March 23, 2011

On the Road, Again.

I didn’t put rang on anyone. The day wasn’t bhanged and there were no gujias consumed and yet I wouldn’t want to change anything about my Holi. Out of all the festivals I don’t celebrate Holi is my favorite. It officially signals in the summers for me; I enjoy the mild yet unrelenting sun that shines bright on the day when faces are smeared with color; life’s almost like a video game when grown-ups with silver colored faces cross paths.

But that’s not what I like the most about the festival of colors.

What I absolutely love about the day is that everyone seems to stay off the road. This is the day when the road regularly endured becomes the road less traveled. Every time I race on the city’s deserted streets my mind conjures up this image that I’m one of those F1 racers and this is just a dry run for the Monaco Grand Prix. The closer I get to my destination I continue to steal a glance at my wristwatch and keep telling myself that ‘under normal circumstances this journey can be covered in so many minutes…

But what exactly is normal circumstance on the road when we have 11.2 million vehicles in and around Delhi? And that figure is almost three years old and probably means something else now.

Delhi’s traffic has grown at a rate of 132% in the last ten years. The day after the New Year’s Eve and Holi are two days when the roads are a dream to drive on. It’s on such days that you see how wide Delhi roads really are and wonder about yet another number- 1000. That’s the number of cars that join Delhi roads on a daily basis. Add a million more which come into Delhi from the satellite towns. Now add another factoid to make this interesting- the total road length of Delhi has increased by only 20% in the last decade.

Some of us might argue that we need more roads; others might say we need lesser cars. The truth, however nervously exits between a less than needed increase of roads and a more than desired increase in the number of cars. The bigger truth is that there is no way we can stop someone from buying a car. Or the second one. India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and so the number of cars sold would also be one of the highest in the world. The booming economy has to result in increased salaries of the working people and the growing population will, naturally, see a growth in the number of people. So what does one do with increased salaries? The same thing that one would do with any kind of salary. What am I working for? A better life. Yes, and that means a better car as well. Nothing wrong in that.

So, if we know that everyone is right in desiring a car then why do we assume that asking people to stop buying cars is the only way we can solve our traffic density problem?

It’s strange that lawmakers still believe that a car is a luxury. With less than adequate public transport system and warped policies teaming up increased salaries and growing desires there will be more cars on the road. Yes, the Metro has helped to a great extent by keeping 40,000 vehicles off the road by 2007; it saved 16.6 lakh vehicle km which means 172 crore rupees worth fuel but someone please tell the jokers who designed the parking lots for stations that it I have to spend an hour to look for parking then why won’t I take my car for the meeting that’s sad right next to another Metro station? Interesting the Delhi-Gurgaon Toll plaza has seen a decrease of almost 20,000 vehicles passing its gates but most importantly Metro has helped hardworking people almost 66 minutes/ day. But this also means a saving of almost Rs. 415 crore (till 2006) which,…ahem… means an increase in their earning capacity.

Thanks to the good things the Metro has done the average happily impacted Metro beneficiary will be able to by a car. This would increase the number of cars on Delhi roads; so does that mean people will start complaining about the lack of good public transport!?

This debate isn’t going anywhere but thinking about problems has become a way of life for me. I look forward to solving the problem of traffic and on the day when I’m supposed to enjoy my drive I can’t help but think about the parking troubles most colonies would face on the day the cars are kept off the streets!

PS: By the way this year the number of accidents during Holi was the lowest in the last decade.

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