“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” – Petro Gustavo, Mayor of Bogota.
On the 1st of November, 2012, Pune geared up to celebrate Pune Bus Day.
For Pune, a city of not infrequent attempts by the citizens at activism, this has been a unique experiment. Sure, there were always the “Green-Day” celebrations at college, where everyone would not use bikes and walk to college. But a city-wide decision to not use private vehicles and use the public transport instead (with the initiative taken by a leading Daily)? Now that’s a first. Although the experiment enjoyed limited success – indeed, it was a failure in several pockets of the city – the initiative was a welcome one.
Let’s put Pune’s traffic scene in perspective here. Pune is a major industrial and tertiary sector center, and one of India’s fastest growing metropolises. Several major software companies, global auto-giants and manufactures are located here. This has translated into an exponentially rising middle class – a middle class that needs and owns lots of vehicles.
Currently, there are 33 lakh vehicles in Pune; daily 730 new vehicles, or 22,000 per month, pour on to the limited 2,000-km long road network. There are 23 lakh two-wheelers, around eight lakh four-wheelers, and the rest includes 70,000 autorickshaws and other types of vehicles, as per Pune Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Vishwas Pandhre.
Issues in Pune’s transport systems
As we all know far too well, Pune’s traffic is a nightmare. The state of the roads is terrible. There are no intra-city special routes for road traffic, like Delhi’s ring road or Mumbai’s Sea Link. The BRT link built near Swargate is a joke that often ends up further complicating traffic jams instead of solving them.
Adding to this is the absence of a good public transport system. Check any bus on any evening, and you’ll find people spilling out of the PMPNL buses. Pune’s locals run once almost every 45 minutes – a far cry from local trains or metros enjoyed by Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad or Bangalore. The local network provides hardly any connectivity, and does not extend beyond areas adjacent to the old Mumbai-Pune highway. Ambitious projects like the Metro-Monorail, or using the river as a transit route disappeared without a trace.
Road transport, specifically, is further complicated by the stubbornness of Punekars (something that we pride ourselves on). While we sign tons of petitions asking for reversal of decisions that make the use of helmets compulsory, we fail to park our vehicles behind the zebra crossing, or use it to cross the road when on foot, or follow lane discipline. Haven’t most of us have used the footpaths to cut through traffic when on our bikes? I know I have. This lack of driving discipline makes our traffic jams difficult to solve and our roads more dangerous.
The Performance of Pune Bus Day
The purpose of the PBD has been two-pronged – one, to make a statement about the state of Pune’s transport situation; and two, to show that we are capable of making such a statement.
The fact that the PBD was a symbolic gesture, more than a sustainable solution was well-defined from the beginning. What the PBD aimed at was create awareness about public transport, and credit should be given to it for that. Indeed, many people “saw the inside of a bus for the first time in their lives”, to quote a leading Daily. The PBD was also an experiment in communication between various economic classes – people who “have” vehicles experienced a day in the lives of those who “have not” vehicles.
However, the way in which the PBD was executed was a huge drain on resources. Almost 200 new buses were added to the PMPNL’s existing fleet for the day. However, reports now show that a lot of these buses were empty for a large part of the day – thus leading to losses being incurred by the operators. A bus conductor reported that while his daily earnings was Rs. 1000/-, the total money collected by the bus throughout the day hardly amounted to Rs. 1,300/-; and this on a busy route.
The usual solutions given for solving traffic problems consist of, inter alia, using bicycles or walking. This helps protect the environment, develops good health and reduces pressure on the road network. However, this can work only for small and medium distances. In any city, where people regularly travel at least 10 km to their workplaces, people cannot be expected to travel these distances on foot or by bicycles.
Another solution that can be used is car pooling. Students and professionals residing in one locality can use a common vehicle to commute to their destination. It is seen that car pooling is used quite frequently. This should be further encouraged.
However, the most sustainable and vital component element of solving traffic and transportation problem is development of public transport services. The reasons why public transport fails are usually lack of connectivity and lack of flexibility. If a citizen cannot get from where (s)he wants to where (s)he wants to, at the time of their convenience, they cannot be expected to use public transport instead of private transport. Furthermore, the transport services should be reliable – commuters should be able to reach their destination within the stipulated time frame, without worrying about breakdowns or delays.
Therefore, to solve Pune’s traffic worry, what we need is faster transit routes for buses and greater connectivity using locals. Introduction of a monorail will create greater connectivity and open up economic opportunities for people. And here’s another small tip – the next any socio-political group wants to protest, try to not burn buses.