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Mumbai number 1 for the wrong reasons

Mumbai is the world’s most congested city, according to the TomTom Traffic Index for 2018

mumbai Updated: Jun 21, 2019 01:06 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
According to the index, for Mumbai it means an additional 24 minutes time for a 30-minute journey during peak hours in the morning and 31 minutes extra for a similar trip in the evening!(Representational photo)

Mumbai is the world’s most congested city I discovered to my surprise and chagrin while surfing the Internet in between covering World Cup matches in England. I had been doggedly trying to find out how London, despite its size, population (in summer, tourists descend on the city in millions), and vehicles is still efficiently managed, which led me to the TomTom Traffic Index for 2018.

The name of the research agency caught my eye first. It sounded like a cross between a comic book and video game. Intrigued, I dived into it. The information that popped up grabbed deeper attention. To give a brief background, the TomTom Traffic Index is a rating agency based in Amsterdam which measures vehicular congestion in cities across the world and also offers solutions. Conclusions reached by such studies must, of course, be prefaced with a caveat about the quality of data and how the extrapolations have been done, of which I am no expert. But this was certainly interesting.

I had imagined major Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhao), certainly New York and Los Angeles in US, Paris (France), Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto (Japan), and a handful Asian countries like Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Hong Kong would be at the forefront in this list. But the TomTom Index sent my predictions tospy-turvy.

The highest-ranked (an uncomplimentary distinction!) Chinese city was Chongqing (ranked 18), and the one from the US was Los Angeles (24). Among European countries, three from Russia feature in the top 20: Novosibirk (16), St Petersburg (12), and Moscow region (5). Dublin, capital of Ireland, 10. Astonishingly, megapolises one would expect nearer the top actually come quite low down: London steps in only at 40, Paris 41, and New York, believe it or not, 42!

The top 10 has, apart from Moscow, cities from Asia and Latin America, with Delhi at 4 and Mumbai at 1, with a congestion level of 65 %. (Delhi 58 %. As a frame of reference, London, Paris and New York ranged between 37 and 36%). Whichever way you view the index, we all know about the congestion that afflicts our city, so it can’t be summarily dismissed. Rather, it is compounded by the fact that in 2017 too, Mumbai was in this miserable ‘pole’ position.

It’s important to understand what congestion level percentages imply. According to the index, for Mumbai it means an additional 24 minutes time for a 30-minute journey during peak hours in the morning and 31 minutes extra for a similar trip in the evening!

This is a telling indictment of how the pressure on our roads and the hardship for citizens has been ignored, or rather neglected in Mumbai, and by extension all Indian cities. Congestion is inevitable as a city grows, and with vehicle sales zooming as the economy develops, the challenge to cope with the problem gets that much stiffer. This is only possible if there is both foresight to see how the future will unfold as well as the will to prepare for it.

Cities such as London, Paris and New York have obviously coped better despite greater vehicle density because urban planners have prioritised road expansion and commuter benefits. Mumbai (and other Indian cities) have lacked the same vigour and foresight.

I won’t labour the point since we all know where we stand and what needs to be done. The `island city’ excuses of the past are over. Mumbai today is much more than the stretch from the southern tip of Colaba to the Mahim creek.

The city has grown exponentially in population, length, vehicles, traffic and congestion. Unfortunately, almost every infrastructure plan is about 20 years too late and then 10 years too long in the making. Whether it’s the Metro rail service or the Sealink or the barely-used Monorail or various flyovers, the problem is the same: Lack of time-bound programs, projects half completed or abandoned, or utter ignorance of what the city actually needs.

Without a consolidated transport programme, things will only get worse, and all this, ultimately, reflects apathy towards the citizenry and public money. Unless that mindset changes drastically, Mumbai (and India) will continue to find unflattering mentions in global rankings of various kinds pertaining to quality of life.

First Published: Jun 21, 2019 00:58 IST