There are no breaking news at the moment

 

A much bigger fight lies ahead for sensitive citizens after the brutal felling of over 2000 trees under cover of darkness in Aarey colony in Mumbai. The massacre was carried out for the Metro rail project on October 4 and 5.

The Metro project may provide a fast ride when it finally comes up but this may be at the cost of lakhs of commuters using other means of transport like buses . They will be deprived of much easier modes of transport, more convenient to them.

This is not some imaginary fear. Here is the pointer. The authorities have announced that in the coming days BEST buses will be used only as feeder services for Metro and suburban rail stations and will not run on longer distances.

This will deprive lakhs of people of access to BEST buses as they rely on buses for their travel. Mumbai’s new municipal commissioner Praveen Pardeshi has done well to reduce the minimum bus fare from Rs 8 to Rs 5, promised to bring in more buses. This greatly boosted the undertaking which had been on the verge of collapse due to extremely anti-people, anti-public transport policies of the authorities. The government ought to rethink its new proposal.

The drastic reduction of bus services will be be fatal for many, fatal in a real sense because BEST is the lifeline for lakhs of people. Already several routes are closed down.

The Metro authorities may not say so but they are mortally afraid that the Metro service may not get enough riders since Mumbai already has a well-established public transport system with the suburban trains and BEST which carry millions of people daily. The Metro fares will be much higher. So how will the shift take place ? For novelty’s sake there will be a big rush in the initial days.

The railway and bus networks may not be ideal, they have many shortcomings but this does not mean that the Metro should grow at the expense of these vital services.

Extremely dubious claims are being made in the gullible media about the environmental benefits of Metro.A dubious video is also in circulation. It claims that the Metro will for all times and in a jiffy solve Mumbai’s traffic problems. It is endorsed by Amitabh Bachchan, the superstar. Earlier they sold us dreams by building a sealink and flyovers. In the process, they neglected public transport and only made life miserable for every one. Unwittingly, the government admits this with strong visuals.

The film is all about massive traffic jams. Every one is stuck in a jam for such a long time that the rich have enough time to have a party on the road amidst all the chaos.

Mind you there is no reference to the poor being inconvenienced by the jam at all, though they are the main victims. You do not see a single ordinary human being. All you see are cars stuck in a jam and the rich having fun.

The solution then, it is claimed, is the metro railway will solve all the problems and Mumbai can be reached within minutes. There is a constant refrain by a woman representing the rich saying – give back to me my lost time, lost in traffic jams.What about the robbery of time of millions of toiling people that has taken place all these years. And many of them will not be able to afford the Metro fares.

The video is a completely false representation on various counts. The ad says there will be 340 km of metro network. True but it will take years and the network is too spread out to provide easy access. This is unlike London and other cities where there is a dense network of underground or tube rail. In London there is a Metro station every 500 metres

This is far from the case in Mumbai city and the larger region beyond. In Mumbai the proposed Metro stations are too few, too far apart.
One blunder of imposing mass motorization and completely neglecting public transport , a blunder committed by the government, is sought to be corrected by a far from effective technological solution.

It is now being projected as if the government is doing a great job in promoting public transport and tree lovers are enemies of progress, public transport, the society and so on.

The record of both central and state governments in respect of public transport is utterly shameful and is visible to every one. If the government had been in earnest about public transport all these years it would not have tried to dismantle public transport bus networks, especially in Mumbai. The government is singularly responsible for the promotion of the automobile lobby, proliferation of cars which are now choking the cities and the authorities do not know how to get out of the mess they have created.

Having created the mess it is coming up with extremely costly solutions of Metro rail.

It is claimed that Metro will reduce the number of cars on the road as it is expected that motorists will shift to Metro. This has simply not happened in other cities like Delhi and Bangalore. Though both do not have a suburban rail network, unlike Mumbai, the Metro ridership is not very large, it is in fact quite poor in Bangalore , Jaipur and many other cities.

It is claimed that Metro will reduce pollution substantially. This has not happened in Delhi which is now the most polluted city in the world. And it is not as if Metro does not use energy and does not pollute. It uses tonnes of electric energy whose production creates heavy pollution.

I was dismayed by my recent visit to Nagpur, the home town of the Maharashtra chief minister and union transport minister Nitin Gadkari. Bus public transport, a low cost solution, is completely neglected and a Metro railway has been imposed at great expense with very little ridership.
Nagpur is perhaps the only major railway station in the country without any access to public bus transport. This was not the case earlier. No feeder bus routes here. What an irony. Things were not so bad. A long flyover to the station has turned out to be a blunder and is now to be dismantled.

Mr Gadkari has often lauded the organization Transport for London which runs a very efficient public transport system for that city including underground rail, buses and ferries and so on. He has also signed a memorandum of understanding with it for doing similar work in Indian cities.

In this context one must point out this. London has a huge and very closely-knit underground tube system it has an even bigger and more extensive bus system.

I saw the transport system closely in London last month as I walked all over and extensively used the tube railway and bus network for nine days from morning to night.

Mumbai and other cities must learn from London. London buses are not just feeder buses, they run over long distances from one corner of the city to another. That is why the city has managed to vastly reduce the number of cars on the road. Several bus routes are operational all through the night.

Delhi is in a mess because Metro is not accompanied by a big increase in the number of buses. Mumbai will meet the same disaster if does not increase the number of buses. Restricting bus usage upto only Metro stations will be suicidal. Buses are far more flexible than Metro trains.

Even though Metro trains are very efficient in London, it is not easy to use them. One has to walk over long distances. There are elevators but not everywhere. So one has to strenuously walk up and down at some stations.

Buses are far easier to use. Why should citizens be penalized because the government has come up with a new, hugely expensive project. The Metro is being seen as a great sign of technological progress as a sign of modernity. But this is a false image. And we are not interested in images. Politicians want to use these spectacular technological devices for reaping votes, creating false images of progress. But it is better to use simple, cost-effective, user friendly solutions.

It is necessary to listen to Dinesh Mohan, our foremost expert on urban transport. But the government does not want to listen to him as he speaks the truth and wants simple solutions, not hitech costly projects.

He says there is no clear vision among planners, policymakers and transport experts about what will make Indian cities better places to live in as far as mobility and access are concerned. The prevailing mythology is that construction of metro rail systems will somehow solve the problems of the future. A review of urban mass transport systems over the past century shows that metro systems were the obvious choice when relatively inexpensive cars and two-wheelers were not available. With the introduction of efficient buses, computer and information technologies to manage large fleets, and the need to have flexible, medium capacity systems that go close to homes and destinations, bus rapid transit systems with dedicated lanes seem to be the only choice for providing affordable mass transport in our cities. (26 Jan. 2008 Economic and Political Weekly.)

The closure of Metro rail network in Gurgaon because of losses should be a warming for those consistently investing people’s money into grandiose expensive, very avoidable high cost, high tech projects.

It is not difficult to build costly and ultimately useless projects. Experience even in the U.S. shows it is very tough to maintain and run such expensive projects.

The solution lies in low-cost inexpensive solutions in terms of buses and walking facilities and most important of all building cities in such a way that there is minimum need for travel.

And listen to Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner. The Maharashtra government has invested Rs133 crore and given viability gap funding of Rs500 crore to Metro project one.. It owns 26% stake in Mumbai Metro One. Yet the company refuses to answer queries under the Right to Information Act.

The fight put up by Aarey protesters against the felling of trees needs to be carried forward. The way forward lies in creating a more humane public transport system, based on buses, cycling and walking. Motorists too should join the struggle because they will be able to drive comfortably only if we have an efficient public transport system and fewer cars on the road. Metro will have its place but only when it functions in conjunction with other modes of transport.

(Vidydhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking improved public transport and democratization of the urban fabric).


SIGN UP FOR COUNTERCURRENTS DAILY NEWS LETTER


 

Comments are closed.