For Indians, two-wheelers are the vehicles of choice

Arvind Jayaram BL Research Bureau | Updated on June 18, 2014



Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Automobile Company and pioneer of mass-produced vehicles, once said it was his dream to have an automobile in every garage in America. But for most people in India, owning a two-wheeler is still the main aspiration and a sign that they have truly arrived. The latest Ministry of Road Transport and Highways data reveals that from an 8.8 per cent share of the 3 lakh vehicles on Indian roads in 1951, two-wheelers such as scooters and motorbikes now accounted for 71.8 per cent of the 141.8 million vehicles plying in 2011.

In contrast, the share of four-wheeled cars, jeeps and taxis, once the biggest constituent of India’s vehicular fleet, has continuously shrunk, falling from 52 per cent in 1951 to 13.6 per cent in 2011. Nevertheless, at nearly 19.3 million, these four-wheel vehicles still constituted the second-largest class of vehicles on India’s roads.

Of great concern to users of public transportation, however, will be the sharp decline in the proportion of buses on the roads as a percentage of the total vehicle population. The country had just 30,000 buses four years after Independence; this amounted to 11.1 per cent of the total number of automobiles in India. By 2011, this had grown to 1.5 million buses, a sizeable number. However, as commuters in cities and towns across the country will lament, this is not enough. This makes sense when viewed from the perspective of the share of buses in India’s automobile fleet, at just 1.1 per cent, even though they are intended to move more people on a daily basis than other modes of transport.

As the Indian economy has grown, so too has the number of goods vehicles on the roads. There were 7.1 million goods vehicles in operation all over the country in 2011, even though their share of the total vehicle traffic has steadily declined over the years. Meanwhile, the fleet of ‘other vehicles’ on the roads has also been steadily rising, both in numerical terms, as well as their share of total traffic.

On average, the number of vehicles on India’s roads has shot up by 185 per cent every 10 years over the past seven decades, though there have been periods when the rate has spiked, such as the 300 per cent growth between 1971 and 1981. If this trend persists, we can expect to see 262.3 million vehicles on Indian roads in 2021, almost equivalent to the 253 million cars on US roads in 2014. But as we have already seen, infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the burgeoning growth in the number of automobiles, leaving most of us fuming at having to spend several weeks of our lifespan cooped up in traffic. Clearly, this should be food for thought for India’s civic planners as they conceptualise ways to either reduce the number of vehicles on the roads or improve infrastructure in order to cope with the huge volumes.

Published on June 18, 2014

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