Mass trans­port to man­age ur­ban traf­fic

“A de­vel­oped coun­try is not a place where the poor have cars; it’s where the rich use public trans­port.”

Alive - - News - by DBN Murthy

Most of the big cities in the ad­vanced coun­tries have ef­fi­cient mass rail trans­porta­tion sup­ple­mented by public buses. One can­not imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion in Lon­don with­out its pop­u­lar ‘Un­der­ground’. Bay Area Rapid Trans­port (BART) is a boon to the sev­eral thou­sands who use it ev­ery day to com­mute to San Francisco. Moscow has 10 metro lines, 2 cir­cle lines and 2 con­nect­ing rail­ways. It has a pop­u­la­tion of 12 mil­lion out of which it is es­ti­mated that 9 mil­lion use the ef­fi­cient and fast metro sys­tem. The city has public buses and taxis to sup­ple­ment the ur­ban traf­fic. Nearer home, Delhi has demon­strated that even a few metro rail has eased the traf­fic sit­u­a­tion. Bom­bay’s sub­ur­ban trains and Kolkata’s metro rail carry lakhs of pas­sen­gers ev­ery day. Ban­ga­lore is ex­tend­ing its metro net­work while Hy­der­abad is forg­ing ahead with con­struc­tion of mass rail sys­tems that could ease the traf­fic sit­u­a­tion. The unique mono­rail in Mumbai is now op­er­a­tional that has eased traf­fic con­ges­tion to some ex­tent. These cities have proved that metro rail and sub­ur­ban rail sys­tem are the so­lu­tions to mass trans­porta­tion when lakhs of peo­ple are in­volved. There is thus a strong case to strengthen these by pro­vid­ing funds for ex­pan­sion to those ar­eas not cov­ered by the metro net­work. The Cen­tre and the States have shown keen in­ter­est in ex­pand­ing their metro / rail sys­tems that carry com­muters cheaply and safely with least pol­lu­tion. The money in­vested would be worth­while when sav­ing of for­eign ex­change by way of fuel im­port is con­cerned, as a long-term per­spec­tive.

Rail trans­port has sev­eral ad­van­tages over road trans­port– carry more pas­sen­gers, fast, pol­lu­tion

free, traf­fic ac­ci­dents are rare, saves petrol and diesel and there is no traf­fic con­ges­tion. How­ever, it is cap­i­tal in­ten­sive and given the fare struc­ture, it could barely break even or may have to be sub­sidised by the gov­ern­ment. Even then, its sev­eral ad­van­tages could make rail trans­port a fron­trun­ner in any mass trans­port sys­tem.

One won­ders why the traf­fic plan­ners are drag­ging their feet in start­ing mass rail sys­tem where there is none or strengthen the ex­ist­ing ones through in­creased ca­pac­ity. Paucity of funds is one con­straint, which could be over­come by rais­ing funds through bonds and by bor­row­ing money. Surely, World Bank, Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank, newly cre­ated Asian In­fra­struc­ture Bank based in Shanghai, China, and IMF would be in­ter­ested in such a project that has a ben­e­fi­cial im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment as well as re­duce de­pen­dence on crude oil.

Way out

An­other so­lu­tion is to in­volve re­li­able pri­vate op­er­a­tors by of­fer­ing at­trac­tive in­cen­tives – tax breaks and share in prof­its or by al­low­ing them to levy tax in any ‘build and op­er­ate’ sys­tem. These pri­vate com­pa­nies could be asked to cater to the var­i­ous re­quire­ments of a metro rail – civil works, rail, sig­nal / tele­com seg­ment, coaches, sta­tions, park­ing lots, tick­et­ing and so on.

Crude oil, on which we are so de­pen­dent for pro­vid­ing en­ergy, is go­ing to be costlier. The present lower price of crude oil may not last long. More­over, fos­sil fu­els are non­re­new­able, which means there is a need to con­serve it by ef­fi­cient means. Use of bio-diesel / ethanol is like a small drop in the ocean in sav­ing fuel. Peo­ple must see mass trans­port as a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to use of one’s own ve­hi­cle. As En­rique Pe­nalosa, a Columbian politi­cian stated, “A de­vel­oped coun­try is not a place where the poor have cars; it’s where the rich use public trans­port.”

The is­land na­tion of Sin­ga­pore has shown how mass trans­port can meet peo­ple’s de­mands and ex­pec­ta­tions. It has a sys­tem of in­cen­tives and dis­in­cen­tives. For in­stance, metro rail, public buses and taxis are fast and af­ford­able. On the other hand, own­ing a car is ex­pen­sive by way of ad­di­tional levies and hefty park­ing fees. That is true of met­ros like Lon­don and

New York where own­ing a car is a luxury, only a few could af­ford. Park­ing has­sles de­ter an in­di­vid­ual car owner in driv­ing in and around bit cities.

The is­land na­tion of Sin­ga­pore has shown how mass trans­port can meet peo­ple’s de­mands and ex­pec­ta­tions. It has a sys­tem of in­cen­tives and dis­in­cen­tives. For in­stance, metro rail, public buses and taxis are fast and af­ford­able. On the other hand, own­ing a car is ex­pen­sive by way of ad­di­tional levies and hefty park­ing fees. That is true of met­ros like Lon­don and New York where own­ing a car is a luxury, only a few could af­ford.

Crip­pled in traf­fic

Cities and towns are grap­pling with the bur­geon­ing traf­fic by var­i­ous means that are not very ef­fec­tive. Build­ing fly­overs is not a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion to ease traf­fic con­ges­tion. Some cities have ded­i­cated bus lanes that speed up turn around. Cities like Delhi have public and pri­vate buses, au­torick­shaws and taxis run on CNG that has re­duced air pol­lu­tion slightly but other fac­tors are con­tribut­ing to city’s pol­lu­tion.

A few cities still have ef­fi­cient tramways that are cheap and ef­fec­tive. Lon­don has im­posed a ‘con­ges­tion tax’ on each pri­vate ve­hi­cle des­tined to Cen­tral Lon­don. A few oth­ers are try­ing the sys­tem of ‘park and ride’ at the out­skirts of ur­ban cen­ters so that the num­ber of pri­vate ve­hi­cles en­ter­ing the city are limited. ‘Sharea-ride’ is be­ing en­cour­aged through car-pool­ing. Fly­overs, to re­lieve con­ges­tion, are some­what suc­cess­ful in en­sur­ing a smoother flow of traf­fic but cer­tainly are no ideal so­lu­tion. These only di­vert traf­fic and cause prob­lems else­where. More­over, in fu­ture, the num­ber of ve­hi­cles is likely to in­crease thanks to the au­to­mo­bile and two-wheeler boom with many newer and at­trac­tive mod­els hit­ting the streets reg­u­larly. At­trac­tive terms, with prom­ise of easy loans and ‘zero’ in­ter­est rates are be­ing held out to woo would-be own­ers of ve­hi­cles.

The time has come for ev­ery big town and city to work out the modal­i­ties of in­tro­duc­ing an ef­fi­cient rail sys­tem, rather than hav­ing more buses on the roads or build­ing more fly­overs. The rail sys­tem could be over­ground like the mono­rail, ELRTS, un­der­ground or par­tially un­der­ground / par­tially over-ground, like in the metro rail sys­tem de­pend­ing upon the needs of each ur­ban cen­tre. It could be sup­ple­mented by a sub­ur­ban rail net­work like in Kolkata and Mumbai. The more we de­lay, the more ex­pen­sive such projects would be. And that is why the traf­fic plan­ners should take a holis­tic view and go full steam ahead for in­tro­duc­ing / strength­en­ing metro rail soon in ma­jor ur­ban cen­ters to start with. In the long run some sub­sidy might be given but that’s a small price for trans­port­ing mil­lions of peo­ple safely, faster and with no pol­lu­tion.

Lon­don has im­posed a ‘con­ges­tion tax’ on each pri­vate ve­hi­cle des­tined to Cen­tral Lon­don. A few oth­ers are try­ing the sys­tem of ‘park and ride’ at the out­skirts of ur­ban cen­ters so that the num­ber of pri­vate ve­hi­cles en­ter­ing the city are limited. ‘Share-a-ride’ is be­ing en­cour­aged through car-pool­ing. Fly­overs, to re­lieve con­ges­tion, are some­what suc­cess­ful in en­sur­ing a smoother flow of traf­fic but cer­tainly are no ideal so­lu­tion.

A crowded bus.

The most ef­fi­cient trans­port sys­tem in day to day life.

Lon­don Un­der­groud: Metro net­work.

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