Mumbai: Government must show courage to implement staggered work hours
It's the easiest and quickest option, with immediate and handsome returns; any delay will only prolong commuters' misery
For an onlooker, overcrowding on Mumbai's suburban network has reached staggering proportions, not to mention also for the commuters squashed within. Staggering of working hours is one of the measures that can alleviate the situation. The idea has been percolating in the rarefied atmosphere of cogent and efficacious dialogue on the topic for decades. Sadly, a strong will to implement it could never be perceived in the echelons of the state administration.
The earliest mention of 'staggering of working hours' was seen among the several recommendations the Suburban Train Overcrowding Committee made in July 1956. It keeps resurfacing, like a phoenix, at regular intervals, whenever there is halla-gulla about deaths due to overcrowding. And after a few animated discussions, it once again goes back to a state of suspended animation.
The latest charcha on it started after the railway minister ordered a detailed study of the issue by RITES. The draft of RITES' study with its recommendations was sent to the state government and the railway administration many months ago. And that is where it is currently lying. One can only hope that it has not yet lost steam.
The best solution
Staggering of working hours should not be perceived only as a panacea for overcrowding in trains; it is bound to have a salutary effect on the average speed on Mumbai's roads. Congestion on arterial roads in this megapolis has reached epic proportions, with its biggest casualty being the BEST - once rated as the best mass road transport agency of the country. Its average speed on roads is now down to 8 kmph, and hence, people are steadily abandoning it.
Staggering of working hours is the easiest and quickest option for the government, with immediate and handsome returns. It needs to show courage in experimenting with it. New York had experimented with it in 1970 with sterling results, and the State of California had followed in 1988 with equally appreciated outcome of reducing congestion on its arterial roads by 20 per cent. Any delay in implementing it in Mumbai will only prolong commuters' misery. The writer is a former chairman of the Railway Board and also had stints with the Central and Western railways in Mumbai. Currently, he is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai.
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