5 March 2006
Thought you may like to read this excellent article. Why can't we get
stories researched in this manner instead of the ones merely
"reporting" inauguration of every new flyover?
"Yamuna", ICS Colony,
Can cheaper cars move faster?
The car may appear to be more affordable now. However, restrictions on
its use such as congestion charging, costlier parking, and reduced right
of way in favour of buses, pedestrians, and cyclists may be inevitable.
(Photo not included due to limitation on attachments)
GRIDLOCKED: Bangalore is one of the cities worst affected by the
explosion in the number of vehicles on the road.
THERE HAS never been a better time to buy a car it would appear after the
Union budget slashed excise duty. The eight per cent duty reduction for
the small car has translated into a tangible and immediate lowering of
the sticker price by up to Rs. 25,000.
Much of the middle class views cheaper cars as a form of social justice,
a somewhat belated correction introduced to an iniquitous system that has
historically favoured the wealthy minority. Affordable cars, many think,
also provide freedom from the hazardous, uncomfortable, and grossly
insufficient buses in the public transport system and costly alternatives
such as autorickshaws and taxis.
Even before the latest price reduction, car sales registered strong
growth since the availability of hire purchase on affordable terms.
Things are even better after the budget cars that breach the promised
one-lakh price barrier seem very feasible.
Sales of passenger cars, already enjoying strong growth from the start of
the present decade, are bound to grow even faster. The Society of Indian
Automobile Manufacturers says 567,728 passenger cars were sold in 2000-01
and four years later, sales touched 819,918.
The car is promoted heavily as a symbol of independence, comfort, and
efficiency, and, above all, unfettered mobility. Those who wait for buses
are forlorn figures, literally left out in the cold, waiting for the
kindly soul to provide a lift in a car. Children are proud of fathers who
can buy a "big car."
Reality is different from advertising spots. In the urban context such
creative images of freedom are replaced by the reality of gridlocked
traffic, road rage, health impacts, higher accident rates, and, above
all, a reduction in mobility. Travel times are actually becoming longer
as a result of "automobilisation."
Perhaps the best-known example of urban travel stress at a peak, with
steady growth in private car (and two-wheeler) ownership is Bangalore.
The discourse in Karnataka's capital has shifted to the need for public
transit options as the default travel mode. Many other cities in early
stages of gridlock are also actively considering investments in rail and
The imperative for public transit remains strong. During the time that it
takes to put such systems in place, the States may have to meet the
challenges of a rising car population. This is inevitable given the
pressure that a sharp rise in the number of cars will exert on the poor
civic infrastructure available even in the biggest cities today.
Most apartment blocks do not have adequate parking slots if the majority
of residents opt to own cars; parking facilities in public places are
also scarce and there is increasing pressure to carve out road space
currently serving pedestrians, cyclists and buses, to facilitate car
Compulsion to park on the kerb also raises the risk of theft and
vandalism, besides the threat of policing penalties. While some of these
issues can be addressed through policy interventions for short-term
relief, the wider issue of declining efficiency caused by congestion,
exemplified by the Bangalore experience, is unlikely to be mitigated.
Chennai's experience, which is not exceptional, indicates that State
Governments and municipal administrations are following civic policies
that are in no position to handle rising car ownership. In its policy
note for 2005-06 on Housing and Urban Development, the Tamil Nadu
Government identifies nine intra-city sites for planned development of
parking facilities in the State capital (some of them contentious from an
environmental perspective because they privilege automobiles over other
road users), but as the year draws to a close, these projects have not
progressed to any appreciable degree. Another project announced at the
start of the year, on creating a centralised testing track to assess
applicants for driving licenses has not been commissioned in Chennai.
Rising car ownership also has serious implications for fuel demand,
pollution, and road safety. The Rocky Mountain Institute, quoted by
in a survey of energy in 2005, states that
only 13 per cent of fuel energy used in a car reaches the wheels, the
rest dissipating as heat and noise in the engine, the drive train, air
conditioning, and idling. Moreover, 95 per cent of the accelerated mass
is the car itself and only one per cent of fuel is utilised to move the
driver. Few will be convinced that there is a case for facilitating the
continued use of costly and polluting fossil fuels in this fashion. There
is then the question of safety.
Professor Dinesh Mohan, a traffic injury prevention expert at the Indian
Institute of Technology, Delhi, told a recent seminar on Bus Rapid
Transit in Chennai that a staggering 20 million to 30 million people have
been killed by motor vehicles and 500 million injured; about 80,000 lives
are lost on Indian roads alone each year; the majority of those killed
are pedestrians, cyclists, and riders of motorised two-wheelers.
Need for policy change
The World Health Organisation thinks that without a change in
policies, vehicular accidents could kill or disable more people in 2020
than HIV, tuberculosis, stroke, diarrhoeal diseases, pneumonia,
emphysema/bronchitis, and war. Are governments alive to the impending
Urban infrastructure is in a broken down condition. The journal
put the issue in perspective in a 2005 paper
titled "Urban transport crisis in India." John Pucher and his
colleagues note that some gains have been made in reducing
non-particulate emissions by changing the composition of automotive
fuels, such as removing lead and lowering sulphur content, but India's
cities remain seriously plagued by fundamental problems such as weak and
low quality roads, unsafe driving behaviour, poor traffic signalling,
signage, and law enforcement.
National policy towards cars may thus have to progressively consider
curbs on inefficient use of private vehicles, of which cars are the best
example. Cost-effective alternatives such as buses, urban rail and para
transit modes need active consideration and support.
Though the car may appear to be more affordable now, restrictions on its
use, such as congestion charging, costlier parking, ban in some
pedestrian areas, and reduced right of way in favour of buses,
pedestrians, and cyclists may be inevitable.
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"Yamuna", ICS Colony,
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