got almost buried under the Wimbledon bulletins
but did any one of you notice the
news items in the national dailies, announcing the central governments new Urban
Transport Policy, recently? Missed it, huh? Well, in a nutshell, it is all about what the
government plans to do to provide better mobility to the bustling billions who
live in the Indian cities.
it is our ability to get from one place to
another. Do we really need official policies for this simple task? Yes, indeed we do.
Because, mobility means transportation. And believe it or not, transport is the most
important ingredient of development. Both in cities and in the villages. It may be a
highway or a footpath or a rail trackcarrying fancy cars or handcarts or
trainsour lives and livelihoods depend on it.
Think about it. It is not enough for a farmer to grow
crops, he must also make sure that his produce reaches the nearest market or at least the
local buyer. So does a trader in the city! Lets go even closer home
Getting to your school (or is it college?), or your parents workplace, or the
grocery or the chemistsarent these absolutely essential activities of
Actually, we think and talk about transport
all the time. Very often without even realising how important it is to us. Its time we
take stock of how we, the Indians, have managed our mobilitythat is, our
attack of the autos
Lets look at our towns and cities. What is the most striking feature here? Population of
course! They now have over 300 million people living in thema number that is
expected to shoot up to more than 400 million in the next five years. There is only one
thing that is growing faster than this
the number of private cars and two wheelers
plying in these cities. Dont believe me? Here are the figures. A study done by the
World Bank in 2001 has found that motor vehicle ownership and use in
developing countries like India is growing faster than population. There is more. Between
1951 and 2000, while the total urban population in India increased just 4.6 times, the
number of vehicles bounded up 158 times!
The trend is clear enough. City folks are opting for
private vehicles to move around in the streets of this crowded country. So is that good or
bad? After all, owning cars is a sign of prosperity, right? Wrong. Because despite the
soaring number of automobiles, Indias vast majority continue to depend solely on the
state-run bus services to move around
Lets take our capital Delhi for instance. Though buses
make up a tiny 1.2 per cent of the total number of vehicles here, more than 60 per cent of
the daily commuting done by Delhiites is through these buses! So what does that indicate?
That only a minority of Delhiites can actually afford private vehicles. The rest still
take the bus.
The crawling caraholics
Rather confusing, isnt it? Here is a city that has the largest fleet of autos, as
compared to any other metro or townthe registered vehicles in Delhi alone amount to
the total number of vehicles running in Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. On an average around
200 cars and 150 two wheelers get registered here every day. But less than 25 per cent of
its total travel demand is met through them!
1951 and 2000, while the total urban population in India increased just 4.6
times, the number of vehicles bounded up 158 times!
And, now, look at the price that Delhi is paying for this
explosion of auto population.
First, on the front of spacethe most rare and
valuable commodityin urban India. Cars need road spacemore and more of it.
Again lets look at the latest figures. Over the last decade flyovers have mushroomed in
all our major metros and big cities. Thirty two of them have come up in Delhi in the past
five years! But have they been able to spare the citizens of their daily traffic trauma?
Think about it
You own the fastest and the fanciest car in the world, but can you
zoom around town at any time of the day or night? Of course not
In fact, most of the
time you are crawling.
Listen to what Enrique Penalosa, former Mayor of Bogota,
Colombia, who has launched a massive bus transport system to reduce car use, has to say,
"International experience has made it clear that trying to solve traffic problems by
building more, bigger roads is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. In the United
States, for example, time lost in traffic increases every year despite enormous
Also, roads take away more and more land from other,
extremely essential, uses. And our cramped cities struggling to provide shelter to the
teeming millions can barely afford to do that!
Sorry, all you auto lovers, there is more bad news
scientists say that
slow-moving vehicles emit far more pollutants. So as traffic snarls reduce speed, autos
belch out more hydrocarbons and carbon monoxidesa deadly cocktail that play havoc
with our health.
But, hold on, the problem of pollution cannot be solved
just by improving traffic flow. Far more drastic actions are required. Like reducing car
use. There is no doubt about it
. personal vehicles are one of the most inefficient
ways of moving people around.
So what is the option? Going public, of course