What to do with Bengaluru’s vehicle population

More than a third of the diesel vehicles plying in Bengaluru are emitting toxic air well beyond the standard rate of emissions set at the national level, says report


Bengaluru’s traffic police say roads are bearing the burden of twice their vehicular capacity. Photo: Bloomberg
Bengaluru’s traffic police say roads are bearing the burden of twice their vehicular capacity. Photo: Bloomberg

Bengaluru: Around noon Thursday, Phoenix market city, one of the biggest malls in Bengaluru, unveiled two art installations, titled “In-transit” and “Makeover.” They were part of an effort to drive popular conversation towards traffic congestion, Bangalore’s perennial bane.

This reporter asked one person associated with organising the event whether she really believes art installation could solve the traffic problems of the city caused by a burgeoning number of vehicles. “Isn’t it better to do something than doing nothing,” she replied.

Some hundred-odd people who attended the event testified to the sense of despair Bengalureans feel about chronic traffic snarls that have come to be a way of life in the Karnataka state capital.

Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) chairman Lakshman, who goes by one name, has some solid data to bring to such conversations. Between 21 June and 18 July, KSPCB, along with other government departments, monitored emission levels of vehicles at various places in the city.

A report on the experiment published on Wednesday shows that more than a third of the diesel vehicles plying in the city are emitting toxic air well beyond the standard rate of emissions set at the national level. About 12.5% of petrol vehicles were also found to be polluting above prescribed norms, said the study.

These are alarming levels of pollution for an urban area like Bengaluru, says Lakshman. The total number of non-transport vehicles in Bengaluru increased by 1 million to 6 million between March 2015 and February 2016, according to the latest estimate of the Karnataka’s Transport Department.

The ever increasing vehicular population of Bengaluru has contributed to the dropping the average speed of a vehicle in Bengaluru from 35 km/hr in 2005 to 20 km/hr in 2010 and 9.2 in 2014, according to recent studies conducted by the Consortium of Traffic Engineers and Safety Trainers.

Another recent study, by the city’s traffic police, said the city’s roads are bearing the burden of twice their vehicular capacity—enough of an indicator that the city is getting gridlocked.

Correspondingly, the level of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) in the city’s air exceeded the national permissible level by a range of 12% to 283% at 13 out of its 15 air monitoring stations in 2014-15, according to government estimates.

“We found that majority of the vehicles that were emitting beyond the norms where taxi cabs. Basically, Indica-like vehicles plying for online cab operators or car pooling websites. The more people using it, the more such vehicles on the road, the more the pollution,” says Lakshman.

However, he suggests, there is no doubt that using public transport is the ultimate solution. Interestingly, more than 90% of Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) buses, the major public transport used by almost 60% of the commuters in the city of roughly 10 million population, have emission levels within the norms, according to the study.

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