Can’t tom-tom traffic situation if there’s no quality
I am always apprehensive about how Mumbai will fare in global surveys – infra, pollution, crime, education et al – because the track record in recent times has been rather poor. The Tom Tom Traffic Index for 2019 released a couple of days ago, and which provides the “detailed insights on live and historic road congestions details’’ has therefore come as relief: Mumbai has slipped from no 1 to no. 4 as the world’s most congested city.
Unlike rankings for cricket teams and players that the ICC puts out periodically, some global surveys are to be read inversely – lower ranking implies higher performance. Mumbai has happily been toppled from an undesirable pole position. Of course, being no 4 is still a cause for concern. The Tom Tom Traffic Index covers 416 cities from 57 countries, and is therefore, not completely exhaustive, some may argue. Yet the sample size is large enough to include almost every major city in the world. So the frame of reference is still unkind to Mumbai.
I would have made a brouhaha of even a pyrrhic victory because Mumbai otherwise gets hammered on so many counts. But on a wider scale, this is no panacea, as three other Indian cities too feature among the top 10 in traffic congestion. That Mumbai (no 1) and Delhi (no 8) should be in this cluster is not entirely unexpected.
What is surprising is that Bengaluru, once considered India’s most liveable city for its ease of commute as much as its salubrious climes, is now ranked no 1. And at no 5 comes Pune, another city that a couple of decades ago was renowned more for its Osho connection, schools and colleges, and laid back, unhurried lifestyle where most shops shut down at 1pm for owners to have lunch and a siesta before reopening at 4pm.
Both Bengaluru (originally) and Pune (recently) have become IT hubs. This has obviously impacted their population, demographics, culture etc, and would find reflection in surveys on sundry issues, particularly on daily commuting. But their traffic problems show lack of learning from Mumbai and Delhi, as well as lack of will to address the issue. Sadly this is symptomatic of virtually every city in India where traffic congestion is becoming the bane of unplanned growth. In that sense, it’s a national crisis.
Coming back to Mumbai, and highlighting the peak hour movement, the Tom Tom Index tells us that what should be a half hour drive in the mornings takes 24 minutes more, and in the evenings gets longer by 31 minutes. I’ll leave you to do the math of what this means in terms of the extra time spent in commuting in a year for Mumbaiites. In real terms, say if you are going from Nariman Point to the domestic airport, unless you have budgeted for an extra hour than what the distance should normally take, you are most likely to miss your flight!
Of course, finding logistical solutions to traffic problems is not easy. It is dependent on several other factors than just ‘too many cars’. The length and quality of roads, the quality of vehicles, the easy availability of driving licenses which reduces quality of drivers, all of which put a huge load on quality traffic management.
In case you’ve missed it, the emphasis has to be on ‘quality’ and this can only come from `accountability’ -- including from citizens where relevant -- in all these aspects. That’s what has been sadly lacking, leading to so much hardship for Mumbaiites, not to mention dubious mention in the Tom Tom Traffic Index.