Mumbai is in serious need of public transport management

Published: 28 December, 2011 10:36 IST | Ashok Datar |

Sustainable traffic and transport solutions include more pay for parking, controlling the number of cars and making public transport more appealing

Sustainable traffic and transport solutions include more pay for parking, controlling the number of cars and making public transport more appealing

Mumbai is graduating from traffic jams to what is known as gridlocks -- which is the worst-case scenario, an absolute extreme on the traffic scene. While the population of Greater Mumbai (South Mumbai to Borivli in the West and Mulund on the Central side) has barely increased by 5 per cent during the decade, the number of cars and other vehicles has grown by more than 2.5 times, which makes it 250 per cent. As each new car requires three parking spaces, (a car owner needs a space at home, in office and finally when he visits someone or goes somewhere on the road) parking has become a phantom. Many of us ignore its scabies like spread! Now, motorists take it as a "right" to park where they want, free of cost during the day or night. Going by Mumbai's real estate rates, the actual cost of a parking space on the road depending on location would be anything between Rs 8 to 20 lakh, as a parked car would need approximately 200 square feet.  

The black`n' yellows: Auto rickshaws and cabs are a part of Mumbai's
commuting landscape. Several citizen's campaigns have targetted them
because of their refusal to ply

Metro or Mono
The metro or monorail will take two more years to complete and will not address traffic congestion in most parts of Mumbai. Similarly, none of the much bandied road projects such as extension of the Sea Link (or is it the Coastal Road) the Santa Cruz-Chembur Link, the Peddar Road flyover, (with the exception of the Eastern Freeway linking Mankhurd with South Mumbai via the 9-km elevated road from Sewree) will be completed before 2013. Now is the time to find much neglected solutions based on demand management, (how to reduce demand for road space) discipline and governance.  

It is time to think of short-term solutions and demand management for road space. We think too much about the long-term, ignoring the immediate. But I fear that by the time delayed projects get completed, we may run out of their promised utility and performance and hence, the short term view and demand management measures should be brought into focus. We are running out of space and time and a delay of even a year means we will have to contend with another lakh of private vehicles.  

Peak pain: Traffic jam during morning peak hours at the Bandra Worli

Bitter medicine 
The Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA) needs to initiate a virtuous cycle with restraints on parking in 2012.  It may be bitter but is very potent medicine that improves the traffic scene dramatically. Municipal authorities, traffic police nor the RTO have neither the authority nor guts to talk plainly that we must curb the number of vehicles, in an effective and fair manner and do that soon. The cleanest way to administer this is through parking policy. We need to increase pay 'n' park spaces from 7,000 to 40,000+ in Mumbai and increase the tariff to a range of Rs 15 to Rs 40/per hour depending upon the location, time of the day and size of the car. The number of spaces should be increased through judicious conversion of free parking into regulated and paid parking. Today, about 200,000+ cars are parked free and in a very haphazard manner. Even night parking on roads should be regulated and should be permitted under an area-parking scheme on a fee of Rs 300 to Rs 700/per month. This, will then form a basis whether you can buy a car (only if you have private or permitted parking space.) Before we go into other congestion controlling measures, parking is the first instrument of controlling congestion through regulation and pricing in a fair and transparent manner. Two-thirds of all cars have drivers, which allows owners to forget about parking and traffic jam worries. But like most cities in West, we should have parking lots away from offices, stores, malls, like bus stops. This would force owners to get down and walk to their destination like bus commuters do instead of getting down at the doorstep. This would bring some parity between buses and cars.  

Climb every mountain...or a train: Commuters crush into local trains
but they are still the workhorses of the city

Fair price
We need to convince the 8 per cent of motorists who wrongly think they are the aam aadmi that they cannot avoid paying a fair price for use of public road space for private parking in an anarchist and free manner. If more people buy a new car, a second/third car in the family -- it is simply bad for the city, as we have run out of the road space to drive and to park. Flyovers and Sea Links will not help as they simply transfer the congestion from one place to the other and there are no places where we can push vehicle backlog anymore as we are approaching what I call the 'gridlock moment'. Parking can raise more than Rs 100 crore/per annum but the major benefit would be that it will restrict people to take cars where parking is available and affordable.

There is never enough parking space. We need to adjust to the spaces available through proper management and pricing. A proposed tariff can make it possible to improve the marking on roads (where it is allowed and where it is not!). There has to be supervision, meters, pre-paid cards and honesty! Even multi-storied parking can be cheaper than grade parking and it can complement road parking with long term parking during the day at equivalent prices. And this is my most important wish for the year 2012. It is unpleasant like bitter medicine but it really works as proved in many cities like Singapore, Tokyo, New York, London and now being implemented in Shanghai and Beijing. This can help in reducing the number of cars on commuting arteries during peak hours.
A reduction of 15 per cent in the number of cars should lead to more than 20 per cent reduction in jams. This increases our ability to carry more people on the road. Each lane can carry at the most 1,500 cars or 600 buses per hour. Compare that with 2,250 persons or 24,000 persons by cars or buses! Today, mixed lanes carry anything from 2,000 to 6,000 persons. Fast moving lanes on the Sea Link carry only 2,500 persons per lane per hour! But we can achieve up to 10,000 persons with a basic bus lane reasonably planned, managed and supervised in comfort and at a gross speed which is at least 20 per cent more than the current buses and equal to cars.

Bus karo: The city has seen huge improvement in public buses off late
but more needs to be done to bring parity between commuter and car

Public eye
It is a specious argument that unless we improve public transport, we can't ask people for carpooling or switching to buses. Restrain cars and convert to distinctly superior bus transportation simultaneously. There is no shortage of buses (there are 1,000 new buses, including 360 Air-Conditioned (AC) buses, which are mostly idle because there is a shortage of space for buses. With a sound parking policy, we can correct this situation and aim at some quick wins, which can be financed through higher parking, fees and higher fines and which can show results within a year. This requires a bi-partisan approach and unified transport authority for the city. 

My wish list for traffic management for 2012
1. Commission a bus priority system for Jogeshwari-Vikroli link in nine months at a cost of one skywalk and without any traffic disturbance.

2. Start bus lanes on roads e.g., Sion to Priyadarshini where there are no buildings on either side, a lot of lanes and a lot of routes and space for recessed bus stops (which means the bus stops behind the footpath) so that there need not be a bus queue at the bus stop.

3. Introduce bus stop discipline at select supervised stops where buses park close to the footpath and no passengers get off. This kind of tight parking of buses in recessed stops �where possible- will free a lane for other vehicles provided we don't allow any parking of vehicles within 50m of a bus stop. 

4. Radically improve the route structure, make them directional rather than destination specific. Have fewer routes. Increase the frequency and make the arrival of the next bus easy to predict. This is rather like trains where we know when the next one is going to come in within 2-3 minutes.

5. Every bus stop and bus must have maximum information and possibly a map for the entire route. Improve people's knowledge of map reading. Provide next bus arrival information at bus stops and on mobiles.

6. After doing studies and introducing the staggered working hours, (offices can have different working hours to diffuse peak times) we can start special bus commuter services using all flyovers, Sea Link and compete with taxis and cars in speed and comfort. Yet, at lower prices.

7. We can encourage taxis to have a stand by air-conditioners, which can be turned on at the request of passengers with a meter running 10 to 15 per cent faster. We allow them higher fare, especially for shorter distances, but also demand electronic meters, new vehicles and adherence to basic traffic rules and behaviour. Radio paging for all taxis and autos can be done at nominal fee � now that everybody has a mobile.

8. Encourage car and taxi pooling in a number of ways, it is a win-win situation

9. I hope to see the development of a comprehensive database of all vehicles and their drivers with correct addresses. One has to make the number plates easily readable by CCTV camera. This should be accompanied by a machine-readable microchip through which we can quickly identify non-compliant vehicles, whether for bad driving or bad parking and automatically debit them the fines on a pre-paid card.
This will be very efficient, corruption free and will have a strong deterrent value. Our IT skills must be used for this single most disciplinary-improvement mechanism and it can be introduced in one year without any cost to the government.

10. We should redesign and clean up all high volume junctions and take all steps by providing electronic and manual support to improve the smoother through movement, traffic calming and strong discipline.  It should cost about Rs one crore per junction and a few months but the rewards will be bountiful.
On the disciplinary front, we should introduce CCTV cameras linked to databases of all vehicles and driving licenses. We should introduce compulsory, pre-paid cards for all motorists including taxis and ensure a sophisticated fining system based on cumulative score card for compliance. Records captured, stored and used in providing graded fines, which will provide strong deterrence. 

Local trains
These are still the workhorses for Mumbai and we should do everything possible to improve the amenities and space at stations and in compartments. We can improve ticketing; have more vertical space, easier access to buses, autos and bicycles.

For several years, we did not revise fares. We need to increase the fares and ensure that the entire amount thus raised must be scrupulously and efficiently used in upgrading the facilities. We should prevent long distance trains to travel south of Dadar during working hours thus using all tracks for local trains. We need to think if we can introduce Churchgate to Kalyan/Vashi via Parel trains.

It is time we look for traffic solutions not in big supply side projects like flyovers, widening of roads, and more Sea Links. It is non-sustainable and ineffective. Let us think differently and involve people. Let us design traffic systems for most of the population and not only the car using elite.

The writer is a traffic analyst and founder-trustee of Mumbai Environmental Social Network.

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