Encourage public transport

Encourage public transport

URBAN TRANSPORT POLICY : The money earmarked for the steel flyover should be spent on building a metro link to the airport as has been done in Delhi.

The proposed steel flyover from Basaveshwara circle to Hebbal junction in Bengaluru has revived the debate about the desirability of more flyovers to solve the traffic woes of the city. Setting aside the controversy over this particular flyover and the use of steel in its construction for a moment, we need to address the larger question of public policy for city transport. Although the central government has formulated a National Urban Transport Policy, there are no city-specific policies.

The national policy has identified four major problems pertaining to urban transport: a)accessing jobs, education, recreation etc is becoming more time consuming, b)cost of travel, especially for the poor has increased, c)travel has become more risky because of rising accidents, and d)increased use of personal vehicles causing more air pollution. These problems are, by and large, common to all large cities in India. However, each city must design its own transport system taking into account the city-specific features  and evolve a strategy for its implementation.

A number of transport-traffic studies have been carried out for Bengaluru but an integrated policy has not yet emerged with the result the approach to finding solutions to the problems has been partial and ad hoc. A Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Plan (CTTP) for the city was prepared by RITES in 2007 and revised in 2011.

The major issues identified in this study were: inadequate road network capacity, a very high share of two wheelers in the traffic composition, high through traffic to the city, high share of work trips, declining share of public transport (46%), high pedestrian traffic in core areas with inadequate footpath facilities and poor parking infrastructure. It was also observed that the densification of certain areas and the suburban development proposed in the Revised Master Plan-2015 were likely to have a major impact on traffic demand.

With the city’s population crossing 10 million and the agglomeration expanding seamlessly, the above problems have only aggravated. The CTTP broadly contained the following proposals: a) development of mass transport system that included metro, mono, bus rapid transport and commuter rail services; b) city bus system with inter-city terminals; c) pedestrian facilities and bicycle tracks; d) road development plan including new airport, expressway, peripheral ring road and grade separators; e) parking faciliti-es, and f) integrated freight complexes.

The total cost of implementation of the proposals was estimated at Rs 53,000 crores, to be implemented in two phases, by 2018 according to the original plan and 2025 as per the revised plan. However, there has been no coherent strategy to implement these suggestions and where action has been taken, the progress has been painfully slow. The only mass transport system initiated is the Bangalore Metro and eight years after its inception, even the first phase has not been fully completed.

Some half-hearted attempts were made to start the BRT which never took off. Lot of noise is being made about the commuter rail services with no concrete action. There have been some genuine  efforts to improve the bus system but they have not proved adequate to meet the growing demand.

The pedestrian facilities continue to be woeful and parking problems are increasing by the day. Most of the roads are in a poor state, with gaping potholes during the monsoon. Integrated freight complexes are yet to receive the attention they deserve.

The state government must come out with a Transport Policy for Metropolitan Bengaluru clearly spelling out the priorities. The top priorities must be promotion of public transport, improving the quality of roads and pedestrian facilities and enforcement of traffic regulations. A target of increasing the share of public transport to 70-75% in a period of about five years must be set. Simultaneously, there must be a plan to reduce the use of private motor vehicles. Measures such as imposing restrictions on ownership of cars and high parking fees in congested areas would have to be considered.

Chaos on roads

It’s not going to be easy implementing these measures but the alternative will be more chaos on roads. Bengaluru currently has 61 lakh motor vehicles and about a thousand are being added every day. If this trend is allowed to continue, the city roads will be choked with vehicles resulting in more pollution and congestion. The average speed of vehicles which has come down 9.2 km per hour in peak hours will see a further decline.

The success of enhancing public transport facilities will depend mainly on provision of last mile connectivity, that is, facility from home or work place to the bus or metro station and vice versa. The real problem of commuters lies in reaching the transport  station from a starting location. Today, people are forced to depend on autorickshaws or cabs which are not easily available for short distances of 1-2 km or charge disproportionately high fares.

The solution lies in providing small size feeder buses which keep continuously circulating in a particular area. For instance, feeders can be provided from MG Road Metro Station to serve Commercial Street and the surrounding area of Russell Market, Bowring Hospital and Shivajinagar bus station; from Nayandahalli Station on Mysore Road to Nagarbhavi and National Law School. Such a feeder system is likely to considerably reduce use of cars and two-wheelers and also the requirement of parking space.

Successful implementation of any transport policy depends on a strong and unified transport institutional mechanism to plan, coordinate and monitor all transport matters in the city. The state government had created the Bangalore Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA) in 2007 to achieve this very objective. Unfortunately, it has failed to function on the desired lines and has remained a weak and ineffective body. It is not known if for instance, the steel flyover project had the approval of BMLTA.

All such major projects must be thoroughly examined by the authority set up specifically for the purpose. Decisions on all such matters must be guided by public interest and public interest demands encouraging public transport, not building flyovers that will incentivise use of private cars. The money earmarked for the steel flyover should instead be spent on building a metro link to the airport as has been done in Delhi.

(The writer is a retired chief secretary, Karnataka)

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