Dear Arvind Ji,
I’m shocked, upset and very hurt! I wrote an open letter to you a few months back, during the first odd-even experiment. I gave you reasons why odd-even wasn’t a solution at all and why trying it again would be a recipe for disaster. I offered simple solutions, all based on current technology. Real solutions that would immediately show benefits and in the long term, would be true game-changers.
Thousands of people forwarded that to you and I sat in anticipation of a phone call from you to make me the Tech Traffic Guru to solve the pollution and congestion crisis in Delhi. The call never came. Again, I’m very shocked, upset and hurt!
The Report Card
You went ahead and odd-evened the city again, pollution levels showed no real decline, traffic and the number of vehicles went up dramatically, jams were as bad as before, fewer people got challaned and yet more cars were out on the roads than the last time and your government claimed it to be a sabotage and a huge conspiracy against you. I’m not the kind of person to say ‘I told you so’, but Arvind Ji, I really did tell you so.
The problem stems from this: It’s a lot to ask of the citizens who voted you in to make such big sacrifices without any tangible benefits. Switching to two-wheelers to take children to school (less safe and exposing them to more pollution), trying out public transport in sweltering heat and even more packed buses (rationing the road without a corresponding increase in public transport), trying alternatives like a taxi (forget about app-based surge pricing, the normal kaali peeli cabs were painting the town red with exorbitant pricing), trying the car-pooling app (only to discover its horrendously poor implementation).
The People Jugaad
People tried, they really did. Eventually, they gave up and went and bought fake CNG stickers (Rs 150), fake reusable stick-on peel-off number plates (Rs 300), hired women drivers (Rs 900 for an eight-hour shift), bought second-hand two-wheelers and cars, used amazing excuses (I’m having a heart attack and driving myself to the hospital) and carried home-made school ID cards in their pocket all day long (just dropped off my child; going to pick them up from the evening class).
No wonder pollution levels were still up (and it really wasn’t because the wind gods were against the Aam Aadmi Party) and traffic was truly terrible (and it really wasn’t the political rivals who brought in cars from all over the country to ply in Delhi for a fortnight).
This is why experimenting a third time with odd-even would be a bad idea, and making it permanent would be a horrendous failure. The people will suffer, Delhi will suffer and you won’t come out of it smelling like a rose.
So what’s the solution? I can imagine you asking. Well, I gave you a blueprint last time with a list of tech-based solutions. I’m going to add a few more now. Let me caution you though, Arvind Ji. Technology can solve all traffic problems – unfortunately most solutions are politically unacceptable. If you read further, you do it at your own peril.
Economics 101 says that the price of commuting in any vehicle should be higher at the places and the times of day when demand and benefit from doing so is greatest. If driving a car into Nehru Place costs five times as much at 10am, than at 11.30am – then it automatically forces people to car-pool, use a bus or reschedule trips to off-peak hours. If this is done with smart sensor-based toll booths, you can effectively raise the price enough to clear any traffic jams at any point in the day. This, along with smart office timings (see my previous letter), can take care of the most serious congestion problem in any city.
A big reason for jams in congested areas is people driving up and down looking for parking space. Most people spend between 11 to 25 minutes looking for an empty spot. Multiply that by thousands of cars doing a Pac-Man and you get the picture.
There are now low-cost (about Rs 700) smart sensors that can be embedded into the parking area surface that alert cars to empty or full parking spaces. An app that can show all this as a parking grid map and one that accepts payment for parking can dramatically change things. I would know exactly where to go and park even before I enter the space.
Parking rates can go up or down depending on time of day and demand. We anyway have some of the cheapest parking in the world and some of the most expensive real estate and without a correlation between the two, any city in the world would come to its knees.
And Many, Many More...
Arvind Ji, there are many more ‘Tech solves Traffic’ solutions I’d like to talk to you about: How GPS-based maps along with real-time traffic status can be in every vehicle on the road at no extra cost, how vehicles can e-talk to each other and make suggestions to drivers on what’s up ahead and alternate routes, how 500 obvious bottlenecks in a city can be the reasons why 80 per cent of the traffic is gridlocked, how tech can open up those bottlenecks in a jiffy, why non-dynamic signal timing is the main reason for terrible congestion, why just adding more public transport and buses without a tech ecosystem around them is a zero sum game with zero benefits and about a dozen more. I’ll wait for a call from you this time to discuss all of them.
I’m a very sensitive and emotional person and hopefully won’t be shocked, upset and hurt for a second time.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, May 1, 2016
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