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To tax or not to tax in Mumbai

india Updated: Jun 12, 2009 01:33 IST
Ketaki Ghoge

The Bombay High Court may have asked the government to consider implementing the Traffic Restraint Scheme (TRS) to ease the congestion on the city’s roads. But politicians and bureaucrats alike say it’s not so simple.

They say it would be unfair to levy a congestion tax or impose restrictions on private vehicles, mostly cars, without improving the public transport system first.

Much of their reluctance stems from a fear of public backlash and logistical challenges in handling such a system.

For instance, the transport department does not have computerised data on all vehicle registrations or licence plates, making monitoring and penalising that much more difficult in a city that had 5.5 lakh light motor vehicles (read cars and SUVs) in 2007-08 with the number growing by the hundreds every day.

And that’s in Mumbai alone — Thane and Navi Mumbai have several lakh more cars, many of are used to commute daily to the office complexes at Nariman Point, Worli, Parel and Bandra-Kurla Complex.
Transport Secretary C S Sangitrao said, “The high court suggestion is to the BMC and traffic police. They will sit together and see if any such scheme is possible.’’

“We are not considering any kind of congestion control measures for the city. Our focus is on strengthening public transport infrastructure,” admitted U P S Madan, project director of the Mumbai Transportation Support Unit (MTSU), think tank for the Mumbai makeover.

Officials said the time to implement a congestion charge would come in the next four-five years once the Metro and Monorail corridors and the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) were in place.

In 2007, the state had planned its own version of the congestion fee by making motorists pay a premium for using the JJ flyover, Bandra-Worli sea link and the upcoming Nhava-Sewri transharbour link.

Mumbai-based company Mastek, which had designed much of the congestion control system in London, was asked to prepare a proposal. This was submitted a year back but remains on the backburner.

“London has a first class underground system that even the mayor uses. In Mumbai, unless we have first class, fast public transportation alternatives, any kind of restriction or penalising would be unfair,’’ said Narinder Nayr, vice-chairman of the Citizen Action Group (CAG), set up by the state to help transform Mumbai into a world class city.

CAG had considered pressing the government to adopt the concept of a congestion tax and then abandoned it.

City authorities across the globe have been cautious in implementing this charge owing to public pressure.

Ken Livingstone as London Mayor had introduced a congestion charge aimed at reducing traffic and pollution levels. Stockholm and Oslo followed suit, while Paris set up its own traffic restraint system by encouraging special bicycle and bus lanes.

In New York, the mayor’s decision to have a congestion charge was slammed by the state assembly and the issue is not still resolved. And Singapore has perhaps the most stringent strategy to discourage car ownership.

Additional Municipal Commissioner, BMC, R A Rajiv said he was yet to get the court order and would comment only after studying it.