World Car Free Day

Date: 16 Sep 2016
Cat: India

What it takes for people to leave their cars behind?

By Rajarshi Rakesh Sahai.

When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars people said, ‘Nah, what’s wrong with a horse?’ That was a huge bet he made, and it worked. – Elon Musk.

What followed has changed the fate of our world. Cars have symbolized freedom in the quintessential American dream, allowing people to go anywhere at will, quickly, independently and with relative ease and comfort. This freedom fueled a wave of suburbanization that would change cities not just in the USA but globally. The downtowns and central business districts of today bring massive fleets of cars in, overloading us with congestion and pollution, the real culprits in making our cities less livable.


Nearly 108 years since Ford T-Model made cars accessible, people today are still attached to their cars as a symbol of their wealth, freedom, and identity. Cars are indeed fun but over reliance on them traps us in using them for strictly utilitarian trips. This car free day I am discussing what it takes for us to finally leave that car behind.

It is possible for the city governments to prevent car users from

1. Buying cars: the exorbitant taxes and control over car ownership in Singapore,
2. Or, using cars: access controlled streets in Venice,
3. Or, retaining cars: The London congestion tax and similar global versions.

This article, however, is purely about enabling people to leave those cars behind.

The day when change happens

Let us tap into the life of an average car driving commuter Ms. X, this World Car Free Day. As somebody rushing through her morning routine, leaving for her commute is an automatic function of how soon she gets done with her chores and every incremental minute after that is a failing race against fellow commuters- it is a competition out there and only the swiftest and meanest survive. What if Ms. X were to take a bus or train instead?

Information, information, information: Ms. X would not even consider leaving without her car unless she can have a fair idea of modes available. More the information, the easier it is for her to make that shift.

Options, options, options: But just the bus option would not do. The more Ms. X could pick and choose between that train, bus, tram, trolley, or that occasional taxi, her urge to hold on to that key-fob went progressively down.

Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy: So she had the information on a plethora of modes and their respective schedules but what about the expensive last minutes of the morning? Just plain schedules won’t do. Ms. X deserved the most accurate and real time information out there.

And no better way for her to appreciate that and build that confidence than by being able to see her ride moving on a map to the nearby stopSeeing is believingas she raced to meet it at a nearby stop.

As Ms. X was about to muster up that courage to take on a carefully charted route on public transport, her last-minute- monster boss called! She was to go meet a massively important client for breakfast in an unknown part of the town. Now it was a matter of using her GPS and driving versus using an advanced app like TRAFI which she luckily downloaded at the start of her tedious search!

Keep it simple yet smart: advanced route search algorithms can do the job of stifling through multiple means of transport, giving back the most convenient (Ms. X hates changeovers and those sluggish trams), most price efficient and in Ms. X’s case the most time efficient solutions over existing public transport networks. So she searched and found herself on a comfortable rapid bus route to her breakfast meeting. Interestingly, the bus ride allowed her to read her brief and send a few morning text messages without her super womanly talents of ‘multi-tasking while driving’ being summoned!

As Ms. X glanced at her watch, she was bang on time thanks to the advanced algorithms predicting the ETAs to the last second, factoring for the time of the work-day and traffic trends. That said the breakfast place was good 300m away and she was not to venture on the cobbled road with her delicate (and slippery) shoes on!

Last mile is the king (Paratransit, Biking or just walking)- Luckily her advanced app had biking integration and she could get one bike-share on rent from her bus stop, pedaling away in glory to her meeting.


What happened next?

As luck would have it, the client, a self-confessed biker was all too keen to hand over the contract to Ms. X. On her way back to office, Ms. X could use both her hands to properly type her Thursday report and send it out to her boss. With the time saved, she did her trip to the farmer’s market for some fresh fruits for lunch, without having to worry about finding a parking spot for her car at the market.

Ms. X could already feel fresh with the worries of evening time bumper to bumper driving and rush hour panic a thing of the past. She decided to go celebrate her Thursday as a new Friday with her downtown friends and enjoy those drinks without fearing being pulled over for drunk-driving or worse having to lug around the group as a designated driver.

As Ms. X finally ordered her groceries online, syncing the delivery with her ETA (estimated time of arrival) home, she realized that it takes technology to finally leave that car behind.

In the era of reusable space rockets, let us leave that car just the way some smart individuals left their horse-carriages for the then technologically superior cars.


About the Author: Rajarshi Rakesh Sahai is a manager for TRAFI and a smart cities consultant. He has academic and professional experiences in Urban Development, Policy Planning, Strategy, Energy Efficiency, Transport and Housing sectors. He has is an alumnus of top intuitions including LSE (UK), UCL (UK), KTH (Sweden), Joensuu (Finland), and ISB(India).

Graphics by Ritwick Bhardwaj, Data Community guy at TRAFI