Mumbai: Delhi is gearing up for its car-free day on January 22. In the Mumbai-Delhi battle, Delhi is ahead in the car-free experiment. With it, Delhi has joined the international trend of cities encouraging car-free days or zones.
Among international cities, Mumbai is ducking the trend in car usage and mobility. Cities are experimenting with ways to reduce the number of cars on their streets in a meaningful manner — not merely as a Sunday-morning-leisure pursuit — to discourage ownership and use of cars that clog city’s streets.
Paris enforced its first-ever car-free day on September 27 when cars were banned from certain parts of the city including around the Eiffel Tower. The city saw a drop of 40% in nitrogen dioxide, the chemical responsible for smog and respiratory ailments. In Philadelphia, United States, streets were car-free for two days during the Pope’s visit.
New York has had its taste of car-free areas. London and Singapore impose heavy congestion charges and ownership restrictions to limit the use of cars. Jakarta, Bogota and Copenhagen have played around with the concept in different ways and have partly succeeded. Driving personal cars from urban city centres is, now, quite the trend in European cities.
The new school of thought is that cities are nicer without cars zooming around or being stuck in traffic. Mumbai is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Its official planners and government agencies are drawing up mega projects likely to increase car ownership and use.
A five-kilometre drive, that used to take around 20 minutes during peak time a decade ago, now takes twice that. Tail lights of cars stuck bumper-to-bumper on the Western Express Highway, among other arterial roads, is a daily phenomenon. The network of flyovers constructed in the last decade hardly made a difference to mobility on roads.
At the last count in 2014, there were more than 25 lakh vehicles on the city’s roads, according to regional transport offices (RTO). RTO figures show the total number of vehicles had increased by 55% between 2007 and 2014.
In the motorisation of Mumbai, the pattern of car ownership and its share in the city’s transport deserves special attention. Two-wheelers and cars comprise nearly 85% of the city’s total vehicles but account for only 13% of the total trips. Of this, only 5% of are made by cars, according to a state government report in 2013. Suburban local trains account for 52% of the total trips and buses 26%.
It is time Mumbai’s government evolves a well-deliberated policy on multi-modal transport which regulates car ownership and use. A number of regulatory measures are available: parking restrictions, congestion tax, determining per family ownership of cars, and so on. Strengthening public transport would have to be a key element of this policy.
What would it take for Mumbai to make some of its most congested areas car-free, say once a week?