Mumbai Traffic: Creeping to a halt
Mumbai public transport: Creepy, Crawly
Published: Friday, Feb 15, 2013, 3:00 IST
By Binoo Nair | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
Have you been grumbling that your daily commute is getting increasingly
torrid every day? Does it often seem that the cars ahead don't move for
longer, more agonising minutes? It’s not your imagination. Latest data shows
that Mumbaikars brave enough to take the wheel are driving in a city that is
unparalleled in the world as far as traffic paradoxes go.
Close to 80% commuters in the financial capital use public transport but the
possible environmental gains from that are lost amid the sheer numbers of
vehicles on the city’s roads.
According to figures from the state transport department, the number of
vehicles registered with the city's three Regional Transport Offices (RTOs)
went up from 10,69,499 in the year 2002 to 20,35,051 in 2012 — a rise of
90.28%. During the same period, the number of driver’s licence holders
increased by around 66%, from 38,45,852 in 2002 to 63,92,067 in 2012.
The 195 local trains of the suburban railway system provide about 2,800
trips daily using electricity. The 37,000-odd taxis and 1,06,000-odd
autorickshaws use Compressed Natural Gas. Both are non-polluting sources of
energy, but slow moving traffic — at an average 8km per hour — spews enough
suspended particulate matter (SPM) and noxious fumes to give the city its
high level of air pollution.
Simultaneously, the fabled public transport of the city is now well past
being described asbursting at the seams. Frequent delays and breakdowns on
the suburban railway and the bus services prompt a rising number of
Mumbaikars to add their own set of wheels to the already huge number of
vehicles on the roads.
The result is a city where all systems that monitor and control road
traffic, whether it is the traffic police or the RTO inspectors, are
overwhelmed and unable to keep up. Almost 1 lakh vehicles are being added to
city’s roads every year and the other thing that hasn’t been able to keep up
is the roads themselves — 1,900 km that has not grown much in the past
decade. The road network has grown by a few metres in a decade, admit civic
officials. It is little wonder then that experts believe the condition will
worsen rapidly from here.
Worse, the number of personnel at the three RTOs has actually registered a
decline — from 1,202 in 1999 to 1,005 in 2009 to 569 in 2012. Statistics
with the transport commissionerate show that as of 2012, the sanctioned
strength was supposed to be 965 but 396 of these posts have remained vacant,
leaving key responsibilities, including checking road worthiness of vehicles
and conducting adequate tests for aspiring drivers, unmanned.
This combination of growing vehicular population, stagnating road networks,
few new high-speed roads and lack of monitoring has led to our daily
commuting nightmare — vehicles crawling at anything between 8 kmph to 15
kmph during most parts of the day against a desirable speed of 90 kmph.
This has completely nullified any environmental gains made by
electricity-driven trains and CNG-powered taxis, rickshaws and BEST buses. A
study by the Joint Technical Committee to study the need for a coastal road
in Mumbai showed that SPM levels noted at the same spot had risen from 381 μ
gm/cu m in 2004 to 642 μ gm/cu m in 2011, a dangerous 68% rise in air
pollution relating to SPM. The same study noted that between 2004 and 2011,
the city saw a rise in cases of cough (from 13.3% to 41.3%), bronchitis
(from 21.4% to 31.1%) and eye irritation (from 14.1% to 38.4%).
With the study predicting that the Mumbai Metropolitan Region is expected to
be the largest urban agglomeration in the country by 2031, the bad news is
all set to get worse. The share of public transport — trains and buses — is
on a downward spiral, from 84% to 78% of total commuters.
Growing income levels and saturation in public transport — only last week,
Central Railway’s suburban system breached the 40 lakh passengers per day
mark — will see the share of private transport continuing to grow.
The phenomenon has begun. The MMRDA’s Comprehensive Transport Study showed
that between 1991 and 2005, car numbers grew by 137%, two-wheelers by 306%,
autorickshaws by 420% and taxis by 125%.
If you thought your daily drive can’t get any worse, think again.