Archive for the ‘Traffic Management’ Category

Reading about the assault on the Pune couple by highway robbers on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, makes me wonder how we can all forget the basic rules of driving on the highway. I am sorry if I sound unsympathetic (I am not, because I too use the highways and e-ways), but I really don’t understand why people must stop in the dead of night on lonely highways and expressways for any reason, except for a breakdown or an emergency that needs immediate attention.

This is not the first time that such an incident has happened on the Mumbai-Pune expressway and definitely won’t be the last. It is notorious for such incidents and the cops are helpless because they are just not equipped to deal with them – be they robberies or accidents. This gentleman stopped across the road from where a petrol pump was, which must be a good 50 metres away from where his car was parked. As kids we were taught by our parents to go to the loo and carry a bottle of water or some biscuits with us before setting off on a bus or car journey. How is it, that as parents we forget that cardinal rule?

There is no point blaming lack of lights on the highway or the cops for not doing their jobs. I read in some newspaper that someone asked for lights on the highway! Where was the last time you saw lights on the highways, except when the highway approaches city limits? It’s a ridiculous suggestion. As for the presence of cops, they can’t be everywhere. So why take chances? Unless you’re literally dying of thirst or your bladder is about to empty itself in your pants, can’t a bottle of water or a toilet break wait till you get to a food mall or a petrol pump?

Secondly, the Indian traffic police for all the hard work it does, is incapable of doing its job efficiently because it is drastically under-manned, poorly equipped and badly trained on how to react in an emergency. In the event of an accident it is the medical services that should land up first, not the police. In India it is usually the cops who do, and they inform the medical services. Even we, as we are conditioned to do, call the police first and the hospital next. An accident victim’s life is more important, the investigations come later.

Whenever I travel long distance with the family we keep at least a dozen bottles of water in the car. It became a necessity because we used to travel with our son who was then six or seven. Now he is 17 but we still follow that practice. Even on the expressway, two bottles of water are always in the car.

DNA, Pune has done a story in today’s edition on the front page where they have pointed out the dangerous spots on the expressway! Oh really? Just five such spots? Are the highway robbers going to keep to those spots only? I think we need to learn as drivers that we need to stop only at designated spots like petrol pumps or food malls, not anywhere in the blue yonder. I often see people stopping their vehicles on a lonely stretch on the highway to relieve themselves and my first reaction is ‘what an idiot, can’t he wait?’

Let’s accept it, we are not in Europe, where we may stop and even take a nap on the lay-bye and still be safe, or wait for a breakdown van to pick us up. Sure, our highways are not infested with monsters who prey on innocent travellers, but while our roads might have improved dramatically in the last decade or so, the mentality of the people has remained unchanged – be they law-abiding citizens or highway robbers!

I remember, before one of my drives to Gujarat and Rajasthan in 2009, I spoke to HV Kumar, a passionate motoring enthusiast and a gentleman who runs a forum on Facebook and websites where he posts updates of the traffic situation on the highways. I always do because I trust the man with my life and that of my family, even more than I do myself. He has over 10,000 members on his Forum and he can tell you about any road anywhere in the country at a moment’s notice, so extensive is his network of friends and motoring enthusiasts who keep him and the forum updated every minute.

We had driven from Pune to Chittorgarh and I remember talking to him about the roads in MP and while he praised the state of the roads there, he also told me to top the tank at before we left from there because he said there would be no petrol pumps for long stretches. He was right, because the first one we saw was around 150 kms after we left Chittorgarh. We were on our way to Sawai Madhopur. For miles we saw nothing, not even a village or people. We saw just barren land and nothing else and I remember thinking, what could happen if we were stuck in the middle of this place for some godforsaken reason. Since then, I have never stopped on the highways, not matter what the reason!

While doing a story in 2011 when I worked with an auto magazine, on the excessive speeds on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, I interviewed the Highways SP. He told me that it was virtually impossible to man the entire 97 kms of the expressway because one, he did not have the manpower and two, because he did not have the infrastructure. Incidentally, he told me then that they had just two speed-guns, on either end of the expressway. They actually had six, but four were under repairs. They needed at least a dozen more. I don’t think the situation has changed at all, since then.

The photographer and I also decided to check on the safety aspects on the expressway. Remember the phones that dot the expressway, which you can supposedly use during an emergency? They are a nice publicity vehicle for the phone company that installed them, but as far as their use is concerned, they are worthless pieces of junk. I say worthless, because sometimes even junk has its uses. We inspected every phone along the e-way and none of them worked. So every time the government talks of improving the infrastructure on the highways, I want to ask them why they don’t improve the system that already exists.

The rest of the world is monitoring traffic through satellites and even more advanced systems but we are still in the bullock cart age. No amount of high-speed expressways will help if our mentality and driving habits do not change. Apart from the speed freaks that we run into on the highways and the expressways, there is always the fear of running into unsavoury elements in the dead of night. Stopping on the highway for any other reason except a breakdown is asking for trouble.

Whether the police reached on time or whether the IRB personnel were asleep on the job, is all really irrelevant, when you are under attack. All that doesn’t matter when you or a family member is lying there bleeding to death, knifed by some hoodlum. No harm in being a little extra cautious, is there? All one is trying to say is that it’s really up to us to protect ourselves and our families from such incidents. Automobile magazines don’t care about such issues, at least they did not when I worked there. The best place for such issues to be highlighted would be blogs and driving forums. Will they take it up on a war footing?


We don’t know whether the four youngsters who died last week when their car went into the Neera river, were momentarily misled by the NHAI signboard, or they were speeding and lost control as the cops reported, or whether some vehicle came at them from the wrong side and forced them off the road or… there could be a half a dozen reasons.

The damaged i20 . Pic by Sakal Times photojournalist Vaibhav Thombare

The damaged i20 . Pic by Sakal Times photojournalist Vaibhav Thombare

What we do know is what happened that night could have been avoided if all the organisations responsible – NHAI, Highway Traffic Police and contractor – had been doing their respective jobs. Had the police told the NHAI to remove the sign since there were no road repairs going on there, had the NHAI not put up that stupid sign in the first place, and had the contractor stationed his security guards at the spot (which I am told they should have), four lives could have been saved. Which brings me, specifically, to the Highway Traffic Police and traffic management on the highways.

What is the highway traffic police supposed to be doing on a daily basis? Are they just supposed to lurk on the highway and stop trucks to add to their daily collections and show up after an accident and conduct a panchanama. Is that their only job? Not if you read their pompous Mission Statement on their website.

This is what it says:

* Ensure Safe and Secure Travelling on Highways.

* Reduce and Prevent accidents, save lives

* Help the victims and injured persons

* Ensure smooth flow of Traffic by constant vigil and patrolling on Highways

* Constant education of motorists and road users by arranging workshops by each TAP

* Active and Helpful Highway Police.

How many of the points mentioned above do they actively practice? Not the first, definitely, unless levying a fine of a few hundred rupees is their justification for ensuring safe and secure travelling on the highway. Because the minute the offending driver pays up and leaves he usually chucks the receipt away and goes back to his errant ways. What are a few hundred bucks, anyway, today?

If they’re not ensuring the first, then they definitely cannot do the second and third. If they had been doing so, the four youngsters, and countless others would have been alive today. Look at the fifth point – constant education of motorists and road users? Forget workshops, how many times have you been pulled over by a highway traffic police cop and given a lecture on safe driving, especially at night or in the wee hours?  Maybe, they don’t have enough people to do that (as the accompanying chart shows), but again, that is no excuse.


The truth is, while those who drive are mainly responsible for keeping the highways safe, there will always be those who pay scant regard to rules, and to the lives of fellow drivers. There is no effective law to stop such people, and even if there was, there is no one to implement it effectively. In the end it comes down to the people who should be doing their jobs, but aren’t.

I drive on the State and National Highways and when I spot police jeeps they are usually parked on the roadside, waiting for some truck driver who they can squeeze for a few hundred bucks – but beyond that, not much else. I had a friend in the Highway Traffic Police, who once told me that their main task was to collect a certain amount everyday from the truckers as fines to fill the department coffers!

Until recently, we would often drive to Satara on Sunday mornings, and drive back in the evenings. Along with us, every Tom, Dick, Harry and their dog would also be driving back from Kolhapur, Satara, Panchgani Mahabaleshwar or any other weekend getaway on that route, at speeds in excess of 100 kms per hour. And most of them would be uncomfortably close to each other. By the time I got back home I would be mentally and physically exhausted. I often wonder what would happen if any of the vehicles has a flat tyre or the driver loses control of his vehicle. It is a scary thought.

One day I told my wife that I would not drive anymore on the Mumbai-Bangalore Highway in the evenings, because I couldn’t take the stress. The drive from Pune to Bengaluru in the day is less harrowing than the one from Satara to Pune in the evenings, I said. And that happens because there is no one from the Highway Traffic Police to take errant drivers off the road. These maniacs are allowed to have a free run. The SUVs – and they’re getting bigger and bigger – bear down on you from the rear like some huge inter-galactic machine and start honking, swerving, just like in a scene from some Hollywood movie during a chase, looking for an escape route in their desperation to get ahead.  The even more scary sight, is the much smaller hatchbacks which try to emulate their big brothers. And there is no one to stop them.

Many years ago, a relative living in the USA, told me about how he had been stopped by the police on the freeway, when he was on his way back home from some work in another town. He was exhausted and just for just a second his eyes closed and the car drifted. Almost immediately, or so he thought, a police car, its siren wailing asked him to pull over.

The police officer politely told him he had fallen asleep on the wheel, had been speeding and told him to slow down. The relative told the officer “I am tired. I am going home to my wife and kids. So you want to penalise me, go ahead, but don’t give me a lecture.”

He realised the moment those words tumbled out that he had gone too far. Without another word, the police officer told the relative to follow his car, slowly. A mile or so ahead, the police car stopped at a drive-in. The officer told the relative to throw cold water on his face, order a large coffee – without milk – and wait for him till he returned.

“If I don’t see you here when I return, I’ll book you,” were the officer’s words as he left. He returned half an hour later and told him to drive home safely “otherwise your wife and kids might not see you alive again.” He said it was an experience, he would never forget. Of course, that was the USA. Does the traffic police in this country believe in such social niceties?

I don't know the source of this picture, and will happily give them credit.  But it really puts in a nutshell the issue being discussed here.

I don’t know the source of this picture, and will happily give them credit. But it really puts in a nutshell the issue being discussed here.

So the Pune Police Commissioner Gulabrao Pol finally articulated what a lot of us have been saying for years – that Pune’s vehicle owners lack traffic sense and discipline. Earlier, we used to joke that Pune’s traffic has become so bad because of the influx of North Indians, especially motorists from Delhi. But that comment was made more in jest because the national capital has become everyone’s favourite punching bag when it comes to issues about crimes against women or even bad drivers.

However, for Pune’s top cop to make such a statement also mirrors the frustration of the police force in being unable to control the menace of rash driving. Just the other day, while discussing the future of the Buddh Formula 1 circuit in Noida, after F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone pulled out of India, my colleague at the sports desk was telling me about how the race track was doing just fine even without the annual jamboree. It seems the rich and famous from Delhi and the NCR pay out a fancy sum to race their Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis and other mean machines at the Buddh circuit because the roads in Delhi are really not the place where they can keep their foot down on the accelerator! Even there, one has to follow some rules.

But that is Delhi and we aren’t talking mean machines. We are talking about the citizens of Pune using the roads like it is their private racing track, with utter disregard for the law. That there has been a huge spurt in the number of vehicles – both of the two and four-wheeler kind – seen in the city, is obvious. The police chief said there were 12 lakh more vehicles in Pune as compared to Mumbai and everyday 931 vehicles are being added to that number. A few months ago I used to cover the distance of approximately 14 kms from my home to office in 30 to 40 minutes. Today the same distance takes me between 60 and 90 minutes. It’s surely not the state of the roads or the number if vehicles that are alone to blame. It is also the idiot on the road who believes traffic rules are meant for Martians and not Earthlings.

So while I still wait at the traffic intersection behind the zebra crossing, for the lights to turn green, I find others, driving past utterly contemptuous of the law. I also see Pune Police personnel looking on impassively, probably frustrated, because they also know there’s nothing much they can do except penalise someone. And then should they spend their time worrying about directing traffic on a busy intersection or waste time cutting a receipt? That is when you realise that it is not just the citizen, but even the law is an ass.

With nothing stricter than a few hundred rupees as a penalty for flouting traffic rules, no one really cares. Six hundred rupees is the maximum penalty and that is for not carrying valid insurance papers! For offences related to driving alone the fines range from 100 to 500 bucks. Sure you can go to jail for killing someone, but that is an extreme case and even then, it is a bailable offence. You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out why vehicle owners use the roads the way they do. Hundred rupees is small change today for most people. It means a packet of cigarettes less that day or roughly a litre of petrol less. It’s manageable. Just yesterday I was reading that in PCMC the fines for erring vehicle owners are being upped to between Rs 1000 and Rs 5000. That’s a start.

What the Traffic Police in Pune should do instead is to confiscate not just the licence of the erring vehicle owner, but the vehicle as well and then make the offender travel across town to pay the fine.  For example, if the offence is committed at Swargate, the offender should be told to leave his vehicle at the nearest police station, travel to the RTO at Vishrantwadi or a place even further away to pay Rs 1000 as fine, and only then pick up his vehicle – at his own expense. If the offence is committed at Vishrantwadi tell the offender he or she has to pay a fine at some obscure RTO post or police station at the other end of town. And if that means you’re going to be late for a job interview, too bad…The next time you might think twice before breaking the law.

But are Pune’s errant vehicle owners alone to blame for this mess? At the same event on Wednesday, the police chief spoke about the use of crash helmets. He said there are more accidents in Pune than there are in Mumbai, but people refuse to wear helmets. How many police personnel do you see wearing helmets? I have often seen police vehicles drive on the wrong side of the road, and also ignore a red light. When the police department itself treats the law with such contempt, what do they expect the citizens to do?

Unfortunately, even our politicians who frame legislation are only worried about the impact such harsh laws could have on their vote-bank. Traffic safety and lives lost is not really their concern. It’s the guy who stands in line to vote who is their concern. After all, the dead can’t vote.

The article was written by me in May, 2011, when I was working with Car India* magazine, on the lopsided manner in which taxes are being levied on the national highways. I was asked by a journalist friend to reproduce and document the articles and put them in the public domain. So here goes…

A FEW MONTHS ago, social activist Anna Hazare threatened to launch an agitation against illegal collection of toll. This was after a high-level committee of PWD chief engineers recommended that 31 out of 165 toll nakas in Maharashtra should be abolished as they were set up in blatant violation of norms prescribed by the Centre. Under ‘pressure’, the State Government closed down a number of them.

For the record, Maharashtra has 165 toll nakas; 28 of which belong to the National Highways Authority of India; 61 belong to the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and 56 to the Public Works Department. So, is it time for the government to have a Toll Regulatory Commission like they have for the Power sector?

A toll booth on the highway

A toll booth on the highway

Not all travellers who pay toll on the highways protest, but some have objected to the unsavoury manner in which money is being collected. What motorists want to know is on what basis toll is calculated between two points, and once calculated what’s the criteria for increasing it? Motoring enthusiast and frequent traveller Parag Sachania says he pays Rs 487 when he travels from Pune to Bengaluru via Nelemangala.

Another frequent traveller H.V. Kumar says he pays Rs 682 from Mumbai to Bengaluru via the Vashi Bridge and the Expressway. He says there are also smart motorists who beat the system by scouting around for alternative non-toll routes!

Why pay toll when they already pay so many other taxes, cess and a whopping one-time vehicle registration fee, and when maintenance is definitely not as costly?

Of the Rs 880 billion envisaged for the construction of national highways and supernational highways as per the Rakesh Mohan ‘India Infrastructure Report’ of 1993, Rs 230 billion was to be raised through private sector participation. Similarly for the State Highways, Rs 60 billion of Rs 300 billion was to be raised in the same way. The report also suggested:

a) That substantial portions, if not all, of the revenues from taxes on motor vehicles, transportation fuel be earmarked for road development b) Setting up of a Roads Board to ensure the coordinated development of the trunk-route system and adoption of a highway development policy by the government c) Four laning of some of the existing highways be done through public-toll road method d) Comprehensive guidelines and procedures for approval of private sector projects.

When the State Governments decided to award contracts through the Build Operate Transfer or BOT system, it was seen as a win-win situation for everyone – agency, Central and State governments. Private entrepreneurs made all the investments and then recovered the amount from the public through toll over a certified duration. But some things were unclear. What was the ‘certified duration’ and how much? Why weren’t the funds being used to improve infrastructure and facilities? Curiously enough, while doing a story on speeding on the e-way last month, when Car India spoke to an IRB official, he specifically said that the agency did not have the authority to carry out large-scale repairs but only do minor maintenance.

A public interest litigation (PIL) filed by RTI activist and former Spl. IG and police medal awardee S.M. Mushrif, in 2007, raised questions against the haphazard manner in which toll was being extracted on the various highways around the country. When he asked through the RTI, about the rule under which toll collection is done, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) provided him a copy of a Central government notification dated 5 May, 2005 (issued by the Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport-and Highways) which stated that the agency was entitled to collect and retain fees at such rate, for services or benefits rendered by him as specified by the Central Government in the official gazette. This rule applied to the highway departments of all State governments.

Interestingly, the MSRDC appointed an independent consultant for monitoring toll collection. However, the engineer of this consultancy company who was present while Mushrif was conducting the inspection of files told him, “We monitor everything else, like operation and maintenance, but do not look into the revenue from toll collection.’’

Recently, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway hiked its toll rate from Rs 140 to Rs 165 for motor cars. Former journalist and RTI activist from Pune, Vinita Deshmukh, who is protesting against the manner in which toll is being levied on the expressway, believes MSRDC does not have any mechanism to monitor whether the toll collection on the expressway is being carried out in a transparent manner. Deshmukh also filed an RTI application seeking details of the toll collection on the expressway.

She said that the IRB had entered into a contract with the Maharashtra government stating that for 15 years — from the beginning of fiscal 2004 to the -end of the 2019 financial year — they would collect toll and maintain the expressway. IRB had paid an advance of Rs 918 crore to the Maharashtra government that would be recovered from the toll. The charges also included the investments made by IRB and the yearly maintenance of the expressway. But there are no clauses in the contract that specify how much IRB should continue to collect. It has so far collected nearly Rs 1000 crore, as against the projected amount of Rs 606 crore as envisaged by the IRB initially.

While the 1993 Rakesh Mohan report suggested that the cost of building highways could be recovered from the user, it also suggested a modern maintenance and management system for the benefit of users, maintenance of existing highways, prevention of encroachments on highway land, facilities for traffic, including providing relief for accident victims and ensuring removal of bottlenecks in traffic movement. Have all these issues been implemented?

Travel on any highway at night, and you’ll know!

(Reproduced with permission from Next Gen Publishing)

Pic by Sanjay Raikar

The article was written by me when I was working with Car India* magazine, on the state of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, in April 2011. The way accidents are happening even today, it’s obvious nothing much has changed. There have been around 400 deaths on this stretch since 2009. I was asked by a journalist friend to reproduce and document the articles and put them in the public domain. So here goes…


Crouched behind a tripod on which is attached a computerised camera, on the side of the Yashwantrao Chavan Pune-Mumbai expressway, I realise, we live dangerously too. As a car approaches, I train the camera on the car’s registration number plate. I hear a click and look at the screen. It says 142 kmph. Then a cop, quick as a flash, armed with a paper, pen and (obviously) 6/6 vision, notes down the number. He then calls the cops waiting at the toll post ahead and gives them the number. The motorist is then fined.

Of the 100-odd cars that I see hurtling past me, I count just three that are travelling between 80-90 kmph . The rest are all doing between 100-160 kmph.

Ironically, there is a sign that greets motorists on the hi-speed highway -“Make driving safe on the expressway.”

India’s first international-class speedway, that connects Pune and Mumbai was made fully operational in April 2002. Not only has it cut down travel time between Mumbai and Pune by almost an hour, it has also made driving a pleasure – until recently. The expressway handles about 30,000 PCUs* daily, and is designed to handle up to 1,000,000 PCUs.

However, what the Highway Police are attempting to do is to nail speeding (one more is in the other lane and two more are under repair). The expressway cost Rs 1,630 crore to build and automatic speed cameras cost around Rs 10 lakh each! The cops, either need at least four times the number, or a state-of-the-art surveillance system. They say they have neither.

But, according to SP, Highways B.G. Shekhar, there are 16 speed guns and 80 breath analysers along the expressway. Just two were sighted when Car India travelled up and down the expressway on two consecutive days. An unnamed police official said there are just six in working condition.

“The proposal to install enforcement cameras and vigilance cameras was submitted in August 2010 and is in the pipeline,” he says. There is also the Rasta Suraksha Abhiyaan that is held at regular intervals to educate drivers. This has reduced fatal accidents by almost 206, he claims.

The writer operates a speed camera and discovers that for every one vehicle that is caught on camera, five get away!

The writer operates a speed camera and discovers that for every one vehicle that is caught on camera, five get away!

In the 443 accidents that have occurred on the expressway in 2010, 101 have been fatal with 103 people having lost their lives. This year (2011), 12 major accidents have occurred so far, as this article goes to print. One software engineer lost his life recently after his car crashed when he was travelling to Mumbai to pick up his wife from Sahar airport; Three people died on February 21, when two trucks brushed past each other and one of them lost control and crashed; in early February, a Wagon -R with at least ten passengers, was hit from the rear by a tempo; nine people died in that mishap. So why has this dream stretch become a nightmare? The reasoning that the casualty figures aren’t as high as some other highways, doesn’t really hold water, because we are not talking about a distance from Mumbai to Agra which is roughly 1,200 kms. We are talking less than 100 kms.

“Since January, 25 people have lost their lives on the expressway or have been brought into the hospital in a critical condition and succumbed to injuries,” says a doctor (name withheld) from the Lokmanya Hospital in Nigdi.

The hospital, which is one of the closest to the e-way, gets at least one call per day regarding mishaps on this stretch. A fortnight ago, while returning from Mumbai, two staffers of Car India had a taste of an errant driver in a four-wheel drive, who came perilously close to their vehicle. They laughed it off by saying that he was probably admiring their jeep, but who’s to say he hadn’t fallen asleep on the wheel?

Shekhar says that 75 per cent of the accidents are a result of human error.

Vehicles driven at night are involved in the maximum number of mishaps. There are a number of reasons for this – speeding, tiredness, inexperienced drivers, mechanical failures, disregard for motor vehicle rules, error of judgement etc.

“The State Home Minister realising the seriousness of the situation has sanctioned Rs 320 crore for Emergency Medical Response Teams (EMRT) on the expressway. Ambulances equipped with state-of-the-art services, manned by doctors and nurses, will be within 50 metres of any accident spot and their movements will be controlled by GPS,” he says.

A speed gun measures a car doing 140 kmph on the expressway. All pics by Sanjay Raikar

A speed gun measures a car doing 140 kmph on the expressway. All pics by Sanjay Raikar

But let’s talk about those who use the e-way regularly. How many know and – if they know – care to observe the rule that they should be driving in the middle lane (or Lane No. 2)? The lane to the extreme right (lane No. 1) is ONLY for overtaking vehicles and the one to the extreme left is ONLY for heavy vehicles. On our drive on the e-way we see an MSRTC Shivneri bus and a Volkswagen fight for space, each trying to outdo the other!

Motorists being fined at the Urse Toll Post initially refuse to believe that they are speeding and when shown the evidence try to bluster their way through.

Some of the really absurd answers one hears are “I didn’t know there was a speed limit”; “let us go this time, we won’t speed again”; “I didn’t know the marker that says ‘80’ is a speed limit warning”!

An MP from Pune district has even written to the authorities on February 16, demanding the removal of speed limits. There may be merit in his missive because one can’t expect a BMW, Volkswagen or a Mercedes to travel at 80 kmph. The authorities, realising that automobiles have become faster in the last decade are looking to raise speed limits.

The Highway Police too have a litany of complaints – some justified, some just excuses. Apart from the infrastructure issues mentioned above, there is also the problem of manpower shortage – one man doing the job of four. That is a convenient tool to use when they are confronted with traffic problems on the e-way. Take the problem of parking and stopping on the e-way.

Signboards tell motorists loud and clear that halting is not permitted. But there are trucks and cars parked on either side of the tarmac. Not all of them have broken down. There are trailer/container trucks on the expressway and many of them are not allowed on the e-way. So how are they there?

At the Maruti Mandir on the way down towards Mumbai, there is a line of trucks parked, leaving very little space for other vehicles. The reason? There is a tea shop next to the mandir, where truckers make a pit stop for a cuppa! What’s a tea shop doing there, bang opposite of which is the Highway Traffic Police Post? It is alleged that the tea stall owner has political connections and any attempt to move him from his perch is met with ‘resistance’ So he stays put.

There are also incidents of vehicles being driven on the wrong side. Apart from four-wheelers, the biggest culprits are the beat marshals and cops on two-wheelers. Or are they exempt from the rules? More importantly, why are they riding motorcycles, when two-wheelers are banned on the e-way? Shouldn’t ‘charity’ begin at home? Incidentally, two police jeeps are lying in the workshop, one for over a year and the other for six months. The government claims it does not have the funds!

However, some cops not wishing to come on record, say that the drivers should be made to pay hefty fines along with the toll. They have asked for a steep rise in penalties for speeding and rash driving. But these demands are still pending with the higher authorities, they claim. So until that happens, passengers continue to live dangerously and flirt with death on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, because drivers don’t believe in following the rules.

*PCU – is a metric used in Transportation Engineering, to assess traffic-flow rate on a highway.

* All pics by Sanjay Raikar

(Reproduced with permission from Next Gen Publishing) 

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?