Getting from one place to another in four cities
One other thing - BRT was not responsible for swaying election results one or other way. Some seats were won by people who have been in those seats for decades. They will probably win even if they murder some one in broad day light - proponents of BRT or public transport should steer clear of such syllogistic thinking (are we so desparate that we have to clutch at such flimsy logic to prove that BRT is popular?).
On Sun, Feb 8, 2009 at 8:51 PM, Dr Adhiraj Joglekar <adhiraj.joglekar@...> wrote:
Thought provoking indeed.
I however disagree with a few points made by the author.
- Firstly, as much as I like to see the increase in cycling in London, cyclists are by far the biggest rule breakers on the road - there is no doubt about it. From riding on footpaths to going past red lights, they stand out the most. As a pedestrian I don't mind sharing a footway with cyclists at all, but going past red lights is taking matters too far.
- Secondly, the views on Delhi BRT - Many here will have read http://www.itdp.org/documents/Analysis%20of%20Delhi%20BRT.pdf - Speeds of 12 kph is nothing worth getting excited about. Yes, the Delhi BRT made way for better footpaths and cycling paths - but I hope no one is suggesting that we need a BRT to get these facilities!! Yes, BRTs can carry 25k or more - but then why were the footpaths not any wider? And why were dedicated crosswalks not a part of the plan? Where are the pedestrian refuges that one would hope to see? And who is calculating the costs of the plethora of police and traffic wardens employed here?
- Its interesting that the majority in Delhi commute an average of 7.5 km. speed is of significance only for long distance travel and not when commutes are 8-12 km (majority commutes fall in this range). Let me share my experience with London Tubes - I travel to work by tube from Hounslow to Hammersmith. I also like taking the bus once or twice a week. The tube beats the bus by just 10 minutes on average. The bus on other hand includes one interchange, dozens of signals, the bus goes through narrow 1+1 lanes, where available uses bus lanes and has almost 3 times more stops than the tube. Yet the bus is beaten by only 10 minutes because unlike a train the bus stops are outside where I live and work and my walking time is less than 5 minutes (against the 20 minutes I spend walking to get to and from tube stations).
- In fact for above reasons, the rhetoric from DMRC CEO that Delhi will get a Metro rail station within 500 meters of where ever one is useless. Just look at comprehensive underground networks - yes, in central London I am never too far from a tube station - but trouble is, the closest tuube station may not be on the line my destination happens to be on. Interchanges can take from 10-20 minutes or more.
- The BRTs as planned in India are restricted to highways (or what were once highways / meant to have been freeways or motorways) - how many people live close to a highway? Thanks to irational ribbon development a good number do, but still majority will not be in walking distances (it take 8 minutes to do 500 meters) - this means need for rickshaw rides, long walks, short bus rides to get to a BRT - add interchange times and what advantage is left in terms of dedicated lanes adding speed? So the whole obsession about speed is of no relevance unless one is doing distances in excess of 15km. That buses are important is borne from fact that London buses carry 6.5 million compared to tubes which carry 3.5. But these cities have one thing common to them - ie - comprehensive reach by buses cutting across the thick and thin of roads. Both London and Mumbai buses are popular due to their reliability more than speed (kerbside bus lanes improve reliability more than speed) - this can't be under-estimated. I have used Mumabi buses for 25 years - all my school and college journeys were by bus. Bus shelters are modest, they do not sport time tables, it never mattered as in a matter of days, one worked out the time of a given bus - an 0755 almost always came at 0755 - a huge thing when it came to making most of your morning time at home as an unreliable bus service would mean I will need to be advance on the bus stop lest the bus happens to come earlier than usual and miss me.
- I do not discount BRT as a model, but I feel sorry for the fact that Indian cities are looking at this model as the only solution, that to in cities which do not even have a skeletal bus service in place!!
On Sun, Feb 8, 2009 at 6:45 PM, eric britton <eric.britton@...> wrote:
Thanks to Faizan Jawed for the heads-up on this. From http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13047681&source=hptextfeature&CFID=41445608&CFTOKEN=73494795 Thought provoking.
Home again, home again
Feb 6th 2009 From Economist.com
Getting from one place to another in four cities
IT SEEMS odd to be talking about the daily grind of commuting on a day when most of London stayed at home. There were no buses running, many trains were cancelled and if The Economist's Monday morning conference was anything to go by, people whose presence is normally regarded as essential phoned in instead. But as it happens my train from Cambridge ran only a few minutes late, and although I had to walk my bike much of the way from King's Cross to The Economist's offices in St James's (why are London's roads not gritted in preparation for snow that has been forecast for days?) I got to work only a little later and damper than usual.
I moved out of London for the same reason as thousands of others: I became a parent. I was no longer getting any benefit from the good stuff (theatres, galleries, shops and so on) and suddenly the bad stuff—the dirt, the lack of space, the cost and above all the schools, so many of them depressingly dreadful—started to matter. I was working a day or two a week in Cambridge at the time, so in 2003 I traded one three-bed Victorian semi-detached house for another. My new house was almost identical to my old, but it was within a short cycle of one of the world's most beautiful town centres, on a quiet street, with a hundred-foot garden and facing a park. It was cheaper, too.
So two years later, when The Economist offered me a job in London, I was not keen to move back. Instead I acquired a folding bike and an eye-wateringly expensive yearly season ticket (every year the price goes up by more than retail-price inflation; it now costs £3,500), and became one of around 700,000 people who commute by train into London every day.
My trains come and go from King's Cross, one of London's biggest and busiest stations, which is undergoing seemingly interminable renovation. The platforms on the underground get dangerously overcrowded during the morning rush hour as people change between the six lines that stop there, so one of the entrances to the underground station is closed, forcing my fellow commuters who need to use the tube for their onward travel to queue at the other entrance in single file. Many of them will already have endured a cramped and uncomfortable journey: the line from Cambridge to King's Cross is Britain's most overcrowded, with figures published last August showing that it had four of the six trains with the highest ratios of standers to sitters in the country. I am lucky: I can work varied hours and mostly miss the worst of it.
I lived in London for a spell in the early 1990s. I didn't know it at the time, but I was experiencing London at almost its most depopulated in 50 years. In 1939 8.6m people lived in Greater London, but that fell to a low of 6.7m in 1988. Since then the population of London has risen by almost 50,000 a year—an increase largely fuelled by immigration. Around 7.5m people now live in the city.
In the past year or so, however, net migration has turned negative, and there is a great deal of churn: last year around 150,000 people come to London from abroad, and around the same number from other bits of the United Kingdom—most of them young and childless. Roughly 380,000 Londoners left, many of them older, or parents.
Modern travel patterns poorly suit an old, crowded city, and much of London's infrastructure is crumbling. London's underground was the world's first (the Metropolitan line opened in 1863), and in recent decades repairs on the ageing trains and escalators were often let slide, creating a huge backlog. Other developments over that period: the congestion charge, introduced in 2003, without which London would presumably face total gridlock; "bendy buses", an incomprehensible waste of precious road real estate; and unpredictable diversions due to Thames Water's constantly shifting upgrade-works on London's Victorian sewers and water mains.
Among the biggest changes in commuting habits has been the increase in cycling. In 1992 it was an eccentric habit I had picked up while studying in Cambridge—by a wide margin Britain's most cycle-friendly city. Now lots of Londoners do it, which is good—other road users are more aware of us—and bad—now that they notice we exist, they almost uniformly hate us. Ask them why and most will say it's because cyclists break rules, which they do—but no more frequently than pedestrians or motorists. As I leave behind the morning hordes queuing to go underground at King's Cross, or sail past a bendy bus straddling three lanes and blocking a busy junction as it tries to turn a corner, I know the true reason is jealousy.
When I came back from maternity leave after my second child our editorial manager asked if a BlackBerry would help me to manage my time. I turned the offer down on the grounds that I needed somewhere to get some real work done. In the mornings, the 50-minute journey is perfect for sketching out an article; in the evenings I read, usually something work-related, or muse over a story lead or title, or (on Wednesdays, our busiest and longest day on the paper) sleep. I feel sorry for commuters I see reading newspapers, or emailing: they are wasting the best bit of the day.
FOR the residents of Khanpur Colony, a neighbourhood in South Delhi, the morning commute begins with a squeeze and a sprint. Their homes are separated from the bus terminal by a patch of walled waste ground, owned by the ministry of defence. Signs warn against trespassing. Wives hang their washing on barbed wire. But the wall is interrupted by a deep ditch, where pigs nose about with birds perched on their backs. There is just enough space between the ditch and the wall for a steady stream of schoolchildren and commuters to squeeze past and make a dash for their bus.
Boarding buses in Delhi is often an athletic event, worthy of inclusion in the Commonwealth games, which the city is preparing to host in 2010. The Delhi Transport Corporation's old stage-carriages pause at stops for only half a beat, before plunging back into the traffic. The doorway is at knee height, and one narrow foothold of space is often all one can wrest from other passengers.
But the terminal next to Khanpur Colony marks the beginning of Delhi's new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor. Passengers wait at raised stops, which resemble train platforms. Railings channel the scrum as the bus arrives. The shiny new buses, slung low unlike their forerunners, are much easier to board. Indeed, stand in the wrong place and the crowd's momentum might carry you onto a bus you had no intention of riding.
Your correspondent pays 20 rupees ($0.40) for an 18km journey from the terminal to Old Delhi railway station. The 419AC is heated in winter and air-conditioned in summer. It is even equipped with seat belts, which go largely unused, judging by the dust the strap leaves on my lap.
The BRT has infuriated car drivers, whose complaints were loudly championed by Delhi's big English newspapers. Cars are used to bullying and jostling their way across the full expanse of the road. But the BRT sequesters them into two or three lanes, squeezed between a cycle-path along the kerb and a dedicated bus lane down the centre. This segregation is fitfully enforced by marshals, ridges, railings and other devices, such as the red "cat's eyes", which flutter in the morning mist.
Cars need no longer fear crushing cyclists or being crushed by buses, but this is small consolation. For drivers, there is only one thing worse than being stuck in a traffic jam, and that is being stuck in a jam while bikes pedal serenely past on the left and the BRT lane stands empty on the right. (Nor are motorists amused when bus passengers make faces at them as they sail past.)
The system suffered from a lack of marketing prior to its introduction, leaving road-users bewildered and enraged by the inexplicable markings and barriers. In its early days, the BRT took its middle initial too seriously, as bus drivers raced down their new corridor. The city responded by laying "rumble strips" on the road. It also fitted buses with global-positioning systems: you can track their progress and speed online.
Is the BRT too ambitious for Delhi's clogged roads? The city has as many vehicles as Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai combined. In handling this traffic, city planners face two dilemmas, says Geetam Tiwari of Delhi's Indian Institute of Technology. First, how much space should be devoted to roads? Roads already occupy 21% of Delhi's total area, a far greater percentage than in Paris or Bangkok (both 11%).
The second question is how to make the most of the roadspace available. The aim, Ms Tiwari points out, is to "move more people, rather than more vehicles". Given a lane of their own, buses can carry up to 25,000 people per hour, according to the BRT's operator, whereas a car lane can move only 3,000 people per hour.
Over three-quarters of Delhi commutes are less than 10km and 20% are by foot. This seems hard to believe, given Delhi's size and sprawl. It was already seven cities, beginning with Lal Kot in the eighth century, before the British built New Delhi and the nouveau riche colonised the farmland of Gurgaon. But commutes are short precisely because the city has competing centres of gravity, each orbited by neighbourhoods, markets, offices and slums. The social distance between rich and poor may be vast, but the geographical gap is negligible. After all, someone needs to sweep, cook, chauffeur, launder and babysit for the rich.
In wealthier countries, the rich pay dearly for a short commute; in India's cities, the poor cannot afford a long one. Even a three-rupee bus fare, which will take you up to four kilometres on a bus without air conditioning, takes a painful bite out of the poor's earnings. Rickshaw-pullers, bricklayers and street vendors often sleep where they work, curled up under their stall, draped over their rickshaw, or huddled by their construction site. A woman may work as a servant in the morning, then return home to take care of her own children and chores, before travelling to another job in the evening. This is impossible unless she lives near her work.
As the 419 bus nears Old Delhi, cars cease to be its main rivals for road space. It overtakes a cycle rickshaw carrying seven schoolchildren, two of them standing. It must also cede a lane to vegetable-sellers, who display their cauliflowers, carrots, tomatoes and lemons along the route. I see the first pig since Khanpur. The bus terminates shortly after 9am at the railway station, where I restore my energies with a paratha, served on a page ripped from the Sunday Times of India.
In the recent Delhi state elections, the opposition party hoped to convert frustration with the BRT into votes. The party's candidate for chief minister won his seat. But the ruling Congress party, whose chief minister championed the BRT, won every other seat along the route. Either the BRT is more popular than the Times believed, or car-owners don't vote.
WITH a population of 35m, greater Tokyo is the world's biggest metropolitan area. Despite the tyranny of Japan's shrinking demographics, it will be decades, if ever, before Mumbai or Mexico City dislodges Tokyo's crown. In the meantime, the scale and efficiency of the city's diurnal migrations present the sharpest possible contrast between Tokyo and those two competitors.
The railway rules. Every working day a vast ganglia of 45 bullet, main and suburban-overground lines, with another 13 underground, channels 4.1m swipecard-carrying commuters into Tokyo's central wards alone, with clean and exceptional precision. (The exception to the exceptional will be touched on later.)
Shinjuku station alone disgorges 900,000 passengers each morning, sucking them in again in the evening, some of the men (and they are mostly men) by now inebriated, before dumping them in their distant bedroom towns. Indeed, the commuting sarariman [salaryman]—the selfless company drone, one among a sea of dark suits pushed on to their morning train by white-gloved platform attendants—has as much claim to be Tokyo's iconic figure as Christ the Redeemer has for Rio de Janeiro.
And almost as misunderstood, a projection of others' fantasies. Westerners may no longer subscribe so openly to the nonsense of Japanese inscrutability. Still, the commute has become the chief expository site of a variant example of "Japanese exceptionalism": the notion that society in Japan is governed by subtle but unbreakable social rules, where group-think trumps the individual and automatons replace the freedom-loving and autonomous actors of the West. Somewhere deep in all this lies a tiny seed of truth, but it is too often buried in a bed of bunk.
Japanese social and business interactions are famously not contact sports, but the obvious exception is the rush-hour trains. Don't assume that Japan's commuters are somehow better shaped by social norms or the obligations of corporate life to cope with the crowded commute—they are merely long-suffering.
Indeed, a sense of camaraderie that everyone is in this together is not so different from, say, Mumbai, which has its own commuting etiquette: there, travellers are asked to "please adjust" to make space in a crowded carriage for one more. Yet a new commuter in Tokyo very quickly learns from the sharp exchanges and even fisticuffs that, at the peak of the morning rush, the tension is just below the surface, and short fuses can be lit by one shove too many. For any visitor with the common complaint that Tokyo's citizens are inscrutably, unnervingly polite, this reporter has the antidote: board the Yamanote line at Ikebukuro at 7:45 on any weekday morning.
Outside the rush hours, travelling offers both social observation and the time to spin a theory out of it. Recently, a visiting English philosopher at Tokyo University wrote a book about his year in Japan that was entertaining—mostly intentionally. But during one late-evening commute home he notes an impossibly beautiful young woman hanging, fast asleep, from the strap. He marvels at the woman's ability, in a split-second, to go from a sleeping state to striding off the train at her stop. And he puts such "subliminal attentiveness" to something very deep in the nature of the Japanese: "a pervasive and acute alertness to their environment and its most subtle signals, instilled perhaps by their constant vulnerability to earthquakes." Or perhaps, as one Tokyo-based reviewer suggests, she just heard the station announcement.
The trains are run with a uniformed professionalism and an esprit de corps that put even the Swiss in the shade. Only earthquakes or a terrorist attack have the potential for major disruption (the Aum Shinrikyo cult's sarin gas attack on the underground in 1995 killed a dozen commuters and railway staff).
On the other hand, jinshin jiko (literally, "human-body accidents") cause many lesser disruptions each year. These are the "jumpers": those driven by depression, or by shame from losing their job or accruing debts, to throw themselves in front of an oncoming train. This aspect of Tokyo mores, at a time when suicides may be expected to rise as the economy slumps, is curiously underexamined.
Indeed, the train companies have got the business of cleaning up the mess down to a fine art, sometimes in less than 15 minutes, while commuters are handed excuse-notes to show their employers. Meanwhile, the grief of the deceased's family is heightened by having to bring a perverse kind of blood money—up to ¥3m ($34,000) as compensation to the railway company.
Every year 2,000-plus train chikan, or perverts, are arrested for groping women and schoolgirls—the vast majority during the morning rush hour, causing minor delays. For years, females just put up with the indignity of groping, either out of embarrassment or out of fear that their claim would not be taken seriously. But habits are now changing, and women will hold up the offender's hand and shout "Chikan!". Several lines also have women-only carriages for peak hours. A few men's lives have been broken because of false accusations.
Many male commuters are huge consumers of manga, and flick lazily through rapes and other sadistic humiliations of women. As elsewhere, a debate rumbles on in Japan about whether such pornography excites deviant behaviour or diverts it. Certainly, a strong vein of erotic fantasy, with deep draughts of sado-masochism, runs just beneath the order of Japanese society. Yet rates of sexual crime are astonishingly low. Meanwhile, some schoolgirls also indulge openly in their own brands of manga, depicting graphic if less violent sexual fantasy.
The only thing that can be said with confidence is that Japan has found original ways to make money out of people's sexual predilections. Little more than a stone's throw from the huge Shibuya station is the "Shibuya Pink Girl's Club", which on its varied menu offers a chikan densha, or pervert train.
The "groper's course" starts at ¥12,000 ($130), where the connoisseur picks out from the menu the girl of his choice, dressed either as a schoolgirl or office receptionist. This girl then beckons him through the window of a mock-up train carriage, which not only broadcasts station announcements, but even shakes and rattles. For the next 45 minutes the connoisseur is under no risk of arrest as he gropes to gay abandon—before joining the slumberers on one of the last real trains home.
TEMPERATURES have spent a long time below zero this winter in Homer, Alaska, a coastal town of about 5,000 people. In such conditions, having a car is less a luxury than a part time job. There are the studded winter tires to put on, the engine-block heater to plug in, and the emergency supplies—sleeping bag, water, food, matches—to pack before a trip up the highway, where drivers can find themselves dozens of miles from the next gas station or house.
Homer sits on Kachemak Bay, a 60 kilometer-long inlet of the Pacific. On the bay's far side, snow-strung mountains rise out of the sea. The town doubles in size in the summer with the arrival of salmon and good weather. There's only one traffic signal here, and locals know high season has arrived when turning left across traffic at every other intersection becomes nearly impossible. But in the winter, life here is dark and close.
Recently, near-hurricane-force winds ripped through Homer, pelting the area with rain and bolting us out of our deep freeze. The storm knocked out the local radio station. Alaska is one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States, but has only one radio engineer. It was days before he arrived with the necessary parts.
For much of the year, the morning commute begins in the dark with the unavoidable chore of scraping the windshield free of snow and ice. During a recent deep freeze, cars and trucks idled along the roads, left to warm up for ten or fifteen minutes before a short commute across the town. The exhaust pooled in the cold, still air. Because garages are expensive to build and hold heat poorly, they are rare. Every morning during the school year, a line of vehicles heads into town behind the school bus, which stops frequently and flashes a strobe light from its roof into the darkness.
Recent rain turned frozen gravel roads into sheets of ice and melted all of the snow, revealing half a winter's worth of blown trash and dog waste lining the roads. Winter along Alaska's more temperate coast bucks residents from freeze to thaw and back again.
Before I leave the house, I stretch rubber and metal ice cleats onto my boots. Car (or more often truck) is king in Alaska. The state developed after automobiles gained prominence, and space is rarely a limiting factor. Like most of Alaska, Homer has no public transportation, but three different taxi companies maintain fleets of four-wheel-drive cabs. People are suspicious of pedestrians, figuring they either are mentally unfit to drive or have recently been arrested for drunk driving.
When oil prices shot up last year, we Alaskans felt it deeply. Although Alaska is an oil producing state, petrol prices were far higher here than in the rest of the country. But the state government—funded almost entirely by oil and petrol taxes—was flush. On top of the annual payment of oil and petrol revenues Alaskans receive, we each collected an extra energy "rebate" payment, for a total of about $3,200. As Sarah Palin boasted of her fiscal conservatism on the campaign trail, we patted our wallets and smiled. Then we paid the fuel bill.
Alaska's relationship with petroleum remains sticky. Thousands of barrels of oil—around 11.7% of the country's daily consumption—are pumped out of the ground here each day, while Alaska, like other northern regions, feels disproportionately the impacts of climate change brought on by burning these fuels.
We see these impacts daily. Glaciers visible through living room windows recede up mountain valleys. Warmer temperatures fueled a beetle epidemic that leveled the region's spruce forests in a decade. In villages on eroding coastlines up north, houses topple into the sea.
But wildlife thrives around Homer. Moose lumber across local roads, stopping traffic. In the spring, cow-moose drop calves in backyards, and black bears dash across streets and gardens, then topple trash cans looking for food. Last winter, a pack of wolves picked off a few pet dogs not far out of town.
On a short walk from a residential section to the main drag in Homer, I pass dingy multi-unit houses and single-family suburban homes separated by forested lots. For now, the economic slump may leave these patches of woods unbothered. Alaska is a fresh canvas on which the United States is repainting many of its old mistakes. But it still contains vast tracts of undeveloped terrain where, for now at least, we can be reminded of the land without us.