As DNA celebrates another successful year of its stint in Bangalore newspaper stands, the city stands on the verge of a turning point. As the city grows, serious challenges that could make or break the city are surfacing. And from the looks of it, citizens are grappling with the problem.
One of these challenges is transportation. There is the much-improved Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) bus service; the Namma Metro work is still in progress; and talks of Mono rail are doing the rounds along with commuter rail that has long been the demand of Bangaloreans. But the fact remains that the focus of the administration remains on building flyovers and expanding roads -- more on movement of vehicles than movement of people or comuters, which is the need of the hour.
However, as Ashwin Prabhu of Embarq puts it, "We will never be able to build our way out of congestion."
"The growth in both ownership and usage of private vehicles will always be faster than that of road capacity, especially at this stage of India's economic development. Therefore, focusing the investments on increasing road capacity will be not only futile, but counter productive to quality of life in the city when negative externalities of vehicular traffic such as congestion, local air pollution and traffic fatalities exist," he says.
In the light of the rapid growth of the city, Ashwin Mahesh, member ABIDe and founder, Mapunity, says that one major problem that the city will be facing is with regard to housing. "Even a middle-income family cannot afford to buy a house in the city anymore, and that means that millions of people are going to be living outside the city and commuting to work. We need to develop work clusters outside the city to lighten this burden," he says, considering that the housing board itself hasn't done much in the years.
"What we need today is a paradigm shift in our thinking," says TG Seetharam, head, Centre for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transport and Urban Planning (CiSTUP), IISc. "The growth of cities is so fast and so big that they are putting a huge strain on the existing infrastructure. However, most of the attempts that are made to clear congestion are only temporary considering the exponential growth in number of vehicles in Bangalore. We need to stop aping the West in our solutions for congestion and ensure that the focus is on mobility, besides ensuring that sustainable transportation solutions are accessible to the people," he said.
Apart from investing in public transport rather than private vehicles, Embarq's Prabhu also adds that within public transport, the focus tends to be on cost intensive solutions such as Metro Rail. "While the Metro is very useful as a mode of mass transit, investments for Metro should not crowd out the investment for the true backbone of Public Transport, which is the bus service. This should be the highest priority," he says.
The Bus Rapid Transport System, the concept plan of which is with the Department of Urban Land Transport (DULT), which is awaiting clearance, is the right move in this direction and requires speedy clearance. What is now needed is priority systems for buses on major roads through bus lanes and so on. There has to be more focus on pedestrian facilities and facilities for non- motorised transport too. "This has to be high on the agenda," he says.
While encouraging public transport through investments, what is also required is disincentives for private transport. For instance, Prabhu suggests an annual registraion fee for private vehicles. "This can also be used as an opportunity to test the road worthiness of vehicles and to recapture some of the subsidies given to private transport vehicles for fuel," he says, adding, "The revenue can be pumped into the public transport facilities to improve it."
However, for this to work, public transport in the city should be efficient and reliable -- two things BMTC is yet to achieve.
In the long term, efforts should be taken towards integrating transport and land use planning through statutory documents such as the master plan. "The vision should be of a compact high density city with mixed use neighbourhoods, wherein external trips are served by high quality public transport and internal through non motorised modes," says Prabhu.
According to Ashwin Mahesh, the single most important project that needs fast tracking is the commuter rail. "It was proposed in the 1980s, for God's sake. Ours is the only metro in the country without proper rail connectivity to nearby towns. If we fix this, it will make the lives of two million people better in one go," he says.
However, Mahesh opines that only improving mobility is not enough. "We have to look at housing, and get serious about fixing the shortage. If people don't have decent places to live, everything else will crumble around them."
On the infrastructure front, Mahesh says "We are still building at the pace in which the Egyptians built the pyramids. We need to find ways to build faster. BBMP should get out of infrastrcuture, and BDA should be closed. Instead, we should have a dedicated Bangalore Infra Development Corporation that can bring all the global innovations in construction to the city," he says.
He too emphasises on the need for better pedestrian facilities. "The pedestrian facilities that are being provided in the city are on a very small scale. It has to up-scaled. I am hoping that in the next year at least 20 major roads in the city will have decent pedestrian facilities," he says.
The city already has a number of facilities in place. The Big 10 services, the improving bus services, the Metro, traffic management centre, which was the first in India, the work towards BRTS and so on. However, much more needs to be done.