Late Mr Bengaluru

The city commutes at an average speed of just 18.7 km an hour. That makes us the second slowest in India

Bengaluru has the second-slowest commute speed in the country, with an average speed of 18.7 kmph.

A report by office commute platform MoveInSync Technology Solutions also says Indians spend more time in daily office commute than most countries in the world, with more than two hours on the road every day. 

No surprises there! Bengaluru is globally notorious for its traffic gridlocks and regularly features in global rankings among the worst cities when it comes to commuting.

Obvious reasons

These are the culprits we readily blame whenever there is a traffic jam. 

Crumbling infrastructure

From potholes that remind you of the moon’s craters (we are sure you have seen Baadal Nanjundaswamy’s satirical road art) to cracks that threaten to swallow your vehicle, Bengaluru’s roads are in a pitiable condition. The rains cause flooding in many of these; all drivers try to avoid these and end up getting stuck at the next junction. The authorities chip in with their dose of apathy and neglect!

Poor Metro reach

Phase 1 of Namma Metro covers 42 km; Bengaluru city covers an area of 741 km sq. This is a telling example of why public transport is still not finding favour. High-density areas are not covered under the Metro network. Phase 2 covers a 128 km network but it has already missed several deadlines. Imagine the number of cars that will be bought by the time the Metro finally reaches Whitefield.

And while cities like Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata have a strong suburban railway network, Bengaluru falls way behind in this aspect. “Forty cars is equivalent to one bus and 15 buses to one Metro. We can replace 600 cars with one Metro trip,” says M N Sreehari, traffic advisor and consultant for road safety.

Last mile disconnect

A majority of those who use BMTC buses are sensitive to fare hikes so it doesn’t help that public transport fares are among the highest in the country. Also, last mile connectivity remains a problem, especially away from the city centre, where services like bike rentals haven’t made an impact yet.

Personal vehicles

According to reports, the city has seen a 6,000 per cent increase in the number of private vehicles on the road since 1990.  The road network can ideally only support 35 lakh vehicles. Yet, there are 60 lakh two-wheelers alone running on our roads,” says Naresh Narasimhan, architect and urban planner.

As average incomes rise, owning one, two or more vehicles is seen as a status symbol. You may spend hours in traffic but pulling up to the wedding in your luxury car, built for eight but used just for you and your spouse, is a matter of prestige. Carpooling is for misers anyway!

Blocked roads

You can find almost anything on our roads — building debris, parked autos, jaywalkers, nonchalant cows as well as men and machines engaged in never-ending Metro or repair work. The narrower the road, the higher are the chances of the authorities digging it up during peak time traffic.

Not so obvious reasons

Several factors don’t grab our attention as we might not immediately connect them with traffic jams, even though their impact might be just as much in making our commute a harrowing experience.

Unplanned urbanisation

As the village of Bengaluru grew radially outward in all directions to welcome the IT crowd and people from other states, town planning went for a toss. The wide roads, boulevards and parks, a hallmark of Bengaluru under the maharajas, were replaced by straggly, narrow lanes. Stormwater drains and footpaths were encroached on with impunity.

Also, large tracts of land were taken up by clubs, stadiums and malls. Precious public space is now occupied by elitist, members-only spaces.

Too many signals

Contrary to popular perception, signals do not always lead to better traffic flow. Consecutive signals every few hundred metres hamper free flow of traffic. They are aided and abetted by unscientific humps in slowing down traffic. And the government is always ready with flyover plans. “Flyovers and underpasses only push the problem to the next junction, instead of eliminating it. We need a comprehensive traffic planning methodology,” says Sreehari.

Bus stops on main roads

When buses halt at main roads in crowded places, they create vehicle pile-ups behind them. Combine this with a huge number of people that spill out of small shelters and the ritualistic race drivers engage in when they pull out, and you know it’s a recipe for disaster.

 

What should be done?

Naresh Narasimhan, architect and urban planner, feels the problem of Bengaluru traffic can be summed up in one line — inadequate investment in public transport.

“Bengaluru has a population of 1.2 crore and 80 lakh vehicles running on its roads. The ratio is disproportionate. And the government’s first response is to build more roads. It is like loosening your belt to deal with obesity. More roads will lead to more traffic,” he says.

In his view, this is what our action plan should be like:

Double the fleet size and halve the fares. About 6,200 buses are plying, which accounts for only 45 per cent of commutes. If BMTC can’t handle the load, let private players in. 

Fix the footpaths and before that, the drainage system. 

Build protected cycle tracks and lanes dedicated to buses.

Incentivise use of public transport and discourage cars.

Increase cost of owning vehicles.

Ban parking on arterial roads. Charge for parking. 

 

What does bad traffic do to you?

Bad traffic can play havoc with your mind, psychologists say.

Shatarupa C, counselling psychologist, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, says: “Traffic can be the cause for an immense amount of stress and anxiety, especially if you’re the one driving. You are worried about when you will reach the destination, the constant noise and pollution make you irritable, and being stuck in the same space can cause feelings of suffocation after some time. Traffic becomes a terrible trigger for people who are already struggling with anxiety. One of my patients couldn’t control her bladder and urinated inside the cab as she got delayed for an hour for her meeting because of unexpected traffic. Traffic takes away a sense of control, sets in helplessness and increases fatigue and can cause agitation and rage.”

 
Findings from the report

The report, titled ‘Travel Time Report Q1 2019 vs Q1 2108’, observed that traffic is slowest between 9 am and 6 pm.

Festivals seem to be the worst time to be on the road. The study found that commute times in Bengaluru increased by 22 per cent during Ugadi and 14 per cent during Diwali and Christmas.

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