Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Our traffic woes

The above image from RUSH LANE says it all, doesn’t it? The traffic chaos we face every day, in every city town or village in India. Who hasn’t faced lane-cutting, blocking of zebra crossing, signal jumping, jaywalking, dangerous driving or overtaking, excessive honking, obstructive parking or countless other traffic woes?
It would seem that we don’t really understand the concept of lanes, zebra crossings, stop lines or driving instructions like “no overtaking”, “no horn zone” etc. The first thing one notices on visiting a developed country is the respect pedestrians get from motorists. You approach a zebra crossing and vehicles come to a halt to allow you to cross. Drivers stick to their lanes, hardly anyone honks. So what’s our problem? Compared to corruption, “khaps”, caste and gender issues, this should be a small problem to crack.
OK – so, to examine the problem, let’s compare London with our metros of Mumbai or Delhi.
Could the reason for our insane traffic be less numbers of traffic policemen? But it appears London’s Traffic Operational Command Unit (OCU) has about 800 highly trained traffic policemen for a city with a population of about 8,174,000 and area of about 1500 sq. kms. (2011). Read   A quick search threw up figures for Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune. Read   Delhi population was about 11,000,000, area 1483 sq. kms with about 6200 traffic policemen, Mumbai had population of 12,500,000, area 438 sq. kms with 3300 traffic cops. So London has one traffic cop per 10217, Delhi 1774, Mumbai 3787. No, number of traffic cops doesn’t seem to be the problem.
Is it lack of education of our road users? Literacy rate is about 91% in Mumbai and 86% in Delhi. Let’s assume London has about 99% literates. Well, the 10-12 % difference in literacy doesn’t explain the utter inability of our motorists and pedestrians to read road signs, understand symbols and drive as they are meant to.
So if our roads have enough traffic cops and metropolitan population is reasonably literate then where’s the problem of compliance of traffic rules coming from? Are our cops under-trained? Susceptible to corruption because they are poorly paid?
In 2010, London police recruits were paid an entry-level salary of at least £23000 (about £ 1900 per month) during their first two years and receive 25 weeks of foundation training. 
In Maharashtra, constables are trained for 12 months (48 weeks) so they don’t seem to be under-trained – unless the training input is very poor. In Mumbai, a constable gets a gross salary of about Rs 12000 per month. Read HT article  According to the Economist’s Big Mac Index, a British Pound Sterling = Rs 34. So, a London constable earns about Rs 64,500 per month (1900x34) at Big Mac PPP conversion rate. This is substantially more than their Indian counterpart!
A-ha! Here seems to be an obvious answer to our problem.
To bring up the quality, integrity and capabilities of our traffic enforcement cops, can we raise their salary? Not to 64,000 but let’s say 3 times – to 36,000? Cost implication in Mumbai will be an additional Rs 10 crores per month (3787 x 24,000) or about Rs 120 crores (1,200,000,000 or 1.2 billion) a year. Maharashtra has recently submitted an interim budget for 2014-15 with Revenue Deficit of Rs 5417 crores. Can this deficit be increased?
What will be the impact of this pay increase on equivalent state govt. posts? Say excise, municipal, forest officials, school teachers, health dept? What about constables outside traffic department? There are almost 40,000 in the Mumbai Police. Is there enough public fund? So the one immediate solution is probably not viable.
The next solution is enhance voluntary compliance of traffic rules. Social media campaign, public ads, making it hip to obey traffic rules. This would need massive PR and advertising initiative. One powerful medium is TV. To bring a social change, let’s estimate a 10-second ad every 3 hours a day on 10 most watched channels for a year. That’s 80 ads a day. At an estimate of Rs 100,000 per 10 sec ad, that’s Rs 80 lakhs (8,000,000) per day. Rs 28800 lakhs a year or Rs 280 crores just on TV ads. 
Oops! This is even more expensive than increasing cops’ salaries.
How about installing CCTVs at every major crossing – the Integrated traffic management system? Mumbai has about 1250 major intersections. A news item about Chennai gives the cost at Rs 117 crores in 2012 for 100 intersections. So let’s cover only 500 in Mumbai. That should cost about Rs 550 crores. Oops again.
I’ve now run out of ideas. Mostly due to budgetary constraints. It’s a thorn in my side.
Any suggestions?