Traffic policeman's worst nightmare

No points for guessing who are the most hassled by rising vehicle registrations and the congestion it triggers: Bangalore City traffic police. For more proof, here’s what the city’s Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic and security), B Dayananda himself admits: “It is a major challenge which is affecting our staff on the ground.”

Is there a way out? “We could consider a few options to tackle this problem. Although we don’t think we could reduce the congestion levels completely, a few harsh measures could ensure some amount of improvement,” says the traffic topbrass. First, he points to the problem: “Over 48 lakh vehicles are registered in the City, while around 8 per cent vehicles are registered elsewhere in the State. The challenge becomes more problematic when you consider the floating vehicular population. We have a population of over one crore and the human and vehicle ratio is 1:2. The ratio in New Delhi is 1:4. The vehicular population increased by around 4.8 per cent till 2010, while it shot up by 25 per cent till 2014. Currently, around 500 vehicles are added to the city’s roads every day.” 

So, what does the city have to accommodate these many vehicles? “Either the civic infrastructure has remained the same or has deteriorated even as vehicular population has shot up. Road engineering is really pathetic. Though road widening projects and new flyovers come up, they have remained insufficient to reduce congestion. The flyovers have reduced congestion in and around the places where they are built, but have increased the congestion in other areas. They have just changed the traffic pattern, but have failed to reduce congestion,” says Dayananda.

The police claim that they did experiment with a few initiatives to decongest the roads. Car pooling was one such project. However, it is yet to pick up and meet expectations despite a series of awareness campaigns. The outcome of initiatives such as Bus Day has not been encouraging either. 

A proposal to introduce congestion tax as practised in a few foreign cities has triggered a debate. The idea is good but faces problems of implementation. “We could consider the Central Business District (CBD) area for implementation as this area contributes for huge congestion due to heavy vehicular movement. We could identify a few vehicles for congestion tax, but the vital question remains unanswered: Is there a solid public mode of transportation to the CBD area if movement of private vehicles is restricted? Another vital question is how to collect the congestion tax and what is the best way to do so?,” contends Dayananda.

One option could be to replicate the model adopted by the foreign cities. “They have automatic number plate recognition systems using cameras. The data generated by cameras is linked to a database which in turn generates the tax receipt. In some countries, the database is linked to bank accounts for automatic deduction of taxes.”

But not everyone is convinced. As another traffic police official reasons, the tax will only be a means to raise additional revenue for the State exchequer without making any impact on congestion. Here’s his rationale: Since a majority of those who get into the CBD by personal cars are well off, they surely can afford to pay the tax. 

The officer is also not sure whether a system which restricts entry of vehicles into the CBD based on vehicle colours or numbers will work in an Indian context. Singapore might have frozen new vehicle registrations. But here, with hectic lobbying by the automobile industry, such a freeze on registrations will be highly impossible.

Dayananda suggests a multi-pronged approach to tackle the problem. Says he, “We need to create satellite towns which are self-sufficient with local area traffic management. We need to strengthen BMTC base and BMTC and Metro rail inter-linking facility. We should also have a multi-model transport approach. We could also consider the practice followed in Jakarta, where the number of persons on a vehicle is fixed and those with less number of passengers are restricted.”

Comments (+)