CSE releases analysis of mobility trends in pre-lockdown, lockdown and post-lockdown periods in Delhi

Finds Delhi completely unprepared to speed up transportation strategies to cut down pollution in the city 

Notes rapidly changing travel activity patterns from pre-lockdown to post-lockdown phases and rebound of congestion 

  • Analysis of travel activity data from Google shows massive predictable drop in visits related to workplace, transit, residence, and recreation in Delhi
  • Visits to transportation nodes show the steepest decline making public transport revival challenging
  • While congestion is bouncing back, transit visits has been the slowest to improve
  • Public transport has been functioning at a very low capacity during pandemic -- service capacity of the fleet reduced on an average by 73 per cent -- with variations across different phases of lockdown and post-lockdown
  • Delhi needs massive mobility transition to cut vehicular pollution which is 40 per cent of the total particulate load in the city
  • The reforms underway need scale and speed of action. Need a bail-out package for public transport revival 

New Delhi, December 28, 2020: Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has carried out a rapid diagnostic assessment of the changing travel patterns during pre-lockdown, lockdown and post-lockdown phases in Delhi. This shows COVID-19 lockdown phases have seen the most drastic impacts, with traffic nearly stopping and activities related to different travel purposes plummeting. But the rebound of congestion post-lockdown indicates Delhi is not prepared for transformational changes to cut down the volume of traffic. 

CSE has tracked this change with the help of data from the Google Mobility Report on different categories of visits classified as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential. CSE has also tracked the traffic speed data from Google as a proxy to understand the level of congestion that has a strong bearing on vehicular pollution, which is significant in Delhi. Congestion and traffic can have enormous impact on air pollution. 

CSE has analysed Google mobility data and daily real-time information of Google Maps for 12 major roads -- MG Road, NH 44, Sardar Patel Marg, Outer Ring Road, Dr KB Hegdewar Marg, Sri Aurobindo Marg, NH 9, Mehrauli-Badarpur Road, GT Karnal Rd, Lal Bahadur Shashtri Marg, Dwarka Marg and Najafgarh Marg. The length of the roads were identified to be representative of the geographical spread as well as the larger mobility pattern of Delhi. The travel time from origin to the destination was noted for every hour from 8 AM to 8 PM for the pre-lockdown, lockdown and post-lockdown periods, which was later converted into speed in km per hour. The data was further analysed for the peak hours (i.e. from 9 AM to 11 AM in the morning and 5 PM to 7 PM in the evening) as well as the off-peak hours. 

This analysis brings out that the temporary reprieve from traffic congestion and exposure was possible due to the forced shut-down during the lockdown phases. “But this could not be sustained,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE executive director-research and advocacy, “as the scale and scope of action needed to transform public transportation, walking and cycling options and vehicle restraint measures like city-wide implementation of the parking management area plan and the notified parking rules have remained limited and inadequate. This is of serious concern as scientific studies in Delhi have shown that vehicles contribute about 40 per cent of the total pollution load in the city.” 

See the detailed analysis here: https://cdn.cseindia.org/userfiles/Pandemic-impact-on-mobility-pattern-in-Delhi.pdf 

Key highlight of the analysis 

Impact of hard lockdown on activities

The Google Mobility Report for the pre-lockdown period (till Feb 2020), which is the baseline for comparison, and trends during the hard lockdown and reopening (till Nov 2020) bring out a clear change in the activity patterns. 

  • Massive drop in visits to transit stations for different purposes during hard lockdown: The trips to transit stations were most badly hit. These were about 87 per cent lower than the baseline levels or the pre-lockdown phase. 
  • Trips to grocery stores and pharmacies were reduced by more than 70 per cent, but were still higher than all the other visits, which is reasonable as people were trying to restock and prepare for the lockdown. 
  • Work place trips reduced significantly by as much as 65 per cent during the weekdays as work from home was widely practiced. 

This shows how the city came to a near halt during hard lockdown. The change in traffic patterns has also shown up in the air quality data. In fact, the hourly change in nitrogen oxide levels that are more strongly correlated with the traffic and traffic peaks during morning and evening hours nearly flattened during this period. This is evident from the CSE analysis of the real time air quality data for that period. 

Increase in activities with slackening of lockdown, but intensity remained low

By the end of May, when the nation-wide lockdown was slackened, the number of trips rebounded and increased but remained below the pre-lockdown baseline. 

  • Trips to groceries and pharmacies were still the highest. Their numbers and share increased but they were still lower by about 25 per cent from the pre-lockdown baseline.
  • Workplace trips also increased but were still lower by about 35 per cent from the pre-lockdown baseline.
  • Transit station trips were still very badly hit. Even though there was a slight recovery, it was still 60 per cent lower than the baseline.


Post-lockdown recovery

Post-lockdown, the travel pattern was close to normal but did not fully regain the pre-lockdown levels.

  • Grocery trips and workplace trips recovered the most by the end of November and were now only about 15 per cent lower than the pre-lockdown phase.
  • Transit station trips improved but were still about 40 per cent lower than the baseline.
  • Trips to retail stores, which plummeted to about 90 per cent by the end of April, have now recovered by more than 50 per cent.

Overall, the increase in these trips also signifies increase in need to travel to access the activities. With this traffic congestion is back on roads. 

Congestion returned to close to pre-lockdown levels: losing the gains

Travel speed is only indicative of the level of congestion on roads; this is not to build case for high-speed traffic that can compromise safety and impede other forms of mobility like walk and cycling and use of public transport. 

This analysis shows substantial change from the lockdown to post-lockdown phases. The overall traffic speed that had improved dramatically during the hard lockdown phases gradually increased with the reopening of the economy. 

The travel speed data analysis shows that the mean travel speed on the selected stretches increased from 24 km per hour pre-lockdown to 46 km per hour during lockdown (i.e. 90 per cent increase). But this reduced again to 29 km per hour (i.e. 36 per cent decrease) during post lockdown. 

During peak hours, travel speed on the selected stretches increased from 23 km per hour pre-lockdown to 44 km per hour during lockdown (i.e. 89 per cent increase). But this again reduced to 27 km per hour (i.e. 38 per cent decrease) during post lockdown.   

Similarly, during the off-peak hours, the travel speed on the selected stretches increased from 25 km per hour pre-lockdown to 47 km per hour during lockdown (i.e. 92 per cent increase). But this further reduced to 31 km per hour (i.e. 34 per cent decrease) during post lockdown. 

The hourly trends show that for both during lockdown and post lockdown, the most significant change was noticed after the 4 PM mark. The average increase in travel speeds after 4Pm during lockdown was 116 per cent compared to pre-lockdown levels (higher than any other time during the first half). 

And post lockdown, the speeds reduced the by an average 42 per cent compared to during lockdown (lower than any other time in the first half). With a gradual reduction in travel speed on road post-lockdown, it is highly probable that the travel speed will come down further to be at the same level as that of the pre-lockdown scenario unless drastic measures are taken to reduce dependence on personal vehicles. 

An insight from the odd-even scheme of November 2019 and its comparison with pandemic traffic

CSE had also analysed the change in travel speeds on the same stretches and during the same time intervals in Delhi during the odd-even phase (4th to 8th November 2019). Comparing the odd-even duration speeds with the normal or pre-lockdown speeds, we see that during odd even, an increase of 21 per cent was observed on an average for all stretches. The peak speed increased by 22 per cent; off-peak speed increased by 16 per cent. This change is comparable to the post lockdown speeds. Putting it in numbers, the change from pre-lockdown to post lockdown was 21 per cent increase, same as during the odd-even period, however the peak speed change was only 17 per cent increase (5 per cent lower than odd-even), whereas off-peak speed increased by 24 per cent post lockdown (8 per cent higher than odd-even levels). 

Loss of public transport ridership

Rebound of congestion is happening when the public transport ridership in Delhi is still low due to the fear of contacting the virus and the scale of public transport options is still very inadequate to meet the demand. Public transport is expected to be further constrained by the social distancing norms. This is already encouraging people to shift to private modes of transport. As per the latest media reports, Delhi metro ridership has reached only 9-10 lakh daily, as opposed to the approximately 55-60 lakh journeys that the service was recording pre-pandemic. Similarly, the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses ridership is down by 59 per cent since March 2020. 

The dangers of not improving mobility

  • Cannot miss the target for public transport ridership: Delhi cannot meet its clean air targets if overall traffic and vehicle numbers are not controlled. The Delhi Master Plan 2020-21 had set a target of 80 per cent public transport ridership by 2020 – this has been missed. The Delhi Decongestion Plan of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has also provided for a roadmap for increasing the share of public transport ridership that provides for strategies including more buses, protected bus lanes, metro network and parking policy and parking charges. But these have not been implemented at a scale. 

As far as bus procurement is concerned -- against the 2019-20 target of sanctioned 4,000 new buses --733 buses have been added, taking the total buses to 6,261. But according to the different estimates and directives, the city requires between 10,000 to 15,000 buses. During the pandemic, service capacity of the fleet was reduced significantly. Even though efforts are being made towards bus route rationalisation and implementation of smart card with integrated fare system with metro services along with ETVMs in DTC buses, CCTV cameras in buses and more, efforts fall short of transformational changes needed for 100 per cent coverage of population and geography.   

At the same time, the Metro network of 389 km is in place; 153 km of phase 3 network has been commissioned. Out of the proposed 63 metro stations, 59 have been finalised for multi-modal integration; 14 are being developed with pedestrian zones, dedicated pick-up and drop of locations for all services, traffic circulation plans etc, while five stations have been earmarked as transit-oriented zones. “Speed of implementation is necessary,” says Roychowdhury. 

Delhi also has to clearly meet the milestones for each parameter of its electric vehicle policy that aims for 25 per cent electrification by 2024. 

  • Need bail-out packages for bus transport: Both the national and state governments need to urgently roll out a bail-out package for the revival of bus transport as part of the economic recovery. Without this, one of the most important solutions to clean air can get derailed. Without mobility transition, Delhi cannot meet its clean air targets. 
  • Last mile connectivity under implementation, but it is also the slowest to improve: There are several plans afoot. These include 40 kms of metrolite and 427 BEV mini bus services; introduction of 1,000 e-rickshaw services at 29 metro stations and 500 more in another 29 metro stations; and 250 e-bike services to be introduced in nine metro stations as pilot. Even though there are several proposals for walking and cycling infrastructure, on-ground implementation remains a challenge. Post-lockdown, Delhi will have to pay a lot of attention to accessible infrastructure for walking and cycling to enable contact-free travel within a short distance range and reduce dependence on personal vehicles. This will also help in saving time and cost incurred during travel to work destinations. 
  • Need urgent city-wide implementation of parking area management plan and parking rules: Even though Delhi has taken the lead to notify the first ever parking rules for travel demand management, the mandate for its city-wide implementation has not been taken forward yet. It still hasn’t moved beyond the three pilot projects. 
  • Leverage the changed work culture during the pandemic to reduce the need for travel: The government needs to work in coordination with corporates and other offices to initiate large scale adaptation of work from home strategies while improving public access to telecommunication infrastructure. This can be incentivised as is being done globally. 

For more on this, please contact: Sukanya Nair of The CSE Media Resource Centre, sukanya.nair@cseindia.org, 8816818864.