For those of us who have lived in London, there is one thing we’d absolutely agree – it won’t take you more than a couple of days to understand the public transport system. The flow of information is seamless, and there’s no blindspot that leaves you in a lurch on either a crowded Regent Street or a quieter lane in Wimbeldon.
Visible signboards about how to go forward – whether you use tubes or buses – are all around. Bus stands are never more than 400 yards from a tube station. The public transport service in London is also consistently voted to be the best in the world.
Now, one could argue that the system has had a lot of time to perfect itself – after all, the first metropolitan underground railway line was started in 1863. But the integrated system of public transport as we see it today, is a fairly recent development, less than two decades old. How did the system become so efficient in such a short time?
The credit is often given to TFL. TFL or Transport for London is an integrated system that deals with public transport in all its forms – they regulate tubes, buses, bicycles and even taxis. Its Chief Technology Officer Shashi Verma, who joined the organisation in 2003, was in Bengaluru to discuss with the state government ideas on maximising the use of public transport.
In an exclusive chat with Citizen Matters, Verma, an alumni of IIT Kharagpur who is credited with introducing the smart card concept, had a checklist for solving Bengaluru’s mobility mess.
One, land use planning. “Central London is the economic hub that brings people from different parts of the city. The mobility options need to converge in Central London, and that clarity helps design a more effective mobility plan. Now in Bengaluru, how do you plan for a city whose economic hubs are divided – Whitefield, Electronic City etc? The hypothesis that if you divide the economic hub, traffic density will reduce because all of it won’t be headed in the same direction, is false. For public transport to work, you need to marry land use with mobility plans so that all of public transport is headed to one direction and not crisscrossing the city leading to chaos,” he said.
Two, an integrated organisation. TFL not just runs public transport, but also regulates all other forms of transport in London. This, Verma says, helps manage mobility a lot better.
“Bus lanes in London work because there is a bus every 40 seconds in that lane. And since TFL is also the heaviest user of the road in terms of density (because we run the buses), and regulate all other forms of mobility including levying congestion charges for private transport, we take priority on the roads. This understanding can come only when there is a unified transport authority.”
Three, the politics of mobility. “Congestion charges, when introduced in London, was not without its challenges. Nobody wants to pay an extra penny. But look at it this way – cars are the only objects that have free housing given by the government! Many places don’t charge for parking. Why should that be the case?” Verma further said that congestion charges can deter people from using private vehicles only if you can offer an alternative that is cheaper.
[Note: This video was shot in October]