“If people want to be stuck in traffic jams, but are opposed to the elevated corridor that we are proposing to build to get them out of the jams, then let them suffer. We can’t help them.”
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This is the essence of what decision-makers in government have been telling those protesting against the 95km elevated corridor costing Rs. 25,000 crore being built in Bengaluru.
Traffic congestion in Bengaluru has become the talking point not just in Bengaluru but across the world. But where is the evidence to support the government’s claim that the elevated corridor will ease the jams? Neither the feasibility report and cost-benefit analysis nor the rationale of how this is the most affordable, efficient and sustainable solution, when compared to various other options available, is in the public domain. The required suo motu disclosures under Sections 4(1)(c) and (d) of the Right to Information Act while framing this project have not been made justifying its rationale. And where are the cumulative Environment and Social Impact Assessment reports?
And what about due process? The elevated corridor project has been air-dropped and has bypassed the provisions of Chapter V of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, National Green Tribunal (NGT) orders, the Metropolitan Planning Committee and the Karnataka Preservation of Trees (KPT) Act. Moreover, the Tree Authority as per the KPT Act has not been re-constituted with three non-official members. The High Court ruling in the CIVIC-ESG case requires adherence to both the KTPC and KPT Acts.
Real reason behind displaying master plan again
Since there was no mention of the elevated corridor in the recent Revised Master Plan – 2035 of Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA), the RMP is being put out for public comments again with a one-line inclusion of the elevated corridor in it. When citizens protested about the lack of public consultation on the elevated corridor, the CM said that the Vidhana Soudha was always open to anyone who wished to give him suggestions. But no public consultation has been called by him.
People justifying the corridor say that a majority of roads record daily volumes of over 90,000 passenger car units (PCU) against a capacity ranging between 1,200 and 5,400 PCU. This traffic congestion, they have asserted, results in Rs 5,994 crore of travel time cost and Rs 3,343 crore in fuel cost, which add up to Rs 9,337 crore of congestion cost. Hence they claim that the elevated corridor will cut down on fuel usage as vehicles will move faster and thus save this amount and reduce pollution.
Sure, these are sound arguments if you are bent upon measuring how many vehicles and not how many persons are moved per hour. Scientific studies cited by Citizens for Bengaluru, who are campaigning against the corridor, say that on a typical road only 1800 people can be moved per hour per direction with private vehicles. But a priority bus lane can move 15,000 people per hour per direction, i.e., 8.3 times capacity as private vehicles. A metro track can move 69,000 people per hour per direction, i.e., almost 38.3 times capacity as private vehicles. But the wisdom of these scientific studies fails to convince our decision-makers.
And has the cost of the amount of time spent in jams that hold up at the beginning and the end of elevated corridors been taken into account? Prof. Ashish Verma, Associate Professor, Transportation Systems Engineering, of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), has estimated that the elevated corridor will create 53 new traffic bottlenecks as it will only transfer congestion from one part of the city to another. The road corridor can reduce total travel time by a maximum of 5.3% but the same corridor converted to Metro can bring down travel time by 53.4%. The increased road space will only lead to a spike in fuel consumption and emission, he says.
Hence, has the cost of increased pollution and resultant health hazards caused when you place no restriction on the addition of more than 1,500 private vehicles per day been factored in when claiming that the elevated corridor will save cost of Rs.9,337 crore? How is such a project compatible with the avowed commitment to meet the Sustainable Development Goal 11 of creating sustainable cities? Are we not pursuing contradictory goals here?
A model to increase private transport
Now, if you as a decision-maker are supposed to find the most efficient, least cost and sustainable means of reducing traffic congestion, which then would you choose? The Civil Service Rules prescribe punishments for civil servants who cause loss to the government by injudicious decisions. But who is being punished for choosing the elevated corridor, which is the costliest, least efficient and most unsustainable measure when compared to all other options? The problem is that it is being chosen first, before the more sustainable and affordable options have even been tried out.
The elevated corridor is also destined not to solve the problem it proposes to solve as Prof. Verma says that its capacity will stagnate by 2030. The elevated corridor will become fully jammed with private vehicles if nothing is done to shift private vehicle users to public transport.
Radha Chanchani, urban planner, speaking at the Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV) consultation on the elevated corridor, pointed out that government’s measures were aimed at “increasing the supply of motorways, instead of managing the demand for them”. Thus there has been no initiative to place restrictions or wait lists for registering new vehicles and / or second and third vehicles, impose congestion fee, collect higher and graded fee for parking that recovers the economic cost of the land and declaring private-vehicle-free areas and pedestrian zones, and so on.
75 lakh vehicles for 1.2 crore population
Cities which we wish to emulate, such as Singapore and London have one or more of these measures in place. Instead, the focus here has been on building more flyovers, cutting trees, narrowing footpaths, etc. Vinay Sreenivasa points out that planners are brazenly making the proposed elevated corridor cut through Ulsoor lake and run by the side of several lakes in the buffer zones and are erecting pillars in nalas, all in violation of NGT orders. This, while officials have no compunction in evicting slums near Bellandur lake which were not even in the buffer zone.
Bengaluru has 75+ lakh private vehicles for about 1.2 crore population, which is 1 private vehicle for every 1.6 people. GoK estimates population to double in Bengaluru in the next 10 years to almost 2.5 crores. If registrations of 1500+ private vehicles a day continue, we will end up with 1.8 to 2 crore private vehicles in Bengaluru!
Even developed cities like Berlin have 324 private vehicles per 1000 population, which makes it 1 vehicle for 3 persons. Several European cities have succeeded in reducing the car share of trips in their cities through comprehensive, multi-modal transport planning focusing on limiting the supply of ‘motorways’ and making it difficult to access the central city by car, thus encouraging more public transport. Studies point out that limited motorway construction within these cities has prevented the destruction of central city neighbourhoods, inevitable when corridor work is undertaken. Intense public opposition, especially in the 1970s, blocked most motorway plans and provided grassroots support for the car-restrictive policies as well as the pro-walking, pro-cycling, pro-public transport policies adopted by these cities. These cities have made car use slower, less convenient, and more costly, while increasing the safety, convenience, and feasibility of walking, cycling, and public transport.
In Bengaluru, where population is growing rapidly and the city expanding fast, experts point out that road capacity can never catch up with the growth in private vehicles and will never be enough. Hence mass transit is the only viable option. They recommend that the ideal (sustainable) mode share for a city with this population is 70% public transport, but it is presently 45%. Non-motorised transport (walking+cycling) modal share should be at least 20%, but is 7%.
Corridors cannot be inclusive by nature
Have the decision-makers also thought what the building of an elevated corridor at such cost for the exclusive use of private vehicle owners will mean to the working poor who do not travel by car? What is being done to ease the discomfort of those who depend on the public transport buses, such as garment and domestic workers, who are suffering due to lack of investment to improve the BMTC? Vinay Sreenivasa cited the example of an old lady who walks 45 minutes on uneven terrain to catch a BMTC bus. Radha points out that those using the least polluting mode of buses are suffering the most as they too are caught in the jams created by private vehicles.
When citizens’ groups demand 6,000 more buses to strengthen public transport, some decision-makers are asking, “Where is the space for them?” This when about 6,200 buses in the city are together selling 45 lakh tickets daily and are said to be occupying only 0.3% of the road space, while about 15 lakh private cars are occupying 85% of the road space. And if there is no space for more buses, how does the same city allow registration of 1,500+ private vehicles every single day? Why is the same question, “Where is the space for them?” not raised?
The simple understanding seems to be lacking in our decision-makers that one bus can free the space occupied by 50 cars, and that 6000 buses can free the space occupied by 3 lakh cars, if the car passengers are provided enough facility to shift to the bus. Theoretically speaking, 12,000 buses could carry all of the city’s commuters and occupy a mere 0.6% of road space and there would be no congestion!
To give life to the bus system, experts recommend that the taxes such as road tax, motor vehicle tax, tolls, fuel tax, etc. that are collected from the BMTC/KSRTC, should be reimbursed by the government (in 2014, the government of Andhra Pradesh has reportedly waived off the Motor Vehicle tax of Rs. 2,688 crore for the state road transport corporation). Subsidies on purchase of fuel, spare parts, infrastructure and other equipment that the BMTC/KSRTC incurs on a monthly basis should be provided, to ensure that the burden of fluctuating fuel prices and other economic changes do not fall on the common people. All capital expenses of BMTC should be funded like the way it is done with the Metro. In fact, some cities across the world have decided to make bus transport completely free. When will we reach that level of enlightenment among our planners?
The bus-based transport system being the backbone of urban spaces, it should not be looked upon as a commercial enterprise that should generate profits, but as a public service. But the reality is that even the Rs. 800 crore loss of BMTC is not being covered by the government and a measly Rs. 100 crore has been given to BMTC in this year’s budget just to cover its salary bill.
Spending priorities misplaced?
The BBPV consultation also revealed that Rs.1 lakh crore is being spent merely to ease the traffic problem of Bengaluru, which includes the elevated corridor, Metro, Peripheral and Satellite Township Ring Roads, etc. Vinay Sreenivasa pointed out that with the Rs. 25,000 to 33,000+ crore envisaged for the project one could put in place a complete public transportation system with prioritised bus-lanes, hub-and-spoke bus-routing with last-mile connectivity/feeder vehicles, a circular rail and suburban rail, including to the airport, walkable footpaths, cycle lanes, etc., which would leave no excuses for car-users to not shift to public transport.
Shaheen Shasa opined that even an expanded Metro across Bengaluru could have a carrying capacity of maximum 15 lakhs. So the solution lies in expanding the bus fleet and getting more people to move into buses. Shaheen pointed out that the global norm is to have 120 buses for every lakh population. As per this norm, 14,000 buses are needed for Bengaluru. At the least, the bus fleet should be doubled, fares halved and the buses made to cover another 50 lakh trips, on top of the 45 to 50 lakh today, she said. She estimated that just by spending Rs. 6,000 crore on getting more buses, developing BRTS, rationalising routes, and halving fares, the urban poor would be benefitted, more number of people would take the bus and congestion and pollution could be reduced. BRTS has been shown to reduce travelling time by 30% in 12 cities.
The commuter / suburban rail system for Bengaluru was supposedly proposed in 1960 by the then CM, Sri Nijalingappa, but is yet to see the light of day. It is only after the “Railu Beku” campaign of Citizens for Bengaluru that Rs. 17,000 crore was set aside for this project in the Centre’s budget and a date has been set for laying the foundation stone for it. CfB suggests that a full-fledged suburban rail network for Bengaluru can carry 20 lakh people potentially.
RITES had prepared a Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Plan for Bengaluru in June 2011 which batted, among others, for institutional strengthening of urban transport organisations, integration of all modes of transport, extension of mass transport system, provision of BRT, rationalisation and augmentation of local bus system, commuter rail system, pedestrianisation of selected shopping streets, etc. It had proposed 137 kms of Metro, 60 kms of mono rail /LRT system, 204 kms of commuter rail system, 291.5 kms of BRTS. The MoU on BMRCL too mandates the implementation by the State of an Integrated and Comprehensive Mobility Plan for Bangalore city, including pedestrianisation, public bike sharing facility, feeder buses, a parking policy and transit-oriented development.
Most of these do not seem to be within the immediate radar of the government as it goes about taking its ad-hoc decisions. Citizens for Bengaluru questions how the elevated corridor fits into this overall “integrated mobility plan” for the city. It seems to be our fate to suffer the consequences of decisions by our decision-makers.