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 as bursting 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.