No escaping the killer jams

A huge traffic jam in T Dasarahalli 8th Mile, after festival holidays people return to city, in Bengaluru on Monday. Photo/ B H Shivakumar

Stuck deep in hopeless traffic jams for a zillion hours, Bengalureans might wonder about the social cost of all that wasted time. Well, a global survey puts it at a whopping Rs 37,000 crore annually, an amount bad enough to brand Bengaluru as South East Asia’s second most congested city.

This world-beating congestion is a living, daily nightmare for commuters trapped in the jams of Outer Ring Road, Silkboard Junction, K R Puram, Arekere Gate, Goraguntepalya Junction and other traffic bottlenecks across the city. Boston Consulting Group (BCG)’s conversations with 300 such commuters showed just how startling a scenario this is.

Peak-hour congestion

Analysing commuter responses from Bengaluru, New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, BCG found the peak-hour road congestion to average at 149%. Implication: Commuters spend 1.5 times more time in peak-hours compared to non-peak hours.

But the future could get much worse. Here’s why: 89% of the survey respondents in Bengaluru and Kolkata intend to buy a car in the next five years. A DH team that watched an endless stream of cars, SUVs and two-wheelers grab every inch of space on Outer Ring Road wondered how bad this could get.

The ORR stretch from the tech parks of Kadubeesanahalli to Iblur and beyond sees a maddening rush of private vehicles, buses and even trucks not authorized to be anywhere near the road. So, why would anyone prefer a personal car to get stuck in the jam? Poor public transport, they say in unison.

Poor public transport

Lack of a dedicated bus lane and poor frequency implies the BMTC cannot be depended upon. Work on the Metro line linking Silkboard Junction with K R Puram is yet to take off. The suburban rail option is still in its infancy. Besides, connectivity to Bellandur Road and Carmelaram stations is in poor shape.

One immediate way out could be to opt for ride-sharing. Cab aggregators Ola and Uber have already gained some traction with their OlaShare and UberPool options. The challenge lies in making these services seamless, cost-effective and dependable, even when it rains.

But, without any regulatory measure in sight to limit the glut of vehicles, the numbers will continue to grow. “Purchase of vehicles is more due to aspirations and ambitions of people rather than need and necessity. It is estimated that Bangalore is likely to have 13 million vehicles at the end of 2030,” informs M A Saleem, Additional Director General of Police and Commissioner for Traffic and Road Safety.

Ride-sharing alternative

He agrees that ride-sharing could be an alternative. “Adopting carpooling system is very essential to reduce single occupancy vehicles especially on high employee-concentrated areas like IT industries.”

To ease the congestion during peak hours, Saleem suggests greater emphasis on staggered working time for offices and educational institutions. He explains, “Presently, the peak hours starts at around 9.00 am and ends at around 11.00 am. Evening peak starts at 5.00 pm and stays up to 7.30 p.m. Staggering will have a positive impact on traffic.”

Staggered work schedules

Many IT firms, he notes, have already staggered their work schedules to suit smooth journey from residence to place of work. “Similar staggering of office timing of State Government and Central Government departments may result in reducing traffic congestion during traditional peak timings.”

There is absolutely no time to defer these measures in the Bengaluru Metropolitan Region (BMR), where the built-up area has gone up by 584% in the last four decades. Besides traffic congestion and longer travel times, this unsustainable growth has also raised pollution levels dangerously.

Reduced travel speeds

Travel speeds within the city have reduced considerably over the years. Last year, an independent study had shown that the average speed on Tumakuru Road was 10.49 kmph, while it was marginally better at 12.64 kmph in the Majestic area. Commuters spend hours stuck at congested bottlenecks such as the K R Puram bridge mouth. Here, the ORR virtually comes to a standstill due to the poorly designed bridge.

Vertical growth within the city centre has aggravated the congestion. A Seshadripuram resident, Jignesh Kumar explains, “During peak hours, the roads connecting to Malleshwaram from Majestic via Central turns extremely congested. BMTC buses near Mantri Mall are often stuck at the same spot for over an hour. This leads to slow-moving traffic for hours.”

Poor road discipline

Poor road discipline is another critical factor. “I feel commuters should strictly follow lane discipline. Most two-wheeler riders do not do this, leading to congestion. Besides, heavy motor vehicles are allowed inside the city’s main roads. The traffic police should stop their entry,” notes Lewis Antony, a commuter from BTM Layout.

As on February 28, 2018, Bengaluru City has 73.56 lakh registered vehicles. Cars alone account for a staggering 14.23 lakh, while two-wheelers have crossed the 51 lakh mark. As a senior traffic police official informs, more than 20 lakh vehicles occupy the city’s limited road space any time of the day. Preferring anonymity, he says the vehicular numbers far exceeds the road capacity.

Bengaluru’s vehicular population could cross the one crore mark within the next few months. Can a city with an estimated 1.3 crore citizens sustain such a rise?

The BCG survey had one silver lining: A good 52% of the potential car-buyers are ready to switch to a ridesharing facility, and 27% of the private car owners are keen to become rideshare drivers themselves. Could this be a good start for a sustainable mobility plan that the city badly needs?

(With inputs from Darshan Devaiah B P )

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