There I was in the midst of all the top brass of the International Transport Forum listening to countries debate on achieving sustainable urban mobility, better transport makes for better mobility and looking at liveable and sustainable societies. Ideas flew around my head, ideas so foreign sounding for me coming out of India and Bangalore where the only thought of providing solutions by my state government, was to cut down our trees and widen our roads.
Here I was in Berlin which has narrow streets where trams and buses ply and all I did was take the combination of a bus and the S Bhan and reach my hotel in 45 minutes paying 2.5 Euros. Early that same morning I had taken a taxi in Bangalore and fought with the driver to pay 500 rupees to our Bangalore airport, which was way above the 2.5 Euros I paid in Berlin. Yes, the buses were crowded in Berlin, but they were clean. I had to take the S Bahn out of the amazing spanking new Berlin Hauptbahnhof, which is Berlin’s Central train station and after a ten minute walk, I was home and dry in my hotel.
When I moved on to Leipzig from Berlin for the International Transport Forum 25-27th May, again we went in a clean soundless train with a super clean toilet and every seat was taken. The opening plenary had Jack Short the Secretary General of the International Transport Forum talk about putting people first on the agenda of transport. Whats that I thought to myself when I let my mind wander back to Bangalore, where people and the pedestrian are hardly considered and there is just a jam of cars out there to greet you every single day.
Even Henry Li from BYD Auto in China said Beijing is considered the most polluted city in the world and his company was looking to building a fleet of electric buses which would drastically cut down CO2 emissions and cut back on fossil fuels. Then to my amusement a parallel was drawn between India and Liechtenstein. How bearable is the environment that people are living in when it came to both countries was the hypothesis.
BK Chaturvedi, Member planning Commission of India talked about connecting tribal areas to urban areas and urban planning should be as innovative as the Sealink in Mumbai. India needs to look at electric cars he said. Nowhere was the mention made of cut back on the numbers of cars, that a congestion tax should be implemented, and we must enforce better quality of fuels. Coming out of a Bangalore which is bordering on madness when it comes to control of the numbers of vehicles on the roads, this was not good news.
In comparison, the Liechtenstein’s Deputy Prime Minister Martin Meyer talked about changing trasport policy by 2020 and strengthening public transport. He wanted to give the handicapped better transport facilities and he felt that there should be a change in personal behaviour about public transport. Given the fact that he was talking about 60,000 inhabitants in Liechtenstein, as against our 1.21 billion in the recent census in India, it was strange that the two ministers were talking at two different tangents. Our minister talked about more cars and Meyer discussed about cutting back. There obviously needs a paradigm shift in the thought process of our planners who seemed to be removed from reality when we are talking- liveable societies.
Even when discussing innovation for change, interestingly, the Mayor of Leipzig Burkhard Jung said even if his city differed from the compact cities of Europe, everyone was facing the similar huge challenge. All cities need to reduce congestion, noise and pollution and improve the living conditions of its inhabitants. Infact he was encouraging walking and cycling combined with public transport and Leipzig has tripled the use of cycles from 1990. Infact he was even looking at an environment protection zone in the city where only vehicles with low emissions were allowed to enter! Would our ministers look at something like that to improve the state of Bangalore?
Of course there were lovely little futuristic cars designed by world class urban planners like Jaime Lerner and his cute Docdock. Six Dockdocks took the space of one regular car so that would definitely ease our crazy parking issues here in Bangalore. And Lawrence Burns Professor, University of Michigan talked about his Jetsons looking car called the EVN which was zero crash with an intelligent parking system, both meant for one person.
Then I come home to Bangalore and I have a fight with the taxi bringing me home from the airport saying he was charging more because it was after midnight and there were no airport buses. I travel again on roads filled with holes, bouncing in and out of them before reaching home, with cars driving wildly and honking madly at anyone in their way. Back to Bangalore where the need of the hour is educated citizenry making a noise with our planners. We need to cut back or our city will soon become unliveable. We need the Mayor of Leipzig here to make us understand, to make our planners understand that we don’t need to go the way of the developed world and then unlearn our mistakes. Why can’t we be smart ourselves and create a liveable and sustainable transport for Bangalore once again?