Economics of gridlocks

Growing traffic jams are eating up our growth trajectory
"But one major area that has remained a scar on its face is the growing menace of gridlock that has been eating up our growth trajectory. Today, travelling even small distances here is an uphill task for the commuters."
"But one major area that has remained a scar on its face is the growing menace of gridlock that has been eating up our growth trajectory. Today, travelling even small distances here is an uphill task for the commuters."File: GK Photo

Jammu & Kashmir is witnessing a host of developments on various fronts. First of all, it is the security environment which has been restored to a large extent after Article 370 was repealed.

Simultaneously, in the past couple of years we witnessed fruitful efforts towards restoration of social and administrative order which had derailed during the turmoil period of almost three decades. When we talk of administrative order, it’s the functioning of government machinery which was put back on track.

The functioning of various government institutions and departments had gone out of purview of the top government functionaries for a long spell of a few decades.

Precisely, transparency and accountability in the government institutions was thrown to the wind and now stands restored to some extent. Be it health sector, education sector, power development or any other sector, the current government machinery headed by the LG Manoj Sinha is busy in realigning the governance system in line with the changing dynamics of the situation – be it political or socio-economic landscape.

One of the major achievements of all these efforts to bring transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government institutions is that a common man is not pushed from pillar to post when it comes to availing government services of any nature. And bringing the region on the robust digital map has revolutionised the governance system, much to the relief of the general public.

In other words, the LG government has engaged itself to place J&K as one of the best destinations on the globe to visit. The influx of tourists has already witnessed record levels, which is making the local economy vibrant when compared to previous decades.

However, there is an important area where the government machinery seems absent. It’s the management of vehicular traffic on the roads of the region. Current era is called the modern period for the kind of pace technological integration has triggered even in our routine activities. T

he modern era has bridged distances and of course localised the global geographies. But one major area that has remained a scar on its face is the growing menace of gridlock that has been eating up our growth trajectory. Today, travelling even small distances here is an uphill task for the commuters.

Some time back, while in a traffic jam, waiting calmly for the green light to glow, I received an SMS from an acquaintance. There were no horns; no arguments and no attempt of overtaking by other stranded vehicles. My acquaintance summed up this calmness in a traffic jam as ‘Disciplined traffic jam’.

Of course, the traffic jams, though the most irritating thing to happen on our roads, have been a bit disciplined. And thanks to traffic lights on important traffic junctions that have brought some relief to the commuters. But apart from the road interactions where traffic lights regulate the vehicular movement, the nightmare on roads continues as these gridlocks are nothing but a terrible menace. Everyone is contributing to the menace. While on road, whether driving our own vehicle or using a passenger vehicle, we are always in a hurry to reach our destination at whatever cost. During the course, we play havoc with traffic rules and other safety measures, which on many occasions prove fatal. While fixing responsibility for these gridlocks, people impulsively blame traffic police. But major contributors to this traffic mess are none other than the people themselves.

An office-goer who has been late for duty is quick enough to escape by blaming the traffic mess. Taking the excuse is true, but the likelihood is that he too was in fact causing the traffic jam. After all, his car also forms part of a line and is holding up the car behind. So by definition, he does not just get stuck in a traffic jam, he produces it by defying rules and norms. 

Our traffic jams have their own structures. They are not vertical alone but lateral as well and you wonder how to thread your way through. People are glad to resort to on-street parking contraventions even on busy roads and block smooth traffic movement. There is also no concept of bus stops, though many bus stops exit at various points. Passenger vehicles never stop at bus stops. It is not the driver alone to be blamed for this. But the fact is that people never wait for a passenger bus at a bus stop. The understanding between the driver and the passenger has gone trendy that they know the bus can stop anywhere anytime for him at the cost of smooth traffic movement.

Overall, the scenario reveals that traffic management is a remote idea at our place, most of the time people commit blunders or pull impolite driving maneuvers, leading to anger from other frustrated drivers. Result of this situation is road rage. This state of mind of the drivers carries a lot of risk even to the health and safety for everyone on the road. 

Every one of us is aware that traffic congestion is something which has serious effects on us as drivers at personal, business and societal levels. And not to speak of psychological and physical health implications these jams have on us. Actually, traffic jams are a big problem that virtually every place is grappling with and has precisely become inevitable. But at the same time we cannot afford to lock our future and succumb to these gridlocks. We have to seriously pull ourselves out of this mess and we need to challenge conventional thinking around traffic congestion.

We can talk of wiping out the congestion on roads, but in actual terms we cannot. What we can do is to reduce the congestion and for this, we need a dynamic traffic navigation system which can help people to get through traffic faster.  This doesn't necessarily involve building roads or introducing schemes, but simply making our road-flow more efficient.

In reducing chances of a gridlock and regulating flow of traffic, it’s the attitude of drivers which can trigger change. Otherwise, it’s the attitude of drivers which is at the moment the primary cause of chaos on roads. To trigger a change in the attitude of motorists here, a proper strategy is inevitable. Our passenger transport is visibly the major player in gridlocks. If we have a close look at the behavior of these drivers we find their combination of feelings, acts, thinking and perceptions loaded with anomalies. So, the drivers responsible for traffic mess on roads need a ‘handle with care’ strategy. It’s not punishment but soft handling through proper counselling which can infuse a sense of order in them as drivers.

Here emerges the role of non-governmental agencies. They can run counselling programmes in the first phase for passenger transport drivers by making them understand the hazardous implications of gridlocks on their health, economy and society. Incentivizing such programmes can yield quick results. So traffic engineers have a role to play.

One more important thing, let the government formulate a high power committee to carve out ways and means for adoption of some form of road-pricing scheme. Drivers would be charged to use roads, and charged more for using them at busy times. For example, introduce a price on bringing cars into congested areas that would make the drivers either not to travel unnecessarily or to vary their travel time or, indeed, to try public transport, walking or cycling. With the right approach, drivers who incur higher prices during rush hour periods would benefit from reduced congestion and travel time, while non-essential travel would take place at less congested and cheaper times.

It is hard to say how effective road pricing can be. But pricing is certainly worth a try. The kind of mess these traffic jams have created in our transport system makes it an issue as important as our health and education system. Everyone has not to deal with the health and education system every day, but we do all have to deal with our transport system. So the government needs to push transport up the national agenda. Remember, traffic jams simply stymie growth.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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