Mass Transit is the An­swer

Rapid pop­u­la­tion growth in many South Asian cities has clogged city streets and made com­mut­ing al­most im­pos­si­ble. Many of these cities have found an­swers in rapid transit sys­tems while oth­ers are still trail­ing be­hind.

Southasia - - Transport & society - By Ruhie Jamshaid

Throng­ing cars me­an­der­ing at a snail’s pace on a con­gested road. Wildly honk­ing horns knif­ing through the seren­ity and quiet, if there’s any left. South Asia’s traf­fic predica­ment, be it in In­dia, Pak­istan or Bangladesh, seems to be grow­ing and gnaw­ing at com­muters who find their peace of mind be­ing bru­tally snatched away ev­ery sin­gle time they are on the road.

Es­ca­lat­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion has sev­eral down­sides. With more cars on the roads, there is in­evitably greater gas emis­sion which leads to de­bil­i­tat­ing pol­lu­tion in the at­mos­phere. High ve­hi­cle num­bers in many South Asian cities have also led to shock­ing ac­ci­dent rates. In ad­di­tion, the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of suf­fer­ing heavy traf­fic con­ges­tion day in and day out, can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated. Need­less to say, the reper­cus­sions of grow­ing traf­fic in South Asia are of para­mount concern and need to be ad­dressed ex­pressly.

In In­dia, for in­stance, large cities like Ban­ga­lore, Mum­bai and Delhi are grap­pling with traf­fic con­ges­tion which is tied to grow­ing pop­u­la­tion den­sity. In­dia has the world’s sec­ond largest pop­u­la­tion which is largely con­cen­trated in ur­ban cen­ters. In the ma­jor cities in neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan, the pop­u­la­tion den­sity is not so jar­ringly high, but cities like Karachi and La­hore con­tinue to be bogged by traf­fic is­sues. The sit­u­a­tion does not dif­fer much in Dhaka in Bangladesh.

Aside from the pop­u­la­tion den­sity, af­ford­abil­ity of cars in terms of cost and main­te­nance, adds to the traf­fic prob­lem. Ad­di­tion­ally, the rel­a­tively poor in­fra­struc­ture in large cities of South Asia, also add to the traf­fic predica­ment. Ad hoc road works, un­planned park­ing spaces and ill-planned squat­ter en­croach­ments sprout­ing near road ar­eas, all con­trib­ute to poor traf-

fic con­di­tions. Bad civic sense on the roads and dis­mal road us­age also add to con­ges­tion as does man­ual traf­fic con­trol in many of these cities. Given the bar­ri­ers to smooth traf­fic flow in these cities, mass rapid transit sys­tems ap­pear to be the only vi­able so­lu­tion to these traf­fic woes.

A mass rapid transit sys­tem of­fers sev­eral ben­e­fits in heav­ily pop­u­lated and con­gested cities. Such a sys­tem is usu­ally built above the roads or is laid un­der­ground, free­ing up space con­straints on the ground level. Usu­ally a medium ca­pac­ity sys­tem, it car­ries peo­ple equiv­a­lent to the num­ber ap­prox­i­mately trav­el­ing on seven bus lanes and twenty four car lanes. More peo­ple are, there­fore, trans­ported from point to point at any given time on such a sys­tem, cre­at­ing bet­ter uti­liza­tion of space and time for com­muters. There are sev­eral other ben­e­fits that a rapid rail sys­tem en­tails. It pen­e­trates hard to ac­cess ar­eas such as far flung in­dus­trial cities which have been pre­vi­ously ac­ces­si­ble by road only, pro­vid­ing a means of trans­port for the work­ers. En­ergy con­sump­tion and over­all cost can be re­duced by a mass transit sys­tem that serves to carry many more peo­ple at any one time than con­ven­tional means of trans­port. It also re­duces wait­ing time for pas­sen­gers as there are no bar­ri­ers to the move­ment of speedy trains along a mass transit track.

How­ever, the con­cept of a mass rapid transit sys­tem is rel­a­tively un­com­fort­able for many South Asian cities. For in­stance, in a bustling city like Mum­bai, a lo­cal train sys­tem is al­ready work­ing but is con­fined to lower and mid­dle class com­muters. Un­like the more de­vel­oped na­tions like Ja­pan and Sin­ga­pore, com­mut­ing on trains is not looked upon as nor­mal and in­stead serves to de­fine one’s so­cial class. There­fore, for those in the up­per so­cial classes in South Asian so­ci­ety, the thought of com­mut­ing on a mass rapid transit sys­tem is not a wel­come one. The dilemma is how to bring about a change in mind­set, per­tain­ing to com­mut­ing on pub­lic trans­port sys­tems.

One of the very im­por­tant steps to­wards mak­ing pub­lic trans­port, par­tic­u­larly mass rapid transit sys­tems an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion for South Asians, is to bring about a com­plete im­age change. Train sta­tions and trains must be pleas­ant to the eye be­sides be­ing clean and com­fort­able enough to at­tract com­muters from all sec­tions of so­ci­ety. Be­sides an im­age over­haul, the train sta­tions must also be lo­cated in the pop­u­larly fre­quented ar­eas so that com­muters rec­og­nize the ben­e­fits of us­ing trains as op­posed to plough­ing through traf­fic.

Cost of travel is also para­mount and should not weigh heav­ily on com­muters. If peo­ple see the ben­e­fits of con­ve­nience, com­fort and time sav­ings and com­pare these against af­ford­abil­ity, they will be far more re­cep­tive to­wards this mode of pub­lic trans­port. Cam­paigns can also be run to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on the ben­e­fits of us­ing the Mass Rapid Transit sys­tem. The me­dia can be es­pe­cially uti­lized to change pub­lic per­cep­tions to­wards the var­i­ous modes of pub­lic trans­porta­tion. The gov­ern­ment can also play its part by pro­vid­ing in­cen­tives to peo­ple for us­ing mass transit sys­tems by in­tro­duc­ing ad­di­tional taxes on the pur­chase of pri­vate ve­hi­cles. When the cost of own­ing cars es­ca­lates, peo­ple will nat­u­rally move to­wards pub­lic trans­porta­tion, pro­vided the lat­ter is com­fort­able and con­ve­nient.

There are sev­eral suc­cess sto­ries about mass rapid transit do­ing the rounds. The Mass Rapid Transit sys­tem in Chen­nai (In­dia), for in­stance, has been in ex­is­tence since 1931 and cov­ers a dis­tance of 25 kilo­me­ters across 21 sta­tions. It has been lauded for al­le­vi­at­ing traf­fic prob­lems in a city that is known to be one of the largest ur­ban cen­ters in the world. The Delhi Metro is a newer and more ad­vanced transit sys­tem with 142 sta­tions at both un­der­ground and above ground level, work­ing to­wards eas­ing road con­ges­tion. Pak­istani cities such as Karachi and La­hore have also been toy­ing with the idea of a mass rapid transit sys­tem but have run into prob­lems as a re­sult of the neg­a­tive po­lit­i­cal cli­mate and other vested in­ter­ests. Dhaka is yet to em­bark on a mass rapid transit pro­gram though traf­fic con­ges­tion in this city is lead­ing to the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of liv­ing stan­dards in this fast grow­ing me­trop­o­lis.

The fact re­mains that heav­ily con­gested South Asian cities need to think with more re­spon­si­bil­ity about in­tro­duc­ing re­ally ef­fec­tive mass rapid transit sys­tems if there is a se­ri­ous de­sire in the man­age­ment of these cities to stay eco­nom­i­cally com­pet­i­tive and of­fer bet­ter liv­ing stan­dards. The writer is a cre­ative writ­ing trainer and free­lances for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions. She is cur­rently based in Dubai.

Ban­ga­lore’s metro ser­vice is the first of its

kind in South Asia.

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