Urban nightmare…

“You guys are pathetic” I used to tell my Bombay Friends back in early 90s.. I was referring to their 1+hr one way commute, planning for a few days for simple pleasures like watching a movie.  Afterall – If  I decided to go to a movie, I was in the center of town and munching pop-corn within next 10mins!

Well, Bangalore in mid 80s was already a big city.  But vehicle/road ratio was pretty good – I could commute distances of 10km in less than 10-12mins. I didn’t think twice about going from my office near MG Road (Center of town) to Jayanagar (6km away) to just have a coffee with a friend. I’d be back in office within the hour!  It just took 30 minutes to get out of town when I drove away from bangalore.

In 2010, The vehicle ownership has grown about 20 times from 1981!!! But roads have hardly grown twice as much.  So, now it takes 1hr to cover distances of 10-12km, takes upto 2hrs to get out of (or get-in to) the town This is  a nightmare. Here is a chart that shows the vehicular traffic growth in Bangalore:

YEAR TOTAL Pop Pop growth rate Vehicle density
1976 108437 1,654,000 6.6%
1981 190653 2,922,000 77% 6.5%
1991 662148 4,130,000 41% 16.0%
2001 1566142 5,101,000 24% 30.7%
2010 4068045 7,155,000 40% 56.9%

Yes, that’s  right.  We already have 1 vehicle for every two persons in Bangalore. Growth rates suggest that we’ll cross 1vehicle per person within another decade.

Exaggeration? Wrong projections? This is actually a conservative estimate of vehicles on road by end of 2010!    Bangalore Traffic Police Site says the number is 36,53,368  as of 2009.   So, I’d say the figure is much higher!  If you doubt this just ask any car sales man at Maruti, Toyota or Honda show rooms, they are having one of the best years of their entire career!!

However, This is nothing compared to what is coming our (and our children’s) way in next 10-20yrs.

I was going thru this nice Youtube video, which covers the upcoming global urban nightmare very well (though it is about new type of cars) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CAnq5DyNG0&feature=related

We indeed have no more space to widen/create roads. Our population is growing and our living spaces are going vertical. People are still pouring in from non-urban locations. It is quite feasible that Bangalore will have 4times as many vehicles as today within next 10-15years, without increasing amount of roads even 10-15%.

And this won’t just be Bangalore – It will be so in every Tier-1,2 & 3 cities of India.

So, we will need multi-pronged solutions to this problem.

1. Easily the top one is – Mass public transport. This should have higher coverage and should be made most effective in everyway (comfortable, cheap and easy to access).

2. Making private transportation very expensive – The cost of ownership of a vehicle should not be on the basis of the cost of the vehicle, but should be on the basis of size of  vehicle. The biggest expense of owning a vehicle in future should be the taxation. After all – How long can a car owner expect to park his car on a ground of 150sq.ft in the center of town for Rs/10 an hour? Would anyone give you 150sft on a Rs.6000/month rentals in commercial places of Bangalore? The true cost of owning the car should fast become the averaged real-estate cost to park it.

3. We need to carbon tax the fossil fuel. After-all the users of vehicle are polluting, so it is only fair they pay for it. This will also make Electrical Vehicles more attractive, and will push demand for clean energy.

4. Govt. should encourage work-from-home to avoid non-essential travel.  Afterall it is very unproductive waste of time to travel to office, especially if you burn 2+ hours of your day in traffic. It is a national waste, so encouraging work-from-home, will reduce pressure on streets.

5. Toll the roads for peak hours. We can’t have all vehicles clogging the roads at same time. We should come up with mechanisms to charge more for people who choose to commute at peak hours on their private vehicles.

I am sure there are many other smaller measures to be taken too.

If we don’t bell this cat, the urban living will become a worser hell than it already is.