The Rapid Rise of Middle-Class Vehicle Ownership in Mumbai
In India, demand for urban mobility is increasing rapidly because of growth in urban
populations, establishment of multiple employment sub-centers, suburbanization of households,better education, higher workforce participation rates, and rising incomes. An increase in discretionary spending is leading to higher household transportation budgets. Middle-income households in particular are investing in private vehicles such as motorized two-wheelers (TWs)
and cars. At the same time, policies to reduce vehicle ownership through regulations and user
costs remain underdeveloped and weakly enforced. This further increases households’
willingness to use vehicles, especially for non-discretionary work trips. Higher private vehicle
use is affecting other quality of life issues such as time spent commuting, accident rates, noise
pollution, and particulate and greenhouse gas emissions.
In part, this higher vehicle ownership and use is driven by land use dynamics in Indian
cities, where growth within city municipal boundaries is constrained by regulations limiting
floor-area ratios. As a result, much of the new growth has taken place in urban peripheries where
land is cheap and building costs are low. In these peripheral areas, existing small and medium
towns have become anchors for agglomeration, transforming into bedroom communities for
emergent middle-class groups. Urban peripheral areas are usually undersupplied with
transportation infrastructure such as roads or bus transit.
This dissertation unpacks the question of why the middle-class in India is driven to
owning and using TWs and cars by asking the following: (1) How does work location influence
travel by public and private modes? (2) What factors encourage vehicle ownership in middleclass
households? (3) What factors drive up vehicle use in middle-class households? The
research was conducted using a travel survey dataset from the Greater Mumbai Region (GMR)
that represents 1.5% of the households there. The GMR is among the most populated megacity
regions in the world, housing over 22 million people. Its growth illustrates the transformation
from a monocentric to a polycentric city which is seen in many rapidly growing Indian cities.
In seeking to develop an understanding of how work location affected travel, this
research identified employment sub-centers using work destination data. Of all middle-class
home-based work trips, 67 percent ended in a sub-center, while 33 percent did not. Mean travel
times and mean travel distances by train, TW and intermediate public transportation (IPT) modes
such as rickshaws were longer for work destinations in sub-centers than for work destinations in
the urban periphery, but trips made by buses were shorter in sub-centers. Car users traveled
longer and farther compared to TW users for home-based work trips in the GMR. Trains were
the speediest mode of travel in the GMR, but traveling by a TW or car was speedier than bus or
IPT travel—confirming that having a private vehicle has advantages.
This research used a multinomial logit model to analyze households’ choice of having no
vehicles, only TWs, or at least one car. Results indicated that household utility from both TWs
and cars increased with household characteristics such as per capita annual income, living in an
independent house or an apartment, number of rooms in the housing unit, housing location
farther from a railway station, the presence of children under 5 years, and larger household size.
Moreover, vehicle utility for households increased with the primary wage earner’s characteristics
including college education, employment, being married, making more trips across all modes,
traveling during the morning peak, and working in the urban periphery. Household utility from
both TWs and cars decreased when the primary wage earner had longer work trips and higher
employment density at the work location.
Regression models for vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT) and person kilometers traveled
(PKT) for cars and TWs showed that vehicle use increased with number of employed persons in
the household, and if the primary wage earner worked in the urban core. Vehicle use decreased if
density of housing and jobs went up at either the home or work location. TW use went down
with per capita annual household income.
Overall findings indicate that demand for private vehicles is rising due to the following
factors: better education, employment, higher incomes, suburbanization, peripheral employment
node formation, and lack of public travel options. However, higher density decreases vehicle use.
Without changes in policies encouraging higher well-managed densities, jobs-housing balance,
and supply of adequate transit and IPT travel options, vehicle ownership and use will likely
continue to grow rapidly in India.