Modern technology may hold the key to resolve Delhi’s traffic & pollution problems

  • Rajiv Makhni
  • Updated: Jan 09, 2016 21:40 IST
Driven to succeed: Half our traffic woes would be solved if we used technology to chart our courses.

Dear CM ji,

To make sure we don’t get off on the wrong foot, let me start by congratulating you on the odd-even four-wheeler scheme in Delhi. It wasn’t going to solve the problem, its success was based on too many ifs and buts and by compromising on some vote bank-style allowances to two wheelers. It was effectively over even before it started. But at least you did something.

You brought a very dangerous situation to the forefront of every newspaper and TV channel and on top of every citizen’s mind. Apart from pollution-related issues, urban traffic congestion is easily one of the most important problems affecting our quality of life, leading to high stress, elevated blood pressure, eye-pupil dilation and road rage.

The toxic fumes in Delhi don’t need temporary trial-and-error style solutions. They need definitive ones that are put into place permanently and will effectively take us into safe zone AQI (Air Quality Index) immediately. That is where technology can play the saviour. Here then is my programme to make Delhi’s air safe to breathe.

Corporate Car Pooling by Law

Yes, it is not going to go down well, but this takes 30 per cent of vehicles off the road in one shot. Make it compulsory for all companies with a strength of more than 100, to commute to and from the workplace in a four-wheeler with a minimum of three people and on a two-wheeler with a minimum of two. Carpooling for offices is easy as everyone knows each other and is already going to the same destination. Make it a corporate responsibility to set up an app that makes the carpooling system easy.

Stagger Work timings

Ninety per cent of all roads are uncongested 90 per cent of the time. You need to solve just 10 per cent of the problem. And most of it will come down to rush hour that starts off a ripple effect and gridlocks the entire city. Get rid of that hour. Rotate office timings in each area by 30 minutes. Make sure each government and private office within each area has staggered office opening hours between 8am and 11am. Thus no area gets more than 15 per cent of the total working population trying to get there at the same time.

Introduce Congestion Tax

It is the magic pill for any city. Yet it is a tough one to swallow because of the lack of political will. There is also a concern that creating congestion tax areas will create more jams due to toll booth snarl-ups. Designate certain areas of the city into zones where you pay a high entry fee at certain hours. That fee is automatically taken from a special mobile phone app (we are a nation of prepaid mobile phones, this is way easier). If you want to enter the area, pay with the app. Make parking in those areas really expensive too.

Improve Road Surfaces

Yes, Delhi roads are the widest. They are also the most crater ridden. We have one of the worst records for the span of time a road lasts from having a surface and turning into mush. New technologies such as completely plastic roads (pre-fabricated, with all cables and wires running under them) and solar roads (roads with tough glass-covered solar panels) may well be a few years away – but we already have new technologies where polymers and other additives can guarantee roads that last at least three times more. It’s a scientific fact that most traffic jams happen on bad road surfaces.

Make public transport useful

The BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System) may have ended in a disaster but there are still some learnings. Brazil has got a new fleet of 92-foot-long buses. These are literally like having a Metro on the road. Identify areas with heavy public transport, marry those with areas that have a straight path route, and use these with double direction driving technology (no U-turn necessary for the return journey). Each of these can do the job of five buses and can create a second Metro on the road.

Use Current Technology

I don’t leave my house without consulting Google maps with Live Traffic. Let’s get every citizen educated about how to use such technology so that everyone plans their routes better. Let’s also take that to the next level. Convert those small countdown timers at each traffic signal into ‘Large Information Screens’ that give actual traffic updates, gridlock points, guidance to better routes, what speed to drive at to get to the next intersection and catch a green light.

The Time is Now

This needs political will. Otherwise every Delhi citizen suffering from serious lung problems a year from now may come up to you and remind you that “AAP toh aise na thay”.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, January 10, 2016

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