There’s nothing like being stuck – and by stuck I mean absolutely glued – in traffic for you to ask yourself whether all this driving around is really worth the elevated blood pressure. You may have the world’s nicest car, or a motorcycle that makes your toes curl in sheer ecstasy, but a fat lot of good they are if you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs, moving roughly 8 inches per half hour. All this is far worse if the jam you’re stuck in happens to be outside your own house, and it takes almost 40 minutes just to get out of your neighbourhood. Is it any wonder that road rage incidents are on the rise?
I thus asked myself how, in an ideal situation, I could avoid this madness, and the answer was simple – I wouldn’t own a vehicle. Instead (remember, I said ‘ideal’ situation), I would use public transport. Specifically, I would use a metro system, which ensured that I didn’t have to go anywhere near roads above ground (buses, taxis and autorickshaws get stuck in traffic just as efficiently as private vehicles). A city like Mumbai should have had an underground metro decades ago, and it’s a depressing sign of governmental laziness that it’s only being built now. All the world’s biggest metros have, well, metro systems – New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Frankfurt and even Kolkata, New Delhi and now Bangalore. Heck, even much smaller cities have them, and they’re an absolute boon.
Just think about it. You don’t have to worry about maintaining your own vehicle, or finding a parking slot, or spending hours fighting horrible traffic; all you do is stroll to the nearest metro station, wait for the appropriate train, get to your destination in double quick time and stroll to wherever you’re headed. Having used metro systems in cities all over the world, I can vouch for the fact that they’re simply the best, quickest and most stress-free way of getting around. It’s good for your health too, since there’s some amount of walking involved! Mumbai, of course, has a very efficient system of local trains, but you have to have the courage of a minesweeper to actually use them during rush hour (although, in fairness, the Tokyo metro is stuffed to capacity during rush hour as well). The Kolkata and Delhi metros are very well maintained and extremely efficient, as anyone who has used them will know, and I really can’t wait for the Mumbai metro to become operational.
In a similar vein, I think the government’s proposal to put an additional tax of 20 per cent on private cars, along with a green tax of 4 per cent of the insured value (and a green surcharge of Rs 2 per litre on petrol) is, in principal, a good one. I know, it sounds strange coming from an auto journalist, but I really am of the opinion that buying and running private vehicles should be made more expensive, so that people think a little more before going out and putting yet another vehicle on our already clogged roads. I’m also all for introducing a congestion charge in big cities as well, like they have in London, and for taking away subsidies on fuel. As I said, in principal, and in an ideal situation, the money thus collected (the figure is of the order of Rs 40,000 crore per annum) would go towards building bigger and more efficient public transportation systems, so that at least a partial effort could be made towards lessening traffic congestion and bringing down noise and air pollution levels. It’s been proven time and again that the solution to road congestion levels is not to build more roads and flyovers (as we so love to do in our country), but to improve public transportation systems.
The real question, however, is if this can actually be done in our country. Buying a vehicle here is not simply just a question of convenience, it’s a matter of prestige – when you reach a certain income level, you simply have to have a vehicle of your own, even if you don’t strictly need one. Changing that mindset is not going to be an overnight process, and the government will have to demonstrate, in a very concrete manner, that an efficient public transport system is a viable option for such a person. There is also the question of whether the government is capable of pulling off this feat – Rs 40,000 crore is an awful lot of crore, and as we all know, once figures like that travel up the governmental food chain, they tend to mysteriously keep dropping zeroes.
Nevertheless, I can only hope – and thus I hope that sooner, rather than when I’m nearing retirement age, I can give up using private transport altogether and rely on a clean and efficient system of public transportation to get me where I want to go.
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