If your city has 7.5 lakh cars and their average length is five metres, what road length would you need to park them? Answer: 3,750 km. What if your city has just 2,045 km of roads? Gridlock of course. That’s Mumbai, and every time I visit our financial capital, I wonder how India became the economic envy of the world. Appointments are impossible to keep and sitting in traffic jams brings home the waste of productivity, man hours, fuel and the overall economic drain. Mumbai’s story is now visiting every large city in India, including the capital Delhi, preparing to showcase itself to the Commonwealth Games. In Delhi, traffic jams cause a loss of Rs.10 crore to commuters and Rs.1.5 crore to the government every day, reveals a 2009 survey by the Centre for Transforming India. The survey identified 15 stretches across the city and calculated the average fuel lost due to congestion. The all-India figure would be horrific, not to mention loss of business due to delays.
It’s India’s worst urban nightmare and it’s only getting worse, with increasing incidents of road rage and battles over parking space. Indian roads host over 48 different modes of transport and 40 per cent of commercial vehicles are plying the city streets illegally. On average, 41 per cent of city streets are used for parking. The mean speed is a snail-like 17 kmph. Delhi is the car capital of India, adding 1,000 cars every day to its 70 lakh vehicles including 16 lakh registered cars. Car sales in India have climbed 38 per cent and it’s literally killing-13 people die every hour due to road accidents, the highest in the world. A slew of reports confirm our roads are at saturation point. The total number of vehicles in India exceed 10 crore with 26 per cent growth in 2009-2010, making it the world’s second fastest growing automobile market after China.
In India, cars are not just modes of transport, they are a status symbol. India’s road network of 3.32 million km is second only to the US but they carry the heaviest burden-70 per cent of freight and 85 per cent of the nation’s traffic-despite a huge railway network. The problem is unplanned urban expansion, lack of infrastructure planning and execution along with the poor quality of public transport and services. In the West, CEOs and junior executives travel to work in public commuter services. In India, it would be social suicide. Moreover, every project to do with roads or highways is crippled by delays because of multiple agencies involved, corruption and shoddy workmanship.
What we need is a paradigm shift in the way we manage our traffic. Public transport has to be made more attractive in terms of quality, time and cost. Penalties are the other option. London has introduced a decongestion tax on vehicles entering the centre of the city. In Manipur, the state has banned citizens from buying a car unless they have residential parking. Radical problems need radical solutions, which forms the core of our cover story on India’s traffic nightmare and the future shock it portends. Put together by Editor-at-Large Ravi Shankar and Deputy Editor Damayanti Datta with all our bureaus, we have looked at each major city and its unique traffic problems and what experts recommend as the way out. Unless cities and state governments don’t wake up, urban Indians will be spending more time in their cars than at home or at work.