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Bengaluru needs revamp of public transport system

By Krishna Raj and Vijayalakshmi S Dec 1 2017, 1:19 IST

Megacities of the world have become engines of economic growth, witnesses of sprawling urbanisation and population explosion in recent decades. India's capital, New Delhi, has virtually blacked out, thanks to a boom in vehicular traffic-led air pollution. The growth of income levels in all metropolitan cities is much higher than the average per capita income of the country. This shows that wealth concentration is highly polarised towards cities of the world, causing growing inequality in income distribution, on the one hand, and the pleasure for millions of owning a private vehicle, on the other.

The per capita income of city dwellers is several times higher than that of rural households. Bengaluru is the country's IT hub and the most dynamic city in the world, leaving behind Beijing, China, witnessing a rise in per capita income from a mere Rs 28,512 in 2001 to Rs 2,71,387 in 2015. This has directly influenced interest in owning private vehicles, particularly two-wheelers and cars, whose numbers have shot up from 15,60,000 to 61,10,000 in that period. The per capita income of Bengaluru grew at an annual average of 15.6% during 2001-2015, its vehicular population at 10.25%, higher than in New Delhi (7.2%) and Mumbai (6.4%).

On the face of it, attractive economic opportunities in terms of favourable business environment, steady employment and increased incomes should have brought an improved standard of living in the city. The salubrious climate in all seasons has also attracted influx of migrants from within and outside India, making Bengaluru the third most populous city in India, after Mumbai and Delhi. It is striking that among these three cities, the density of vehicular population is gradually falling in Mumbai and Delhi, but in the case of Bengaluru, it went up from 278 vehicles per 1,000 population in 2001 to 629 per 1,000 in 2015.

In Mumbai and Delhi, these figures were 140 and 354, respectively, in 2015. This has proved costly for Bengaluru's citizens. The pleasure of owning one's own vehicle has landed the Bengalurean in unmanageable traffic woes, air pollution and an imposition of social cost on society.

The galloping vehicular growth and traffic congestion have already cost the economy in terms of time, money, health and air pollution. The average speed in the city has decreased to 10-20 kmph, against the desired speed level of 40 kmph. During peak hours, with bumper to bumper traffic, it slows to a crawl. The existing road capacity is limited and cannot accommodate the growing number of vehicles.

Severe traffic congestion during peak hours is an everyday affair, directly attributable to the widening gap between road length in the city and vehicular growth. Apart from poor infrastructure, the non-availability of parking space and unscientific parking constricts the space available for vehicular movement. The bad condition of roads, potholes, unscientific road humps and traffic signals have caused not only congestion but also accidents and deaths.

The ambient air quality in the city has undergone dramatic change, with an increase in the level of vehicular emissions. Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter is much higher than the standard level of 60 parts per million in major air monitoring centres of the city. Environmental burden of diseases such as acute bronchitis among children, the aged, traffic police personnel and street vendors is highest due to vehicular emissions and roadside dust.

Failed City Master Plans

Bengaluru City Master Plans drawn up by the Bengaluru Development Authority have consistently failed to forecast the growth of urban population and vehicles, nor did they anticipate the widening of roads or construction of new ones. The inner core road network of the central business district is choked due to lack of good connectivity. The major roads, such as Nrupatunga Road, KG Road, MG Road, Chord Road, Richmond Road and Sankey Tank Road, are operating against their capacity during peak hours.

Although the ring roads can take the increased volume of traffic, commuters tend
to use the CBD as a thoroughfare, as the ring road is about eight kilometres away from the city centre, and increasingly even the ring road is congested. The city does not have a strong circumferential road system, despite the development of the intervening space between the corridors. The road
density is just 8.2 km per sqkm, whereas it is 21.6 km per sqkm in New Delhi.

The Metro train system is still in its infancy, and has not eased traffic congestion much. Governing traffic is not easy as commuters disobey traffic rules and create a ruckus on the roads. The number of traffic violations is on the rise despite fines being imposed. Allowing slow-moving vehicles like loaded lorries, tractors, goods vehicles, private buses have intensified the traffic congestion.

A complete revamp of the public transport system and the city road infrastructure with a new master plan for the city is urgently needed to create a world-class road network. These measures include the ongoing signal-free corridor with the Okalipuram flyover to Majestic, apart from grade separators at various junctions. Most importantly, shifting of offices from the CBD to the city outskirts and the economic development of other major cities in the state will disperse the economic concentration and density of population.

Adoption of a hybrid policy of command and control and economic instruments will help to ease traffic congestion. Perhaps, one can start by restricting the entry of private vehicles into the CBD by imposing a traffic congestion tax and a 'polluters pay' tax, enabled by FASTag technology.

(Krishna Raj is professor, and Vijayalakshmi S is PhD Scholar at the Centre for Economic Studies and Policy, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru)

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