Wrong laneAn exclusive fleet of vehicles that plies a dedicated lane can’t manage traffic congestion.
That the dedicated lane for office-hour public vehicles along the Suryabinayak-Ratnapark road would bring more chaos than comfort was a foregone conclusion. In a congested valley that sees the commute of almost 1.8 million vehicles a day, dedicating a whole lane to a bus that commutes every five minutes in office hours makes little sense. There is no questioning the government’s intent behind its plan to enforce a separate lane for public vehicles; after all, the idea is to encourage more people to use public vehicles, and one way of doing this is by offering hassle-free transport. But the right intent must be complemented by right action, and that is what is missing in the enforcement of the dedicated lane that was inaugurated with much excitement on Wednesday.
The real test of a system happens not on the day of the inauguration but on the one that follows. On Thursday, as traffic police personnel enforced the dedicated lane discipline, the public was left with utter chaos and more traffic jams than before. Images flooded social media of a lane left empty while others were packed with vehicles that seemed to be going nowhere. While the passengers riding the 25 dedicated buses might have reached their offices early, others who chose to ply their own vehicles or use public ones other than the dedicated buses reached their offices later than on previous days.
It was as if the government had introduced a new class division, with a whole lane reserved for a select group of 25 buses while thousands of others were huddled in other lanes. It was a new definition of a significant minority usurping resources while the majority suffered. The government certainly did not want this hierarchy and chaos on the road. But it certainly did not think much before implementing the ad-hoc plan on road traffic management. In all likelihood, the chaos will continue for the next few days or weeks before the government admits its lack of imagination while implementing the hasty plan. But public money has already been spent painting the roads red, and the authorities will likely give continuity to the plan despite its failure—just to prove that they are not the ones to backtrack on their decisions.
However, for a country that learns its lessons the hard way, here are a few initial takeaways: Traffic congestion cannot be managed by creating an exclusive fleet of vehicles that plies a dedicated lane, but by creating conditions that allow for the transition of passengers from private to public transport system. For this, ensuring last-mile connectivity is a must. A passenger will only leave their private vehicle and use a dedicated bus if they don’t have to be pushed and shoved around at Ratnapark while awaiting a connecting bus. What we need, therefore, is a restructuring of entire public transport rather than experimenting with ad-hoc measures. In the neighbouring capital city, Delhi, the Bus Rapid Transit system failed miserably, and the entire corridor had to be dismantled in just a few years. Our officials should undertake extensive study before enforcing a plan that looks perfect on paper but is a nightmare in practice.