Vehicular overload: No escape

Vehicular overload: No escape

Vehicular overload: No escape

The city's reckless obsession with private, personal vehicles shows absolutely no sign of abating despite its hopelessly gridlocked roads. That is clearly the sad message from this piece of transport statistics: Sixteen lakh vehicles joined the traffic in Karnataka in 2017 alone, the vast majority in just one city: Bengaluru.

Trapped for hours in peak-hour traffic at junction after junction, every motorist could ponder over this disturbing data: Its road infrastructure severely stretched, the city now has to contend with a mindboggling 72.58 lakh vehicles registered at its 12 Regional Transport Offices (RTOs). This number, updated till 2017 end, should have risen again this year.

But this discounts the huge number of vehicles from outside the State and Karnataka vehicles registered outside Bengaluru. Effectively, the city with an estimated population of 1.02 crore has a vehicle to people ratio of 1:1.4. So, how does a road-infrastructure that cannot handle traffic beyond 10 lakh vehicles cope up with this ceaseless flood?

Zero regulation

Forced regulation of vehicular registrations is clearly not on the state government's agenda. Nor is any proposal for a congestion tax in the Centre's wish list as indicated by Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari. No one wants to turn off that flow of Motor Vehicle Tax revenues.

So, what is the alternative? Disincentivise ownership of personal vehicles, contends Sathya Sankaran from Citizens For Sustainability (CiFoS). "Instead of banning registrations, force people to park their vehicles in their houses. Make them feel it is a dead investment. Let the natural congestion (on the roads) act as a disincentive," he explains.

Public transport nudge

Nudging people to use public transport is a viable option. But that can happen only if people are convinced that a workable last-mile connectivity network is available and public transport moves faster than private cars on dedicated lanes.

The message is clear: Don't create infrastructure such as flyovers that makes it easier for private vehicles. Instead, put all the money in making public transport faster, more accessible and comfortable.

Lately, the government has realized the huge potential of sustainable mass transit options such as the suburban rail. But its fixation with flyovers and signal-free corridors remain.
If lessons are not learnt from the current mess, how can future planning be any different?

In its Revised Master Plan (RMP-2031), the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) has proposed enough bottlenecks through ill-thought out zoning that commute will be even messier in the years to come.

Future imperfect

A study of the Master Plan by Sankaran shows that across an area of 102 sq.kms, the commercial and industrial zones are down by an average of 53% and 14.3% respectively. Space allocation for housing in this area is up by an average of 34.8%.

In layman's terms, the implication is this: "More people living in the area, but lesser jobs and commerce in the area. Everyone will have to make a trek across town to work or buy goods and services, adding to the already chaotic traffic, spending more time on the road. This also adds to the transportation cost for the working class who are large in number," Sankaran explains.

Disaster for sustainability

By creating an ecosystem that raises the demand for vehicles, the Master Plan projects a three-fold increase in the traffic by 2031. No wonder then, that it has been dubbed as a disaster for sustainability and a recipe for killing the city's transport system.

Beyond the obvious traffic congestion and commute woes, pollution from vehicles poses a serious health hazard in Bengaluru. The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB)'s 2017 data clearly indicates that the Particulate Pollutant levels exceed the annual safety limits. PM2.5 levels in particular have been observed to exceed the limit by 3-45%.

Vehicular pollution

A recently released report on Bengaluru's Air Quality Crisis by MediaLabs cites an UrbanEmissions study to reveal this: The city's pollution levels are three times the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s safety limit. It points to transport and open waste burning as the key sources of emissions.

More vehicles mean this pollution graph will continue to rise dangerously. An exercise carried out to monitor air quality across several, select roads during the peak hour traffic showed startling results: Those travelling in open vehicles are likely to be exposed to severe air pollution levels with drastic spikes in a short period of time.

"A significant amount of population, including school children in particular spend several hours in slow moving traffic every day, increasing their frequency of exposure to poor air quality," the report observes.

In November, 2017, a few volunteers of citizen's collective, Whitefield Rising measured air quality in their areas. Their results: The observed levels exceeded the safety limits by more than five times. A descent into absolute chaos now looks imminent.

Rising traffic violations

Mounting vehicular traffic on the roads and long waiting periods have played havoc with traffic management. Road rage is on the rise. So is traffic indiscipline, notes Additional Director General of Police and Commissioner for Traffic and Road Safety M A Saleem.

His explanation paints a picture of the city descending further into chaos: "As motorists get frustrated, they tend to break rules. Signal-jumping and footpath riding cases will be on the rise."

There is no escape route in sight as the city's vehicular numbers soar towards the one crore mark.

 

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