BIG IDEAS FOR BANGALORE — 4 TRAFFIC & TRANSPORT
Twin-track approach to solve traffic and transport woes
Solutions will come about only when agencies work in tandem, say Ramesh Ramanathan, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and M Laxminarayan
There is a new mobile phone advertisement on TV, where people give out advice at the drop of a hat. One of them shows a group of cricket lovers criticizing the batsman, saying: “Square cut maarna tha, yaar!” Only the real cricketers know how difficult it is, but all Indians are armchair gurus of the sport.
I feel the same way when we talk about city issues, often putting myself in the position of BBMP commissioner or BMTC chairman, and wondering how well I would do. The reality is that these are often good people caught in poor systems and working hard against massive odds.
But there is no escaping the fact that our quality of life is terrible on almost every front: traffic and transportation problems; intractable slum settlements; poor planning resulting in building and zoning violations; poor quality water and sanitation services resulting in health issues; thousands of tons of untreated garbage being dumped every day. Our problems are going from 100mph to 200mph, while the solutions are moving from 10mph to 20mph the gap is only getting wider.
So the question is how do we fix the systems issue, rather than just putting bandaids to treat a disease. Given the limitations of this article, I will focus only on one issue: traffic and transport. It’s a problem that affects all Bangaloreans and will determine our city’s development for years to come.
Footprint of the area
The first thing to get right is the footprint of the area we are talking about: it cannot be the 750 sqkm of the BBMP area alone. We need to take a much bigger canvas, zoom back a little bit like Google Earth, and look at the entire region. Let me provide one example: the international airport is coming up at Devanahalli, which is a village 28 km north of the city. But is this going to have a massive impact on traffic issues over the coming years? Absolutely. Similarly, all mass transport solutions require large capital investments that need to be planned for the entire region, not in a piece-meal fashion.
If we are to take a regional view, what’s the right size? Imagine a map that includes the Greater Bangalore city area, and also encompasses the BIAL Airport in the north, the industrial belt of Peenya and Nelamangala in the West, and the IT and industrial belt that stretches from Athibele in the south to Hoskote to the east. This is called the Bangalore Metropolitan Region (BMR), and is an area of 8,800 sqkm. Coincidentally, it’s around the same size as the metropolitan region of Shanghai in China. Every large city in the world is viewing its urban challenges at a regional level. We should be doing the same.
The second aspect is the institutional structure. What do I mean by this? There are several government agencies involved in one or other aspect of Bangalore’s traffic and transportation issues: BBMP, BMTC for buses, Bangalore Traffic Police, BMRC for the Metro, the RTO for new vehicles, BDA, the National Highways, State PWD, Railways and so on. And I am leaving out many related institutions.
Our solutions to traffic and transport will only come if we have these institutions working together in an organised, integrated manner. While this has been said umpteen times before, the good news is that a thorough report on traffic and transport was placed before the Governor just a month ago, called the RITES report on Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Plan for Bangalore. One of the key recommendations of the RITES report has been implemented by the Government of Karnataka, which is the setting up of the Bangalore Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA) to co-ordinate all transport programmes in Bangalore Metropolitan Region (BMR). BMLTA is exactly the institution that we need to support and strengthen. So, we have the regional view, and the right institutional structure. Now what? Unfortunately, BMLTA is a new organization, with very little technical capacity to
carry out its responsibility. Our bureaucrats are being overwhelmed by the problems, and cannot solve things themselves. They have to necessarily partner with other city stakeholders.
This is in keeping with international good practices. For example, London’s integrated transport authority Transport for London (TfL) includes a diverse mix of politicians, bureaucrats, union representatives, market players and social activists.
We need a public-private initiative to help solve the immediate problems, but in a manner that works with and strengthens BMLTA in the long run. But for this, we also need to organize ourselves outside government, so that we can bring our passion, skills and concerns to bear in the most productive manner. A common platform for city stakeholders has recently been established, called Bangalore City Connect, meant for all those who subscribe to this approach. Floated by the CII and Janaagraha, City Connect has the support of all the industry bodies we have approached. Soon, membership will expand to other organizations like Rotary, NGOs, Resident Welfare Associations, etc.
The Public-Private partnership that we are suggesting is called Bangalore Traffic and Transport Initiative (BTTI), to function in close coordination with BMLTA. BTTI should be a fully empowered body, chaired at the most senior level in government, and bring in concerned and competent voices from the outside: industry, NGO, technical experts and so on. Key opinion leaders in Bangalore are already supporting the idea of BTTI.
How can a platform like BTTI work? Let me offer one example. In the past few months, a group of us at City Connect worked on one specific issue: the connectivity to the upcoming International Airport. The BIAL airport will be ready for operations on March 30, 2008, as per current plans. The road/rail connectivity to the airport is extremely poor and this will create enormous stress on all air passengers business, personal and budget — if the infrastructure issues are not resolved with great urgency.
A number of people from multiple institutions came together over the past several weeks to give their time and skills. Having invested over 6,000 personhours in understanding the problem and studying the various proposals currently with government, we put together a detailed note. In this, we are suggesting a two-track approach to addressing the connectivity issues for BIAL:
Upgrading Existing Rail/Road infrastructure like ROBs, grade separators, road widening/resurfacing, crossing stations etc. City Connect has identified 15 such projects that can be taken up right away on topmost priority; most are already in the RITES report. Envisaged to be completed within 12-18 months, these can be part of a short-term solution to improving BIAL connectivity.
Building new infrastructure like Metro link, expressway etc., in a time-bound manner. These can be part of a long-term solution to improving BIAL connectivity.
The approach suggested for airport connectivity can be extended to other traffic and transportation issues throughout the city. What we need is a BTTI that can work with BMLTA along a 2-track approach of fast-track solutions that can give people the sense that things are really moving, which simultaneously addressing the longer-dated issues.
Examples of fast-track projects are plenty, and many have been written about in this paper:
Improving the design of traffic junctions, changing school timings, enforcing lane discipline, integrating databases of vehicles and drivers so that repeat traffic offenders can be booked, toll-free number for feedback on BMTC drivers, shifting bus shelters to have bus bays, making the complete road width available for traffic movement, etc.
Examples of reform-track projects could be:
Incentivising the creation of multi-storeyed car parking, establishing a state-of-the-art traffic control centre with camera feeds, building a region-wide integrated mass transport system, imposing congestion fees in the central business district, augmenting and building technical capacity in key government agencies, creating a GIS-based spatial data centre for the metropolitan region, and so on.
The specific projects are not so important, what is the key is to get the regional footprint and institutional structure right, and then use public-private energy to drive change. Ideas for projects will naturally emerge from people.
One note of caution: We need to keep the list short, no more than 10 projects in each category. As we implement the first project, we can bring in the 11th project. This way, people can see that things are getting done. All interested stakeholders should be given a chance to engage in a structured, systematic manner, including communities in their neighbourhoods. Slowly, as people see that the changes are visible, they will go from being part of the problem to becoming part of the solution.
Five years ago, when we told people that we need a systematic approach to solving urban problems, that it would take time, most people rolled their eyes, We need quickfixes, immediate results, things that can be done in six months.
Five years later, we are clearly worse off. People are slowly beginning to realize that fixing the problems of our cities isn’t easy. We need systematic solutions that can bring public and private energies together, and work at two levels: deliver quickly on selected fast-track ideas, while simultaneously investing in the longer-term reform-track needs.
A BTTI that works in collaboration with BMLTA could be the answer. If we can get BTTI going in right earnest, at least we can stop being armchair critics of government, and get our hands dirty in helping them solve our citys nightmarish traffic problems.
(Ramesh Ramanathan is co-founder,
Janaagraha; Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw,
chairperson and MD, Biocon Ltd and
M Laxminarayan, joint MD, Mico Ltd)