Monday, April 28, 2008

A road well-travelled

The Delhi Government is hunting desperately for a fig leaf after the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) fiasco. The Centre has washed its hand of, while the Chief Minister is trying hard to fix responsibility for a system that has left the capital city with massive traffic jams just in its trial run over a 5.2-km stretch, which cost more than Rs 200 crore. Six more corridors are on their way.

The idea was borrowed from Bogota, Colombia, which has implemented a BRT network spanning 84 km, carrying 1.2 million passengers per day, and serving approximately 20 per cent of the city's total transit demand. However, traffic congestion is a problem not unique to the developing world, with congested cities. With more and more cars being added on to the roads, the world over experts are looking at solutions to manage traffic, and the answers are rarely simple:

BEIJING: With the city’s vehicle fleet expected to reach 3.3 million by August, in time for the Beijing Olympics, persistent air pollution is one of China’s most pressing problems. Beijing is planning to remove half of the city’s 3.3 million vehicles during the Games to improve air quality and ease traffic flow. The city would also dedicate special lanes to Olympic traffic and increase public transportation with new shuttle buses to accommodate visitors and local residents.

SAO PAULO: By varying accounts, Brazil’s biggest city has among the worst traffic in the world. According to a report that appeared in Time, forced to spend hours in traffic gridlock, residents now use the time to shave, read, watch DVDs, even make dates with passengers in neighbouring cars or learn foreign languages. The city has a programme that obliges each car to be kept off the street during rush hour one day each week, as well as special bus lanes that help public transport move more easily. However, these and other measures are yet to make much difference.

MEXICO CITY: Mexico City has more than 3.5 million registered cars, with the number growing by an average of almost 10 per cent a year. In 1989, in an effort to alleviate congestion and pollution problems, a new programme was launched in the city. It consisted of a regulation mandating that each car in Mexico City not be driven on one specific day (determined by licence plates) during the week. While people didn’t give up buying cars, it did alleviate the city’s traffic problem to an extent.

BANGKOK: Another city on the worst-traffic list, it went in for a sky train in 1990 and an underground train system in 2004. However, the reach of both has remained limited on account of bad planning and high costs.

MUNICH: The home to the BMW is considered to have the perfect transport model — a third of people travel by car, a third by public transport and a third cycle or walk. The reason being the public transport in Munich — the city has one of the most comprehensive metro and suburban train networks in Germany — which is fully integrated with a simple ticketing system. A daily travel card, costing about £2.80, can be used on buses, trams and trains.

SUNNYVALE, CALIFORNIA: Five of California’s cities (or city regions) make it to the top 12 most polluted cities in the US. Some tech entrepreneurs in Sunnyvale are now experimenting with an idea based on two-way GPS device, which connects all the isolated drivers on the road, who could then warn one another about what lay ahead.

LONDON: Mayor Ken Livingstone didn’t win many friends when he introduced a congestion fee five years ago, requiring every vehicle entering the central core to pay for the privilege on weekdays. Hundreds of mounted cameras at boundary roads take photographs of licence plates. Drivers have until midnight that day to pay and if they don't, late fees are applied. The zone where the congestion fee applies was expanded last year. Drivers must pay £8, or about $16, on the day they enter the zone. If they pay the next day, the charge goes up to £10, or about $20. After that, stiff penalties begin to accrue. Statistics show the fee is working, with traffic entering the original zone falling instantly by 21 per cent. Beginning October, London will begin imposing a $50-a-day carbon emission fee on every gas-guzzling private vehicle driven in the central city. The $252 million a year raised under the congestion charge has been poured into the city’s bus system, which has undergone a remarkable transformation.

Taking a cue from London, Stockholm last year introduced a congestion charging scheme after a trial run of six months proved very successful, cutting traffic going through central Stockholm by 25 per cent and waiting time in morning rush hour by 33 per cent. Singapore has been charging downtown drivers since 1975.

NEW YORK: Another Mayor, another city, tried to push through a similar congestion fee but failed. Michael Bloomberg assembled environmentalists, business groups, subway riders and others to back an $8 fee he would have charged from anyone driving downtown during business hours. The Bush administration offered a $354 million incentive, saying it would be used for public transit if the plan was adopted. But Democrats in the New York legislature killed the proposal. Asked about the success of a similar programme in London, one of the Democrat opponents said: "Britain has been rationing things since 1945. In America, we don't ration things." Despite, that is, Americans wasting more than 4 billion hours in traffic delays each year.

LOS ANGELES: The city heads the worst traffic list in the US, with one estimate indicating that should you plan a trip during peak hours in the city, it would take nearly twice as long as it would at an off-peak time. Average LA motorist spends 72 hours every year in traffic jams. Among the solutions LA has put in place are sophisticated traffic communication systems which alert drivers to changing conditions on the road, giving them time to decide what to do.

No comments: