Return Of Covid Curbs: Mobility Moves Into Slow Lane As Cities Clamp Down
If traffic congestion and mobility trends are anything to go by, 2022 started on a slow note. Not only was the New Year's Eve a non-event for those of us living in India's metros (unless you run online food ordering platforms), but outings for work and recreation may start to see curbs as the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus spreads.
Mobility data is already starting to show a dip.
For instance, traffic jams, which peak on Dec. 31 as people party-hop, dropped across most cities—some more than others—shows the TomTom Traffic Index, which measures congestion across India's metropolitans through time spent on commute.
Mumbai Followed The Rules, Delhi Did Not
Curbs on gatherings in Mumbai saw average congestion in the peak evening hours of Dec. 31 fall to 55%. Traffic congestion at this time last year was at 92%.
A 55% congestion level in a city, for example, means that a 30-minute trip will take 55% more time than it would during baseline uncongested conditions.
While Mumbai saw the least traffic congestion, New Delhi saw the most.
In New Delhi, traffic congestion, on an aggregate, was higher at 72% in the evening peak hours. This was also closer to the 78% congestion at this time last year.
Bengaluru—ranked as the most congested city in the world pre-pandemic by TomTom—saw traffic congestion ease to 67% in the evening peak hours, 13 percentage points less than in 2020.
In Pune, traffic congestion was on an aggregate at 58% in the evening peak hours. This was compared to 71% at this time last year.
We Know Where You Went Instead!
A destination that's likely to have seen a surge in congestion is Goa! While TomTom does not provide data for Goa, Google Mobility Trends up to Dec. 31 showed a sharp surge in mobility places of retail and recreation in the state.
The seven-day moving average for Goa rose to 21.1% as on Dec. 31 after having lingered close to baseline levels until mid-December.
Mobility Slows, Contact-Intensive Services Hit
Across India, on aggregate, mobility to places such as restaurants, cafés, shopping centres, theme parks, museums, libraries and cinemas dropped. The seven-day moving average is now 2.4% above pre-pandemic levels compared with 3.5% just a week earlier.
However, mobility to places of retail and recreation in Bengaluru, New Delhi and Mumbai slipped more sharply and remained below pre-pandemic levels.
While the broader economic link between mobility and economic activity has weakened, contact-intensive services and offline retail are again bracing for a hit.
Metros can account for anywhere between 20% and 80% of consumption depending on the type of business, said Kumar Rajagopalan, chief executive officer of the Retailers Association of India. They are after all India's key consumption centres, he said. The extent of the impact will only be clear in the coming days, he said.
Praveen Khandelwal, national secretary general of the Confederation of All India Traders, said the ensuing wedding season from mid-January was scheduled to see approximately 30 lakh marriages across the country up to March 2022. This will be greatly disturbed with rising Covid cases in the country and imposition of restrictions by states on weddings and other events, he said.
The recent spurt in the number of cases witnessed in some of the states is adding to concerns about renewal of various forms of restrictions, said Arun Singh, global chief economist at Dun & Bradstreet. A demand downturn or fading optimism levels could be more painful, he said. "We expect the pace of growth to slow down in the first half of 2022 and growth should pick up momentum thereafter."