Our cities can’t be decongested unless private vehicles are taxed more than public transport | opinion | Hindustan Times
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Our cities can’t be decongested unless private vehicles are taxed more than public transport

With the number of cars spiralling in our cities, there is no difference in time taken to travel between peak and non-peak hours, reveals a new study.

opinion Updated: Jul 12, 2017 13:14 IST
A traffic jam seen at  Delhi’s arterial Ring Road. By 2025, India’s car population is set to treble to nearly 35 per 1,000 persons.
A traffic jam seen at Delhi’s arterial Ring Road. By 2025, India’s car population is set to treble to nearly 35 per 1,000 persons. (Sonu Mehta/HT)

With 10 million registered vehicles, rush hour is a round-the-clock phenomenon in the Indian Capital. If you believed that certain times of the day witness less traffic on the roads as commuters might not venture outdoors during those hours, it’s time you re-examined that assumption. Belying the notion that the number of vehicles takes a sharp dip during non-peak hours, a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study reveals that non-peak hours have almost disappeared in Delhi. The study emphasises that in the Capital, there is “virtually no difference in time taken to travel between peak and non-peak hours” since the arterial roads continue to stay choked regardless of the time of the day.

The Capital is not the only city bursting at the seams with too many cars. By 2025, India’s car population is set to treble to nearly 35 per 1,000 persons. Certain Indian cities, including Delhi, Chennai and Coimbatore will have more than 100 cars per 1,000 persons, suggest estimates by The Energy and Resources Institute. The average peak hour speeds in major corridors in Delhi (16 km/hr), Mumbai (16 km/hr) and Kolkata (18 km/hr)  are abysmally poor compared to smaller cities.

Environmentalists and activists have come up with two approaches to fight the menace of traffic congestion in our large cities. The first has to do with scaling up affordable, comfortable and reliable modes of transport such as the Metro and the bus rapid transport system, albeit with last mile connectivity. The second — that is more popular across the globe — is to disincentivise car travel using the pulls and pressures of demand management. For instance, recommends the Centre for Science and Environment, the government should take away all the hidden subsidies for car owners. Parking fees in Indian cities are among the lowest in the world (the median daily parking charge is $1.32 compared to $66 in London), there is no congestion charge for cars hardly pay anything for using roads. Compared to other means of transport, buses, the mainstay of public transport in our cities, end up paying the highest road tax. This tax burden should shift to private vehicles, if we are serious about decongesting our roads.