Bengaluru: Nearly 350k vehicles at a time choked ORR on Wednesday
Traffic congestion in Bengaluru's tech corridor reached unprecedented levels on Wednesday, with traffic snarls stretching up to 3 km. The city's strained infrastructure, escalating vehicle numbers, and large IT workforce contribute to the ongoing congestion issue. Bengaluru has the highest traffic density of any major Indian city, with close to 12.5 million vehicles for a population of 11 million. Proposed solutions, such as a hybrid work model and carpooling, have faced challenges and opposition. The traffic police have proposed measures to companies, including pooled transport options and staggered office timings.
On the crucial tech corridor of Bengaluru, where the average peak-time speed crawls at just 4.4 km per hour, traffic snarls on a busy day can stretch up to 3 km, according to the report by Outer Ring Road Companies Association (ORRCA). The Outer Ring Road (ORR) and its surroundings, home to major tech parks and approximately a million IT employees, witnessed unprecedented traffic congestion on Wednesday, leaving commuters highly frustrated.
According to the Bengaluru traffic police department, several factors contributed to this traffic nightmare. The vehicular traffic on Wednesday was twice the normal for a regular day. Typically, Wednesdays see a vehicle count of 150,000 to 200,000. However, on September 27, the number of vehicles on the road surged to a staggering 350,000 by 7.30 pm.
Although the traffic department deemed Wednesday’s congestion an exception, concerns persist due to the city’s strained infrastructure, escalating vehicle numbers, and a large IT workforce. Due to this, another traffic snarl similar to the one witnessed on Wednesday cannot be ruled out.
Bengaluru has highest traffic density for any major city in the country. A city with population of 11 million, Bengaluru has close to 12.5 million vehicles, which means a vehicle for every person living in the city. Bengaluru was ranked the world’s second most traffic congested city in the world after London, according to Dutch location technology specialist Tom Tom. On average it takes 29 minutes and 10 seconds to cover a distance of 10 km in Bengaluru in Central Business District (CBD) area as compared to 36 minutes and 10 seconds to cover same distance in London. And the city’s Tech Corridor is considered most congested traffic route.
The Tech Corridor
The Outer Ring Road, especially the 13-km segment between Central Silk Board and KR Puram, houses a significant portion of Bengaluru’s IT companies. More than 500 companies in this tech corridor employ around 950,000 individuals, the ORRCA report said, adding that these employees use 350,000 vehicles, contributing to the congestion.
MN Anuchet, the joint commissioner of police traffic, pointed out, “If all these 3.5 lakh [350,000] vehicles hit the road at the same time, as happened on Wednesday, the road’s capacity is overwhelmed. The concerned stretch can handle 25,000 vehicles per hour on a regular day. However, we typically see over 35,000 vehicles per hour, far exceeding its capacity.”
Another senior traffic police officer, requesting anonymity, expressed concerns about the road’s condition, citing numerous potholes that significantly reduce speed. “Ongoing Metro construction work has exacerbated congestion issues by reducing the road width by 4.5 meters on both sides. During the rainy season, this stretch is prone to flooding. Moreover, the absence of parallel roads for traffic diversion compounds the problem,” he said.
The reason behind the absence of parallel roads is the original purpose of the ORR, which was meant to be an outer ring road connecting major highways and facilitating the movement of heavy vehicles, including trucks, without entering the city. However, the tech corridor’s development led to the absorption of the ORR into the city’s infrastructure.
Proposed But Unimplemented Solutions
After the Covid-19-led lockdown was lifted, proposals were made to adopt a hybrid work model to alleviate traffic congestion. Civic expert V Ravichandar suggested a “5 km city concept,” promoting a work-from-home culture where people can live and work within a 5 km radius. However, companies gradually recalled employees to the office for at least three days a week, despite suggestions for increased work-from-home options.
In September 2021, the Karnataka government ordered tech parks along the ORR to extend their work-from-home policies to mitigate traffic congestion due to Metro construction work. However, this advisory was later withdrawn following public outrage.
Krishna Gowda of ORRCA stated that companies are not inclined to implement complete work-from-home policies. “The businesses can’t operate based on traffic but based on market. And if the company processes, which are there to ensure quality and other aspects have to be compromised because of traffic, it would be a shame,” he said.
Joint commissioner Anuchet revealed that the traffic police have proposed changes to companies, including providing pooled transport options like company buses and shuttle services and implementing staggered office timings to reduce peak-hour pressure. He added, “Prior to the pandemic, carpooling and the use of company buses were fairly common, but this has decreased significantly.”
Carpooling hailed as a solution to traffic congestion and cost-saving, faces staunch opposition from the transport department itself. Specifically, mobile apps facilitating carpooling, such as Quick Ride and others, have come under scrutiny, with the transport department threatening legal consequences, including a hefty fine of ₹10,000, claiming that using private vehicles for commercial purposes is illegal.
Mallikarjun C, the additional commissioner (enforcement) of the transport department, said that those participating in carpooling through these apps could face penalties ranging from ₹5,000 to ₹10,000, along with a six-month suspension of their vehicle’s registration certificate (RC).
“The carpooling apps are in violation of regulations as they aggregate private cars for commercial use. The department has received complaints from taxi driver unions, prompting Regional Transport Offices to take action against these apps,” he said.
“It is unfortunate,” joint commissioner traffic responding to the transport department order. However, a senior transport department official clarified that action would only be taken against those “using these apps but not carpooling outside these apps.”