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'ICT Enabled Pan-City Mega-Carpool' -
a 'negative cost' solution to traffic congestion in a big city

1. Introduction
Traffic congestion is among the top problems of big cities, not just in India but in most developed/developing countries. The problem is especially acute in cities which did not plan mass rapid transit system (MRTS) during early stage of growth, but later have experienced unexpectedly high organic growth, by which time adequate space is not available to widen roads or set up MRTS solutions.

Traffic congestion has several impacts, the main ones being:
- Loss of precious man hours in traffic snarls
- Loss of precious fuel burnt in idling and crawling vehicles
- Vehicular pollution

This concept paper proposes a Pan-City 'Mega' Carpool (PCMC) to reduce traffic congestion and vehicular pollution by 50% or more. In addition, the Pan-City 'mega' carpool supplements the public transport system and provides significant diversification benefit against any disruption in public transport due to a terrorist attack or labor unrest.

Although the mega carpool scheme proposed here gives examples from Delhi/NCR, it can be implemented in any large urban area of the world where cars are used as a major mode of transport. The scheme has been called Pan-Delhi Mega Carpool (PDMC) Scheme when referred in specific context of Delhi/NCR.

2. Objectives of the Scheme:
The PCMC scheme aims to provide a simple and practicable method to facilitate and encourage car owners to share their cars with other car owners, thereby resulting in fewer numbers of cars plying on city roads.

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity" said Albert Einstein.

As commonly experienced by any road user of Delhi, private cars are causing traffic congestion by inefficiently using the limited road space - the cars are typically carrying only one to two commuters against a capacity of 5 or more (a low 20 to 40% capacity utilization). The present scheme however treats the available spare capacity in cars as an opportunity to provide a transport solution - whereby 3-4 motorists, instead of traveling in separate cars, accommodate themselves in one car, especially during peak hours. In other words, the scheme aims to increase the capacity utilization (also called load factor) of cars to 60-80% and in the process take at least 50 % cars off the road.

3. Benefits of the Scheme:
A 50 % reduction in number of cars plying on roads during peak hours, would decongest roads, increase traffic speed, and cut down fuel consumption by more than 50 per cent. The maximum effect will be on the vehicular air pollution, which will reduce by more than 50% due to combined effect of reduced number of vehicles and increased traffic speed. The road space saved from cars can be utilized to ply additional buses, thereby strengthening the public Transport system. Apart from fuel savings, the scheme saves wear and tear of vehicles and also reduces driving stress for motorists. The scheme also offers immense social/economical networking opportunities to participants. The pressure on the city government to widen roads, construct more parking lots, and bring costly Mass Rapid Transport solutions would also decrease. The Federal government also benefits in terms of reduced oil subsidy, and oil import bills.

The proposed pan-City Mega carpool is therefore a win-win for all key stakeholders - bus commuters, car commuters, government, and general public.

4. Existing method - 2 to 5 member 'micro' carpools:
Present carpools (called 'micro' carpools in this paper to highlight contrast with the proposed Mega Carpool) by and large operate in the following manner:
Car owners living in same/nearby/along-the-way localities working in same/nearby/along-the-way offices, having same timings of going to work and coming back, make an arrangement among themselves wherein they bring their cars on different week days by rotation. For example A, B, C, D, and E - five car owners living in Rohini, all working in NOIDA in 9.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. jobs make an arrangement among themselves as follows:
- A plies his car on Monday and gives a ride to B, C, D and E while going to work and also while coming back home.
- B, C, D and E similarly ply their cars, each on different day of the week and give ride to other members also on those days.
- The turn of each member is pre-fixed and known to other members. The place and time of gathering in the morning as well as in the evening is also predetermined.

Each member benefits as he/she plies his/her car for just one day in a week but avails car journey for all five days.
A partner not possessing a car, shares fuel expenses with other partners. Similarly, a casual partner, who shares same travel needs once in a while, also shares fuel expenses of other partners proportionate to the travel facility availed.The present 'micro' carpooling method is illustrated in the graphic below.

5. Why the existing 'micro' carpools have had only limited success
The present system of about 2 to 5 member 'micro' carpools has several drawbacks/shortcomings due to which car pooling has remain restricted in its spread, in spite of its significant benefits. As discussed later in this paper, the proposed pan-city Carpool removes the short-comings of a micro-pool by removing its basic requirement of 'consistent partners' and thus makes a large-scale adoption of carpooling feasible for an average car-owner.
The drawbacks/shortcomings of the existing method of micro carpools are as under.
(i) Safety issue: Sharing car with a stranger with unverified credentials can pose serious risk to the life and property of a commuter. Therefore, unless the partners know each other well, they are hesitant to join a carpool.
(ii) It is difficult to find reliable partners with consistently matching travel needs: The present system requires some one interested in setting a micro car-pool to find about 3 to 4 car-pool partners who
A) Are reliable in all respects and
B) Have consistent and matching travel needs characterized by:
a) They should live in same/nearby/along-the-way localities.
b) They should have their work destination in same/nearby/along-the-way localities on a consistent basis.
c) Their timings of going to work as well as of coming back from work should match with each other on a consistent basis.

The difficulty in finding such suitable partners is considerable and insurmountable for most people, especially because urban residents have very limited interaction outside work situations. Only the car owners who work in big organizations may be able to find suitable partners living in their locality and working in their organization, with some help from their HR/CSR departments. In fact, car pooling is presently by and large restricted to such persons.

There are websites that have come up during last 3 to 4 years trying to set up carpools, but success of these websites has been very limited. The carpool websites may never be able to realize full potential of ridesharing, because they are promoting a fundamentally restrictive concept - micro carpools.

(iii) Unreasonable consistency demand: The micro carpool expects its members to have a rigid and repetitive travel plan every day, because both in morning and evening, pool car would be available only at predetermined place and time. If any member has a change in his/her schedule on a particular day because of any official/social/personal commitment, he/she has to arrange for alternate mode of transport. The member who on a particular day has his/her turn to ply car feels particularly compelled to not change his travel schedule on that day, as any such change will put other members to a lot of inconvenience.

(iv) No help for 'during-the-day' and different-from-regular travel destinations: A carpool partner may reasonably have travel needs during day time for which his 'work-home' carpool offers no assistance. Similarly, a carpool partner who has a different-from-regular travel destination on some days gets no help from his rigid carpool. Little wonder that people who have changing destinations or day-time travel needs (such as marketing/audit/inspection personnel) do not participate in a carpool.

(v) Feeling shortchanged: Members often end up feeling that they have given more rides than they have availed from other members.

6. How the proposed Mega Carpool works:
The proposed Mega carpool harnesses the power of people for their collective as well as individual benefit. At the present technology levels, it may work as follows in the case of Delhi/NCR:
=> All car owners of Delhi/NCR desirous of availing a carpool are enrolled as members in a 'Pan-Delhi Mega Carpool' (PDMC), subject to due verification of their credentials. Help of employers/RWAs/police authorities/documentary evidence/attestation by referees is taken to establish credentials.
=> All the verified members are issued smart card based Photo IDs, which also works as a credit/debit card to record mileage points (described later).
=> Cars of all the members are fitted with a 'contact less' Card Reader which can (i) read the Smart Card based Photo ID of a member, (ii) sense location of the car and (iii) transmit this data digitally (with the aid of cell phone/trunk radio service providers) to a Central Agency.
=> 'A', a member of the Mega Carpool may give ride to any of the member(s) of Mega Carpool who have common/along-the-way travel destination. By giving rides, 'A' earns mileage points at the rate of, say one point per km. Thus for giving 25 kilometer ride to two members, 'A' earns 50 mileage points. 'A' can thus accrue mileage points by giving rides to Mega Carpool members.
=> In return, 'A' can redeem the points earned by availing rides from any of the Mega Carpool member cars on the days of his/her choice.
=>The points accrued to 'A' can be also used by a family member who holds an 'Add-on' membership card. This way, 'A' may have only one car in the family, but other family member(s) can also enjoy car rides in any of the Mega Carpool member cars.
=>The entire arrangement is voluntary and 'A' is free to not give/avail rides on days he/she so wishes.
=> A Central Agency registers and matches members' travel plans and sets up various members with one another through phone/SMS/internet, on a dynamic basis with the help of computer software. (Later on, when the members know each other well, most of them may be able to find their travel partners without Central Agency's help).
=> The Central Agency also keeps account of mileage points earned and used by all members. All Mega Carpool rides are fully logged for enhancing security and for keeping track of mileage points earned/used, as described below:

" As soon as a member 'A' takes a ride in the car of a member 'B', she shows her membership card to the Card Reader installed in the car of 'B'. The machine reads the Id. No. of A, the time of start of journey and the location of start of journey (the location is sensed by the machine with the aid of cell-phone tower/GPS/Trunk Radio service provider). The machine then transmits all the three pieces of information and the Id. No. of 'B' to the Central agency digitally, through cell phone/trunk radio/any other available technology. The machine gives a beep sound (or any other suitable indication) to indicate successful completion of this transaction. This ensures the genuineness of both 'A' and 'B' and logs the journey for safety and accounting purposes.

" On arrival of her destination, 'A' again shows her card to the Card Reader, and the card reader transmits a message to Central agency to mark location and time of end of journey. The Central agency's computer thus has complete record of journey, for enhanced safety and security of members and for computing mileage points. Based on kilometers traveled, the Central agency's computer credits 'B' and debits 'A' for the Mega Carpool ride.

=> At the end of every month, all the members are sent an electronic/paper statement giving a summary of points earned, points used, balance points available, and Carbon emissions saved by the member during the month by participating in Mega Carpool.
The proposed mega-carpool method is illustrated below.

7. Why the proposed pan-city Mega car-pool is likely to succeed:
The proposed Mega carpool, as described in paragraph 6 above, suffers from none of the limitations/ drawbacks/ shortcomings of the 'micro' carpool. It, therefore, is much likely to succeed.
A micro carpool essentially needs stable partners with rigid and repetitively matching travel needs. This is so because a ride availed by a commuter A from B has to be returned by A to B only. Such a 'one-to-one barter' arrangement can work only if A and B have repetitively common travel destination. However, the difficulty in searching such reliable and stable partners makes the micro carpools very restrictive in practice. In contrast, the proposed Mega Carpool is based on many-to-many barter and dynamic matching, wherein a member can take ride from any member and return the ride to any member, not necessarily to the same member from whom the ride was availed. This flexible arrangement places Mega Carpool on an entirely different paradigm from a Micro Carpool and significantly increases the chance of making successful ride-sharing matches.

8. Society support required:
Since the Mega Carpool not just benefits the members, but also the government and the society, it deserves a much needed support/sponsorship from media, corporate sector, RWAs, employers, NGOs, and government. Above all, full backing by the government leaders is a prerequisite for the scheme to successfully overcome any administrative/legal hurdles.

Following are some of the specific ways in which various stakeholders can help the scheme:
=> Verification of credentials of carpool members: The Central agency operating the scheme will invite and screen requests from car owners of Delhi and NCR cities for becoming member of the Pan-Delhi Mega Carpool. Full details of applicants will be obtained and scrutinized, such as residential address, occupation, workplace address, details of car owned, details of driving license, any existing photo-Ids possessed, etc. Involvement of employers, RWAs and government in the screening process will considerably enhance the members' confidence in the safety of the scheme.
=> Display Screen: A Mega Carpool member may install a small LCD/LED screen on his car's front to display his destination when passing by a carpool stand (described later). The display motorist's willingness (to give ride) as well as his destination to a member seeking a ride. Government permission may be required to install such a screen legally. Display screen is however an optional feature and the scheme can be implemented without this.
=> Subsidy/sponsorships: Government, Employers, Corporate CSR divisions, Environmental NGOs and others can sponsor/subsidize Card reader machines, smart card photo-IDs, and display screens for Mega Carpool members. Media advertising, required on a large scale to create demand for the scheme, would also be a significant cost component needing sponsorships.
=> Carpool stands: Carpool stands in various residential localities, business centers, office complexes and institutional areas may be used by the Mega Carpool members to avail rides. Although, parking-lots/park-and-ride sites may generally suffice as carpool stands, new locations may be required in some areas. Support/permissions from Business association, RWAs, real estate developers, and government may be required to identify, designate, and construct Carpool stands at various locations. Carpool stands can go hand-in-hand with display screens to provide an alternative to public transport, once the mega-carpool membership crosses a threshold (critical mass). However, display screens and carpool stands are optional features, and the mega-carpool scheme can be started without these, by computerized matching of members' dynamic travel plans.
=> Carpool Lanes: In many countries (e.g. the Unites States) there are Carpool lanes (also called 'heavy occupancy lanes') in which single occupancy cars are not allowed to ply. In order to encourage motorists to share cars, similar arrangement can be implemented in Delhi. For example, cars carrying 3 or more commuters can be allowed to ply in BRT corridor. On other roads also, carpool lanes can be notified and enforced.

9. Economics of Pan-Delhi Mega Carpool Scheme:
=> A typical Delhi/NCR resident commuting to work in his car, usually drives about 60-100 kilometer per day, or 2000 kilometers in a month. By participating in Mega Carpool, he can reasonably save at least 50% of his driving, or 1000 kilometers in a month, which translates to over Rs. 4000 per month or about Rs. 50,000 per annum in terms of savings of fuel and maintenance costs. Assuming that 20% of the estimated 2 million car owners of Delhi/NCR would avail benefit of Mega Carpool, the combined saving to these members amounts to Rs. 2000 crores per annum.
=> Saving in CO2 emissions at estimated 2 tons per annum per car would be 8 lakh tons for a 4-lakh member PDMC, which is equivalent to 8 lakh CER (Certified Emission Reduction) Points. At the current market value of about 20 Euros per CER, the market value of CO2 emissions saved by the scheme would be Rs. 100 crores per annum.
=> Savings in oil subsidy to Central government: Public sector oil companies (Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum, and Hindustan Petroleum) are currently selling petrol and diesel at a loss of Rs 11.60 a litre and Rs 23.23 a litre respectively. Savings for these companies from carpooling would be over Rs. 500 crores per annum for a 4-lakh member mega-carpool.
=> Intangible benefits to members (reduced driving stress, social networking opportunities, etc.) and gains to society in terms of reduced pollution, travel time, and host of other benefits have not been quantified here.

Some of the expenditure heads have been listed here:
One time expenses:
Advertisement campaign expenses toward creating awareness about the scheme
Cost of setting up infrastructure of the Central agency
Costs of photo-id cards, and card reader machines
Cost of setting up Mega Carpool website/portal.
Cost of obtaining and processing enrolment requests
Cost of display screens and construction cost of carpool stands (can be deferred).
Recurring expenses:
Maintenance cost of website
Service charges of communication service provider whose network transmits data from card reading machine to central database
Administrative expenses
Regular marketing and advertising expenses

Revenues and other sources of funds:
Sponsorships/subsidy toward cost of media campaigns
Sponsorship/subsidy toward cost of smart card photo-id, and card-reader machine
Deposit and Monthly fees from members toward cost of card-reader
Proceeds from sale of carbon credits earned by the scheme
A percentage of mileage points earned by members may be appropriated by Central Agency and sold to members who are in deficit of points.
Advertisement revenue from portal

Full quantification of revenue and expenditure of the scheme has not been done here, which would be the subject matter of a detailed business plan. However, a quick estimate for a 4 lakh-member PDMC would reveal, that with help from government/other benefactors in bearing the initial advertising and setting up costs, an initial deposit of Rs. 5000 per member (toward cost of card reader machine), and monthly charge of Rs. 200 per member (toward service charges of communication service provider plus recurring expenses of centralized agency) may suffice to operate the scheme at break-even level. Sponsorship/subsidy on card reader machine would reduce the initial deposit requirement of members. Selling a fraction of surplus mileage points earned by members to other members who have a deficit of mileage points would reduce/eliminate the monthly charge.

Carbon credits: Acceptance of Mega carpool scheme as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Project under Kyoto protocol could entitle it for Certified Emission Reduction points (commonly called carbon credits), which at current market prices would value about Rs. 100 crores per annum as estimated earlier in paragraph 9. CER proceeds could make the Pan-Delhi Mega Carpool commercially sustainable without needing any recurring financial support.

10. Critical requirements for successful implementation of the scheme:

(a) Public awareness: An intensive campaign would be required to make motorists aware of the benefits and procedure of the scheme. The involvement of NGOs, Resident Welfare Associations, Employees' Association, Corporate CSR divisions, etc. would be critical in this regard. Sponsorships would be required to launch a campaign in print and electronic media to popularize the scheme, in view of the societal benefits it creates.
All concerned have to realize that because of the serious vehicular pollution and traffic congestion situation, carpooling is no longer a matter of choice. The alternatives are very unpleasant: restrictions on registration of vehicles, restrictions on plying of certain series of vehicles on specified days/hours, creation of no traffic zones, etc.

(b) Credibility of the Central agency: Motorists need to feel confident that the scheme is safe and the Mega Carpool members have been enrolled only after proper screening. Motorists also need to feel certain that the process of dynamic matching of members' travel needs would be prompt and friendly. For inspiring this confidence, it is imperative that agency that implements the Mega Carpool scheme is of high repute and the process of screening members for enrolment is supported and monitored by the government.

11. Gestation period:

The essential components of the scheme either already exist (like motorists on road) or are computer/web based and can be quickly created. The scheme requires no major physical infrastructure to take-off. It can therefore be implemented expeditiously, as estimated below:

Time Frame
(a) Create awareness 12 weeks
(b) Set-up organization, develop hardware & software to operate the scheme 12 weeks
(c ) Enroll members and start service (Activities (a) and (b) can be implemented simultaneously) 8 weeks
Total time taken 32 weeks

12. Suggested Implementation Mechanism:

I. Features desired in Implementation Vehicle
o Scope for Innovation (Risk-return interplay)

o Competition in service quality

o Private user interface

o Government/NGO support and monitoring

o Safeguards for users

II. Proposed project structure




13. A quick summation:
Governments/counties have been promoting carpools for decades. However, a city-scale dynamic carpool has become technologically feasible only recently. With wide availability of cheap GPRS and smart technologies, wide roads and a large car population, Delhi has the need and potential to pioneer the Pan-city Mega-Carpool scheme, which offers a pleasant alternative to restrictions/taxes generally suggested on registration and plying of vehicles. The scheme can complement and supplement the public transport.

Any questions/comments/suggestions may be addressed to:
Vishva Mohan, Jt. Commissioner (Transport).