The rot in traffic mismanagement runs (too) deep

Posted: July 24, 2011 in Traffic Management
Tags: , , ,

Read an interesting report in ToI the other day about parking trends in Ahmedabad where the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), talks about, among other things, how motorists should be made to pay if they park on the road. The study is looking at three cities – Ahmedabad, Chennai and our own Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation.

The study also talks about getting free parking spaces and the need to control carbon emission and create a better traffic system which would make the city a better place to live in. Interesting observations, and had I been living in Chandigarh or even Ahmedabad I would have been delighted, because the administration there would have implemented such a system. But in Pune? I don’t know if there is any hope of improving the traffic situation here.

It’s not about finding parking spaces or charging motorists who park on the road. Frankly, it’s not even the burgeoning number of vehicles – two-, three and four wheelers – that worry me inasmuch as the people who use them and those who devise and implement traffic laws. If I was a diligent driver and knew that parking on a street that is two-lane, is an inconvenience to other motorists, would I stop my vehicle there? Has any thought been given to streamlining the system which issues licenses? Learners’ licenses are given without the mandatory tests. Drivers do not even know the basic traffic rules. If they did, 80 per cent of the problems that exist today won’t be there. The fact that a huge number of drivers are either ignorant of traffic rules and therefore lack driving sense, and many others wilfully break the rules, speaks of a deeper malaise that can’t be tackled with studies.

As for the problems of parking in Pune, I don’t think people have a problem when it comes to paying at parking lots, as long as their vehicles are safe. And why would they park on the road anyway, if there’s a place to park? The problem lies elsewhere. Instead of finding a solution to a vexing problem and help to improve the city’s infrastructure, politicians and their cronies devise new ways to make money. I find it hard to believe that the traffic problems that exist in Pune today could not have been envisioned by the city fathers years ago, and can’t be tackled by a conscientious bunch of corporators, MLAs and MPs today.

For example, very little thinking has gone into evolving a traffic system that will help the road user. Most traffic systems are implemented without taking into account the long-term impact – the BRTS is a ‘shining’ example of this. No one seems to have given it too much thought before it was implemented. BRT systems exist in cities all over the world, but nowhere is it more chaotic than in Pune. In the first place where was the need for a BRTS if it didn’t ease the burden on the existing traffic system? The dedicated track is used by every kind of vehicle from two-wheeler to four-wheeler. Here’s a report on the ITP site which makes interesting reading.

It was supposed to be a faster system of travel between two points, but is as slow as the PMPL buses. It’s pretty clear that it is nothing but an extension of the existing ramshackle public transport system – where 80 per cent of the buses are in state of disrepair and those that are there, are for people who use it for lack of other credible options. And the civic body knows that too. That is why they don’t care to improve it. If Pune had a better public transport system we would neither require a BRTS and nor would people use their vehicles. I travelled by one such ‘AC’ bus on the BRTS route one day for a short distance and swore never to get onto it again. If this is comfortable travel, according to the PMC, I don’t want any part of it. We (my son and I) were forced to disembark because we were getting suffocated by the oppressive heat inside. Someone somewhere bulldozed this plan through under the very noses of the city fathers and made a lot of money.

Take that ubiquitous traffic light at the intersection. Little thought has been given to the waiting time at numerous signals. At some very crowded traffic junctions, 15 seconds is given to traffic in one lane. Unless we are all driving Lambos, Ferraris and Beemers, by the time we even put the car into gear, five seconds have already elapsed. So by the time you reach the intersection, the other 10 seconds have elapsed and only around 7-8 vehicles have crossed. So you wait, and behind you the queue gets longer, until in desperation to cut waiting time, drivers start to make a third lane and a fourth. And when the lights yellow the chaos unfolds. And this is the scene at EVERY traffic intersection in the city, every day. It’s just like the roads. They were constructed to withstand a certain number of vehicles 20 years ago. Today, the number has gone up threefold. And I don’t even want to start on the condition of the roads!

The entire traffic management system of Pune is like an injured horse. You either send it to the hospital for immediate surgery or put it to sleep and get another horse. It’s no use prescribing first aid and painkillers. Things have progressed much beyond that point. Do any of the officials or politicians have the will to shoot the horse?

  1. Vineeta Shetty says:

    Spot on, but “city fathers” cannot be expected to carry all the burden on their shoulders. For the burden they unleash on the roads on a daily basis, automobile manufacturers must be given a role in paying for and planning traffic management in India, if they consider it an unmissable market.

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