The choking traffic on New Delhi’s roads has, to say the least, put the city planners’ road maps for decongestion into complete disarray. New Delhi’s roads, which are quite wide compared with those in other metros, cover 23% of the city area.
But the city has 1.5 million cars—more than the combined car population of Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai—and daily adds 300 more to this figure, according to the Centre for Science and Environment.
Any increase in the vehicular population is fraught with grave consequences for congestion, the air quality, the colossal fuel wastage and the man-hours lost in commuting. This problem is aggravated by the heterogeneous mix of cycles, scooters, buses and auto-rickshaws. Handcarts and tractor trailers complete the picture. The poor pedestrian struggles hard in the absence of pavements. No surprise then that New Delhi accounts for the largest number of pedestrian casualties and fatalities. The infamous Blueline buses are, of course, the biggest culprits.
If tempted by the yet to be introduced Tata Nano, Beetle and other micro cars (some still on the drawing board), the three million scooterists shift to small cars, the roads will burst at their seams and the city will only be paralysed. It is sad that city planners are not doing enough to prevent that frightening situation.
It is a status symbol in New Delhi to flaunt the number of cars a family has. It is not uncommon to find each family member owning one, even when living together. The concept of car pooling has not gained enough currency so far.
A vast majority of New Delhi citizens (barring those who wish to flaunt their luxury sedans) will prefer to opt for public transport, if it was speedy, economical and efficient. This has been amply borne out by the Mass Rapid Transport System (the metro train introduced in 2002 by E. Sreedharan). It has been excellently designed and is being so efficiently managed that metros in other parts of the country and the world want to replicate this model. But since the layout of Lutyens Delhi, the walled city and the far-flung outlying areas does not provide easy access to the nearest rail terminal, a feeder network becomes almost indispensable.
Such a feeder network can be facilitated by high capacity modern buses (many have already become operational), cycle rickshaws or battery buses (where narrow roads don’t allow buses). As a matter of fact, even this writer prefers to take the metro while travelling to far- flung Dwarka from Defence Colony, after parking the car at Rajiv Chowk. A large number of Delhiites have already begun to see the merits of following this pattern.
According to city planners and traffic management experts, there is no way decongestion is possible on New Delhi’s roads except through a drastic reduction of the vehicular population. But that cannot happen unless an efficient, economical and swift mode of commute is on offer.
While the high capacity city buses, in conjunction with the metro rail, seek to address this problem in a limited manner—since route connectivity of the metro rail and feeder service facility at terminal points has not yet been made available— nothing tangible has yet been done.
There are feasible ways to reduce the number of private cars on New Delhi’s roads. What is needed is a strategy for discouraging the use of roads by private vehicles. For instance, a cess can be levied on the use of road space by private traffic. The extent of the cess should be in proportion to the dimensions of the vehicle.
The proceeds of such a cess should be utilized for the development of the proposed feeder network for connectivity to terminal rail stations or to high capacity buses. Such connecting vehicles may be swift, non-polluting, easily manoeuvrable modes of transport. Like in many other major places such as Singapore, the number of operating vehicles on each day can be restricted by permitting only even and odd registration number cars every alternate day. Unless remedial measures are immediately initiated, doomsday is not far.
V.B.N. Ram retired as a senior executive in the corporate sector. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org