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If our urban transport crisis is getting worse it is not difficult to see why. Look what is happening in Varanasi town in Prime Minister Modi’s constituency. A move is a foot at a high level to introduce ropeways in the ancient town in collaboration with an Austrian company. An absurdly expensive and technologically inappropriate solution when all you need are simple, inexpensive solutions without any need for technology.

And such callousness is visible in policy making every where.

The project is being justified on the ground that it will be a little cheaper than a Metro. The Metro is clearly very expensive.So,why make such false comparisons ? A lesser folly cannot be justified by saying that it is less expensive. Bus is an easy solution but it is not sexy, does not fetch votes, cannot be used to fool voters.

The authorities are simply not interested in providing simple solutions. I attended a seminar on urban transport pollution at Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai last Saturday organised by Mumbai First, an organisation of private corporates, and the state pollution control board last Saturday.

As I came out and reached the Museum, a major tourist hub, I could see that for a long time not a single BEST bus was visible on the prime arterial road.. Taxies were blocking bus stops and picking up passengers for Churchgate station on a sharing basis. A clear violation of rules and this was happening very close to the BEST bus headquarters. And this was minutes after a presentation by the BEST general manager Surendrakumar Bagade at the seminar.

The new municipal commissioner Praveen Pardeshi fortunately is strongly in favour of reviving the BEST which had been starved of funds and driven into a crisis during the regime of his predecessor Ajoy Mehta. Mr Pardeshi has now initiated a dialogue with the union and hopefully will regularly consult citizens who have much more sensible solutions to offer than can come from bureaucrats and planners who may be influenced by vested interests.

At the seminar a representative of Tata Power company made a presentation about car pooling in the company. The experiment had proved successful. It had effected a lot of saving plus people travelling together helps promote sociability and bonding.

Those with the best performance in car pooling are being hailed as Green heroes. Now, look at public transport users. They are also doing a great service to society and on a much larger scale than the car poolers as public transport saves fuel, reduces pollution and the oil import bill and road congestion.

They should be hailed as heroes. Yet, our system treats them brutally while rewarding the worst polluter and congester, the motor car user. Maharashtra’s urban development secretary Nitin Kareer has done well to ask corporates to conduct a study of the transport use pattern of employees so that steps can be taken to promote use of public transport and reduce private vehicle use. Observers would say the government should start from its own offices. Ministers and top bureaucrats must first set an example, resort to car pooling and using public transport. It is time to stop flaunting the car.

The chairman of the pollution board Sudhir Srivastava gave an interesting example. When we eat some contaminated food there is every chance and way to throw it out of the system through the bowel movement or other means. But when we breathe foul air, the damaging particles are lodged permanently in our body. They cannot be expelled. That makes a strong case for public transport as it reduces pollutants and discourage polluting cars.

The government is doing exactly the opposite, promoting car use. It is shamefully responsible for the decline of public transport through its promoting first of automobile manufacturing and then giving incentives instead of disincentives for car use.

The government’s unhealthy obsession now with Metro rail is going to create serious problems in the coming days though it is trumpeting that it will reduce problems. The government knows that not many people are going to use the Metro as the fare will be high . So all efforts are being directed at using bus transport to feed Metro stations and attract passengers with free rides.. A seemingly good measure, but it will mean other areas will be starved of buses.

Vijayalakshmi, director of transport, MMRDA, claimed that in the next few years with Metro rail the share of public transport will increase and car use will decrease. But observers are not so optimistic because the government still clearly favours the automobile and builder lobby. The extreme callousness of the government and planners towards the needs of common people is clear from the absence of footpaths in most parts of urban areas.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking democratisation of street life


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