Road transport speed: IMF report ranks India below Pak but...
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper published in May ranked India 127th among 162 countries in terms of speed of road transport. A comparison of the rankings shows that even Pakistan is ranked higher than India in terms of average speed. How should one interpret these findings? An HT analysis of the paper shows that the results are based on a selective sample and might not be representative of the actual condition of road traffic. Here is why:
The findings are limited to three to six biggest cities by population per country (excluding island countries such as Fiji) and only those farther than the largest city by at least 80 km. For example, the Indian cities selected are Mumbai, Ahmedabad (531 km from Mumbai), Bangalore (984 km from Mumbai), and Delhi (1,422 km from Mumbai). The analysis is based on 760 cities across 162 countries.
With these restrictions, the paper uses the Google Maps API to find the travel time from the largest city to other cities by car. The mean speed for the country is calculated as the sum of the distances for each of these routes divided by the sum of the time taken on each route. This speed is in the 30-60 km/h range in 46 countries, 61-75 km/h range in 42 countries, 76-90 km/h range in 43 countries, and 91-110 km/h range in 31 countries.
The fastest countries are generally the wealthiest ones as measured by GDP per capita. For advanced economies, a small improvement in the mean speed was associated with a higher GDP per capita than for low-income developing countries.
With a mean speed of 58 km/h, India is ranked 127th out of 162 countries. The US (107 km/h) is the fastest country in the world and Bhutan (38 km/h) the slowest. India is not very different from its neighbours with the exception of Pakistan, where the travel time from Karachi to Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Lahore, and Rawalpindi gives the country a mean speed of 86 km/h, the 44th fastest in the world.
To be sure, Pakistan fares worse in the Indian sub-continent in terms of access of the rural population to all-weather roads within two kilometres. Only 64% of its rural population has access to such roads, according to the 2019 Rural Access Index of the World Bank based on geospatial technology, compared to 67% in Bangladesh and 75% in India.
The IMF paper also cautions that because the mean speed is calculated for the fastest time in a day, it is possible that the speed is different at the time when goods or people are actually moving on a route. Similarly, reducing the city count can increase the mean speed for large countries because they have many large cities, which are generally better connected.