The Challenges of Tackling Mumbai’s Growing Traffic
by Pawan Mulukulta and Divya Kottadiel
Mumbai | 20th August 2013:
Q. What are the challenges in addressing the traffic situation in Mumbai? VP: The traffic police have been demanding changes as much as any concerned citizen, whether it is proper road markings, or design-based traffic flows, islands, pedestrian infrastructure, wherever possible. But these things are going to take time, and several agencies, planning and regulatory, are concerned about the transportation and traffic scenario of the city. In the case of Mumbai, some of these agencies are MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority), MCGM (the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai), the office of the transport commissioner, and the traffic police department. BEST (Public Bus Transport) is also a very significant stakeholder because a lot of people commute using BEST buses, and it has a wide impact on the traffic of the city. In the report that was submitted to the Honourable High Court, these agencies have made certain commitments, and it is expected that we start moving ahead on the recommendations quite soon.
Q. What are some of the ground issues faced by the traffic police in Mumbai? </strong? VP: Enforcement, as you know, is a big issue, and it is the traffic police department that is responsible for enforcement of traffic rules. There are several challenges. Given the sheer volumes of traffic, we have only 3000 personnel in total, and in a shift at a time about 1,000 are on duty, all of them doing various tasks. Some junctions, like Haji Ali and Churchgate, which are among the busiest ones in the world, demand more than 5-6 people at a time. A large number of junctions go without policemen manning them, and therefore effective enforcement is not possible.
Q. What are some of the recommendations in the high-powered committee report that will be implemented soon? VP: We have suggested unanimously that tech-based enforcement will be key to improving the situation. We are working on issues resulting from post-licencing, when they actually take to driving, and flouting rules. We do a lot of [enforcement] drives, but introducing technology is going to significantly improve enforcement. As a pilot project, we are introducing an e-challan system. The traffic challan will not be issued by hand, but will be electronically generated by entering the data. Plus, the system will also track the location using GPS co-ordinates. Within a month, we expect this to begin at 5 locations in the city. The state government home department has already held a meeting in this regard, and has approved the pilot. The IT department has agreed to provide us with the necessary wherewithal for this. We should be launching it very soon. The locations are yet to be finalised, but they would be main points in the city where a large number of people cross. The idea is to generate a database of defaulters and of vehicles. We have sought a sharing of data with the transport commissioner’s office so that number plates can also be checked. For example, if we find a Santro with the number 3421, but when we check the database, it shows an Alto, you know there is something wrong. It could be either a stolen vehicle or a fake number plate. Such a system will improve enforcement even beyond the realm of traffic, into the realm of detecting theft, and the use of false number plates. This is one area in which we are moving ahead.
Another key is to improve the system of issuing licences, because that is where it starts. Licences should be issued to good drivers, drivers who know how to drive, who know what to do and what not to do on the street. If a driver is tested properly, trained properly, and then issued a licence, a large number of issues get reduced, if not solved. The office of the transport commissioner of Maharashtra is working on this; it is their domain.
Proper signage is also important. The municipal corporation has written to us very recently asking us for our requirement for signages – how many school zones, road markings, and other signs need to be put in place. They will consult us on this, and we will provide the necessary feedback after we have collated the data from the traffic division offices all over the city. It is going to be a collective effort in the direction of the proposed recommendations in the report. There are solutions, there are timeframes, and there will be a lot of inter-relation and inter-mixing, so that the process will be integrated.
The objective of this exercise [of forming the committee and producing the report] was to understand the problem, and offer workable solutions for the traffic scenario in the city. We hope and believe that with the small steps that are being taken, there will be a visible impact. For example, people generally use roads according to their ideas of the way driving should be. But if there is signage, it attracts their attention. Similarly, road markings, signalling systems, etc. would be useful. We believe that a good licencing system, along with good enforcement initiatives, and good signage and road markings, will have a tremendous impact on driver behaviour as well as pedestrian behaviour. We are attempting to guide is this behaviour towards safer travel, easier travel, better travel, and happier travel.
Q. What can other cities in India learn from Mumbai in this regard? VP: Many other cities in India have also been applying their minds towards easing and providing solutions to the problems of traffic. Multi-agency co-operation and co-ordination is important, most importantly multi-agency co-operation with uni-directional movement. That is what we are attempting to do. There are processes and procedures to be followed, especially with so many agencies involved, and it will be take time. With funding and executive sanction, such issues can be tackled and pushed.
Also, the ownership of agencies towards the city and their willingness to experiment with innovative technologies on a pilot basis is a leading example for other cities in India.
The onus of enforcement will remain with the traffic police, but once policies and the necessary equipment and wherewithal are in place, enforcement will be effectively enhanced. Once we are able to implement a large number of suggestions and affect a significant improvement in the city, other cities will also be able to replicate this process.
Q. Moving forward, what key change has this report brought about? VP: Earlier, the petition was directed at the traffic police. Now, with the Honourable High Court’s response in forming the committee with other agencies, it has resulted in significant contributions from all agencies involved and making recommendations for solutions. At least now there is a realisation that if we have to improve the traffic scenario of the city, all agencies have to contribute, and it is not just the traffic police who can battle it out alone. The Mumbai Transformation Support Unit is co-ordinating a large number of issues for us, and their support is going to be a key factor. Additionally, all agencies have been supporting the traffic department very admirably, and I’m sure with this report, the extent and magnitude of support will be higher and better.