Bengaluru zooms on information highway but stands still on clogged roads

The Royal Challengers Bengaluru was playing at the Chinnaswamy stadium on Wednesday. Naturally all roads led to the stadium and anybody who had anything other than cricket on their mind had to battle road rage, park their vehicles willy-nilly and walk through potholes, dug up roads, muck and air pollution to reach their destination.

A packed Bengaluru road. AFP

A packed Bengaluru road. AFP

Facebook and Twitter were abuzz with frustrated posts from Bengalureans.

Raji Radhakrishna

This is a first .. I parked my car in some road on the way, got down & just walked to my destination !!.... And all because of horrible traffic .. Ok it's not new .. But today was the worst ... Started from home at 530 .. Richmond road was chockablock.. Police said go via st. Joseph's school .. Reached st marks road .. Major jam .. At Vittal Mallya road .. Police diverted me back to residency road .. Stranded at cash pharmacy junction for 1/2 hour… Saw a parking lot in convent road .. Parked, got down walked to Blore club .. Totally 1 hour 45 mins .. It took to reach the club from my house .. Distance not even 1 & 1/2 km .. So traumatised .. !! What's happening guys !!!

This post on Facebook kind of summarises the high level of frustration Bengalureans face on a daily basis, cricket or no cricket. What else would you expect when there are over 61 lakh vehicles on the road in the city and about 1000 vehicles are added every month?

A tongue in cheek tweet on Twitter brought out the humour of being stuck in traffic on a match day:

Harsha @Hramblings

Was Chris #Jordan stuck in #Bengaluru Traffic? Can't fathom any other reason for #Kohli to have not picked him! @RCBTweets @IPL

And it’s not just the Central Business District that is chock-a-block, IT corridors in Electronic city, Whitefield…for that matter any neighbourhood or even an outlying suburb has bumper to bumper traffic. Add to this daily frustrating commute, a stir or a protest, and life on the city roads can become harrowing. The farmers’ stir a couple of months ago blocked traffic in and around Mekri circle, increasing commute time for school children and office-goers from two to four hours. Just as did the garment stir on Hosur Road last month trapping employees of companies in IT companies in Electronic City for four to five hours in traffic jams.

There is a joke going around in Bengaluru that “all hours are peak hours.” A much forwarded message doing the rounds in WhatsApp is, “In India we drive on the left of the road. In Bangalore, we drive on what is left of the road.”

I try to beat traffic jams by using the time to catch up with my daughter in San Francisco. So do others apparently, while some others use humour to beat their blues.

Shwe @mrslazybones

One can complete a phone call, texting and switching songs from a playlist in #Bengaluru s traffic signal. Sigh!

bengaluruITguy @bengaluruITguy

#Bengaluru has as many pot holes as Software Engineers... Both play equal parts in keeping our #Traffic in chaos.

However everyone in the city is not amused with the traffic situation. Bangalore Mirror reported in November last year, about frustrated residents and office-goers, who led a protest march in Whitefield against bad road conditions and traffic trouble. “Save Whitefield", "No road, no tax", the residents threatened.

So, what is the main cause of the traffic situation in Bengaluru?

The website of RTO Karnataka lists in all, 61,08,936 vehicles plying in Bengaluru Metropolitan city as of March 2016. Non-transport vehicles number 55.11 lakh, of which 42.20 lakh are two-wheelers and 11.9 lakh are cars. Then, there are the transport vehicles of all sizes and shapes totaling 5.98 lakh. Of these taxis number 1.09 lakh and three-wheelers, many of which are auto rickshaws, number 42,000. Not to forget the Big 10, AC Volvos and other buses run by Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) and corporates numbering over 40,000. Every year the RTO adds about five lakh vehicles, in March 2015 it was 55.59 lakh vehicles, while in March 2014 it was 50.50 lakh.

Bengaluru, not only has the highest density of two-wheelers in the country, it is also just behind Delhi, which leads in the number of vehicles plying on its roads. So, don’t be surprised if the odd-even rule comes to the city too. Delhi has a fully functional metro service carrying nearly 3 million passengers every day, but Bengaluru has just begun one section of the metro service in the east-west corridor, carrying one lakh commuters a day. The very fact that the metro service has already taken off so quickly in the IT capital, shows how eagerly frustrated commuters were waiting for other viable commute options.

The Hindu reports that in 2014, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), after being pulled up by the High Court of Karnataka over checking pollution in the city, directed the transport department to restrict registration of new vehicles in Bengaluru until noise levels and air quality standards were met. The transport department said, that it was thinking of levying congestion tax on purchase of more than one vehicle.

But this is easier said than done, for the RTOs stand to lose revenue that it gets with every new registration of a vehicle. The transport department is one of the largest revenue earning departments in the state, so it would be like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

One ways, flyovers, underpasses, express highways and widening of roads are constantly being offered as solutions to Bengaluru’s traffic problems. But, unless there is a freeze on new vehicles being added every day, all these solutions end up being short term ones. Soon these flyovers, express highways, also see bumper to bumper traffic during peak hours. Freeing one bottleneck just creates another, as the number of vehicles continues to increase.

Many companies actively encourage car-pooling and even offer privileged car parking space on the ground floor of their parking lot. They also hold regular events like “Bus Day” along with the BMTC to encourage their employees to use the bus instead of their own cars to come to the office. However, while these events help in creating a one off novelty, commuters go back to their sedans and saloons the next day.

So, the onus is on the Bengaluru Traffic Police, which faces the daily challenge of managing traffic snarls on the city roads. The BTP manages traffic with some of the latest technology. It has a smartphone app that can be downloaded on your phone, which will give you detailed traffic updates, congestion and roads that have less traffic. BTP has interceptor vehicles, and the cops have been given Blackberrys which helps them to accost and fine defaulters for jumping a traffic signal, speeding etc in real time. The department also has a dynamic BTP Facebook page and BTP Twitter handle, where regular updates are given on traffic snarls.

Whether New York, London, Singapore or Delhi or Bengaluru, the problems of these urban metropolises are quite similar. Growing economic status and disposable incomes, mean an average upper middle class family, like in Bengaluru, has 2.5 vehicles between them, two cars and one two wheeler to go to the kirana store around the corner or navigate through congested roads.

Last month, Strait Times reported from California that the Federal Transportation Department had announced a partnership with Sidewalk Labs, a unit of Alphabet, the conglomerate that owns Google, to funnel transit data to city officials in hopes of making traffic more bearable and figuring out newer, smarter ways of moving people and goods around the country's urban areas. This came about, as officials found that cab aggregator companies knew more about traffic snarls with their mapping technology.

Singapore has found innovative ways to reduce the traffic congestion by imposing taxes on vehicle ownership. This has acted as a deterrent to owning private cars. A similar idea has been tried by China in Shanghai and Beijing. Levying high parking charges in the inner city has been New York’s way, with parking fee being around $50 and more.

Finally, to wind up, with a tweet:

Updated Date: May 13, 2016 16:31 PM

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