people remain at home. The same problem is faced by the young population who need to travel to schools and college. Owing to lack of facilities, most of the students could not pursue higher studies and learn necessary skills.

Mode Used to Travel to Work – Rural India (2011) (Figures in %)

In the rural areas, the most favoured form of transport is bicycle (11.2 million), followed by bus (9.6 million), moped, scooters and motorcycles (6.3 million), train (2.2 million), tempo, auto and taxi (2.1 million) and car, jeep and van (1.2 million) and water transport (0.3 million).

The problem is more acute for women in rural India. The size of women workforce in rural India is one-third of men workforce, which clearly shows the lack of opportunities for women. Further, the data shows that more than 55% of women (11 million) continue to work at home and use no mode of transport to shuttle to their workplaces. Around 30% of women (6.5 million) reach to office on foot.

As the asset ownership in rural India is low. Thus, if the family owns any private vehicle (bicycle or two-wheelers or cars), men has the first right to use the transport. The women are largely dependant on buses to reach to workplace. As highlighted earlier, the same pattern should be followed by students who need to travel to school. Most of the girls are not able to go outside of their villages to pursue higher studies owing to lack of transport facilities. This is also one of the key reasons for the low participation of women in workforce.

Mode Used to Travel to Work – Rural India – Gender Wise (2011) (Figures in %)

Large number of rural workforce prefer to walk and use bicycle to work. Bicycle is generally preferred if the distance to work is less than 10 kms. If the distance is beyond 10 kms then people prefer to take bus. Two-wheeler is the second choice if the distance is high. This is mainly because of low ownership. People largely use train if the distance is 51 kms and above.

Average Distance Travelled in KM – Mode Wise - Rural, 2011  (Figures in %)

According to the Skills Gap Report commissioned by National Skill Development Corporation, around 119 million additional skilled workforces will be required by 24 sectors such as Construction, Retail, Transportation Logistics, Automobile, and Handloom by 2022. Top 10 sectors including automobile, retail, handloom, leather, etc. account for about 80% of requirements.

There is need to invest resources to setup educational and training institutes. However, India cannot achieve these targets without the availability of good transport. India aspires to build hundreds of brand new smart cities and replace China as the manufacturing capital of the world. This dream can’t be achieved without investing huge resources in transportation sector. India has made the significant gains in some sectors, but the overall productivity and income level of Indian workers remain stuck at low levels.

Rural India plays a more crucial part as the people are moving from rural areas to city. The rate of urbanization is very high. It is important to build strong public transport system to improve the economy and empower citizens.