Abhishek Mishra on Indian Public Transport

Posted by abhishek at 04:33 am on Monday August 27, 2012

Because I love motorcars and motorbikes, I don’t root for the automobile industry. It’s a little difficult to justify this, given that most people automatically assume the exact opposite. And that is understandable. So let me try and explain why I believe the sale of more than two-and-a-half million cars last year is not the best thing for a country like India.

Selling millions of vehicles in India may be good for the automobile industry. It may be even better for the millions of people it employs directly and indirectly. And because they sell millions of vehicles, consumers like us are spoilt for choice when it comes to buying vehicles.

But it’s also important to learn from the mistakes the ‘developed’ countries made by promoting personal vehicle ownership and neglecting public transport over many decades. From conspiracy theorists to eco-terrorists, everyone has a hypothesis on what went wrong. On one Internet forum on the subject, a reader reasoned that when the inherently sprawling infrastructure for personal vehicles is built, that infrastructure makes automobile ownership a necessity. This is plain to see even in a city like Mumbai, where the numerous flyovers are of no benefit to those using public transport.

For cities, most urban planners agree that the future will rely on some form of mass transit systems ferrying large numbers of people. Rapid transport systems – including underground and elevated railways and buses – will be the only way forward.

Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, and Bangalore already have rapid transport systems. The Delhi Metro project’s contribution in reducing the city’s pollution levels by 6.3 lakh tonnes annually has even been recognised by the United Nations. Sure the CWG hoopla was the primary motivation behind the project. And a prominent politician had to spend nine months in jail. But that’s a small price to pay. If politicians have to be jailed for nine months for a good mass transit system to be born, I’m sure they’d happily make the sacrifice… like a proud mother.

But more than any of these, there are three pertinent reasons to encourage good public transport. First, true automobile enthusiasts don’t buy beautiful fast cars with the aim of getting stuck in rush-hour traffic. But with a majority of buyers using their cars to be driven to work and back, that’s what petrol-heads have to endure.

Using personal vehicles for the daily commute is a waste of precious road space and fuel. With dwindling fossil fuel resources, we should do everything it takes to ensure that petrol is spent on the best cars in the world. People should realise that there is no ‘status’ attached to the ridiculous act of being driven around in some 22kpl eco-hatchback or a boring 14kpl sedan.

Second, large tracts of land in front of wonderful architectural masterpieces have been turned into giant car parks. Even spacious city streets, beautiful and empty until even two decades ago, are now littered with ugly cars and bikes on either side. If you’re going to squat on public space, at least do it with cars that represent the pinnacle of automotive design and engineering. You know, like an Alfa Romeo or a Lamborghini.

Finally, the more cars we put on the road, the more bad drivers we put on the road. Since no one has really bothered overhauling the country’s stupid licensing norms, we’ll be adding more dangerous drivers on our already dangerous roads. I’m not blaming the automobile industry for the pathetic state of road safety in this country of course, especially since so many manufacturers do conduct/sponsor safety initiatives. But expecting such initiatives to make our roads safer would be like expecting ‘Drink Responsibly’ billboards to stop alcoholism.

So, hoping and dreaming of a Utopia that may never be, I hope people get good public transport systems. And they use them as much as possible. That way, serious motoring enthusiasts can at least have fun with the best that the automobile industry has to offer.

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