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Social Barriers in Shifting Towards Sustainable Mobility


Addressing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation is a critical priority for India’s pursuit of net zero emissions. Globally, the largest contributor to mobility emissions is passenger road vehicles, a trend mirrored in India where approximately 14% of total emissions are linked to mobility.


GS3- Environmental Pollution

Mains Question:

Sustainable Urban Mobility centred around public transportation demands an understanding of both climate science and behavioural science to make it truly inclusive. Comment. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Background: Statistics Related to Vehicular Pollution in India:

Vehicular Emissions in India:

  • The anticipated growth in annual car sales in India, from the current 3.5 million to around 10.5 million by 2030, a threefold increase, is expected to elevate the exposure to vehicular exhaust emissions.
  • India holds the position of the fifth-largest global car manufacturer, boasting one of the highest compound annual growth rates (10%) in vehicle registration as of 2019.
  • Vehicular emissions significantly contribute to air pollution in urban areas.
  • Typically, these emissions account for 20-30% of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 at the breathing level of air quality.
  • PM2.5 refers to particles with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers, more than 100 times thinner than a human hair, and capable of remaining suspended for longer durations.
  • Studies indicate that vehicles contribute approximately 290 gigagrams (Gg) of PM2.5 annually.
  • Simultaneously, about 8% of total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in India originate from the transport sector, exceeding 30% in Delhi.

Vehicular Emissions (World):

  • The transport sector constitutes a quarter of total emissions, with road transport accounting for three-quarters of these emissions and 15% of the overall global CO2 emissions.
  • Among these, passenger vehicles are the primary source, releasing approximately 45% of CO2.
  • Under current conditions, it is projected that annual GHG emissions in 2050 will be 90% higher than those recorded in 2020.

Genesis of the Issue:

  • Projections suggest a significant increase in car ownership, potentially 9-14 times higher by 2050.
  • Despite the fact that only 16% of Indians use private vehicles as their primary mode of commute, investments in road infrastructure have historically overshadowed investments in public transportation, walking, and cycling infrastructure. This has resulted in limited public transportation access for many communities and raised concerns about quality, comfort, and safety.
  • Perceptions of high effort and unpleasant experiences associated with first and last-mile connectivity deter people, often influenced by exaggerated memories and external descriptions.
  • Non-Metro users are inclined towards personal vehicles due to factors such as connectivity, security, waiting times, and perceived control over route and time. Behavioral biases, specifically the “illusion of control” and hyperbolic discounting, play a role in this decision-making process.
  • Personal vehicles are often seen as status symbols, whereas the Metro lacks aspirational value.

What needs to be done?

  • To mitigate this anticipated rise in emissions, it is imperative not only to embrace electrified transportation but also to reduce reliance on private vehicles by promoting alternative modes like public transportation.
  • In recent times, there has been a renewed emphasis on developing high-quality public transportation infrastructure in India, particularly in the form of metro rail systems.
  • Overcoming social barriers is crucial in this effort. In addition to systemic challenges like inadequate infrastructure for persons with disabilities and senior citizens, several social factors hinder widespread adoption of metro systems.
  • Employing a behavioral science approach involves understanding the mental shortcuts (heuristics) individuals use to make decisions and utilizing behavioral nudges (subtle cues) to influence their behavior, thereby shaping urban mobility choices.
  • Promoting equitable access for marginalized communities goes beyond merely shifting from private vehicles. Improving the quality and service of sustainable mobility modes, like public transportation, has broader societal benefits.


While current Indian policies advocate the development of public transportation, particularly in urban areas, the emphasis on social planning and the promotion of behavioral and normative shifts is lacking. Incorporating social planning in transportation strategies can enhance user demand by understanding the values, attitudes, and beliefs that influence people’s modal choices.

February 2024