Our punctured public transport

Brainstorming among all stakeholders is needed to resolve the problem we can’t ignore anymore
Our punctured public transport
Last summer, some transporters scrapped buses and sold spare parts to meet the ends. Let’s admit the failures in the system by accepting the bare facts. Special arrangement

That the wrong remedy could exacerbate an ailment and not cure it is an age-old adage. This deems fit on Kashmir’s ailing transport industry. In a welfare state, commuters don’t experience torture in transport. But people living in this part of the globe do.

So, it is clear that all is not well with the industry. Kashmir’s transport sector suffered massive losses due to frequent lockdowns in the last few years.

Last summer, some transporters scrapped buses and sold spare parts to meet the ends. Let’s admit the failures in the system by accepting the bare facts. Let’s ignore the sweeping statements offered by the elite few who own luxury vehicles and fail to understand the transport blues of the common masses.

Introduction: Including the defense forces, Srinagar is home to 23 lakh people, with over three lakh registered vehicles. It surely is denser and murkier with unauthorized parking and almost no signals, in an unplanned city with ‘defunct’ and incompetent Road Transport Corporation. Ring roads, Metro rail, 4-lane of Highway should be seen as “Development” and not markazich chaal.

Augmentation of the traffic police force is something the government of the day has to think about since it is humanely impossible for understaffed traffic cops to manage the traffic during rush hours. An exponential increase in the number of private vehicles adds to the mounting crisis.

Free-Flow: Traffic delay comes with its own cost. There is a joke in traffic circles that Srinagar’s traffic is unmoved by the criticism it gets. A Ph.D. scholar in transportation told me that for smooth traffic flow, the ideal share between public and private transport users is 70:30 but in the case of Srinagar, it is the reverse.

A drastic shift is needed. We need more emphasis on public transport like Metro trains. They don’t occupy the space of a car for a single person. This luxury-driven lifestyle is degrading our environment and living standard.

Voiceless Vendors: Pedestrians have a right over footpaths but Kashmir’s street vendors have snatched us that right. So, why don’t they budge? What are their demands? Often whisked away from one place to another, street vendors have a right to earn their livelihood.

This informal labor class is part of Urban Mobility. To rehabilitate vendors and decongest Lalchowk, some 270 empty, cubicles are waiting at Magarmal. Why are authorities unnecessarily buying time to shift the registered vendors? They have nearly 300 families to feed. Why SMC is slow to meet the demands is a question only SMC can answer.

Road Rage: Reckless driving is a menace, a crime, which makes the route deadly. The death rate in Kashmir roads is double the national average. Over 70% of the road crashes and deaths are caused by over-speeding in India and Kashmir is no exception.

This was revealed by the Research Wing of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Stunt biking kills. And we have failed to keep a check on it even at Foreshore Road. The crackdown of traffic police on rash driving is commendable but the understaffed department fails to check who is licensed to move the wheels.

The massive corruption in issuing RCs and licenses at regional transport offices at district levels is alarmingly high.

Role of J&K Motor Vehicles Department: There is a proper legal provision for those driving sans licenses. Court challans are not enough. There should have been a mechanism to counsel such drivers. Last month, traffic cops across the country conceived a creative idea to spread road safety awareness.

From doing the ‘Moonwalk’ while managing traffic to dressing up as ‘Yamraj’ for sensitizing commuters against drinking and driving. One wonders what is the outcome of those road safety council meetings. Why are armed policemen deployed to manage traffic? Why commissioner secretory transport is not advertising the vacancies to strengthen the traffic wing.

Phantom Traffic Jam: Personal vehicles parked haphazardly on either side of the road is our habit. With no apparent reason, we evade the paid parking only to add to the miseries of the pedestrians. This gridlock gives headaches to office goers and students.

Precious time is wasted during peak hours on these narrow-choked roads. These stranded vehicles make serpentine queues and create chaos and irk commuters. At intersections, all of us notice that there is no coordination. Monkey driving causes traffic jams. Except for Basant Rath, top cops have failed to streamline the system.

Rules of the Road: Easy driving would return if the drivers could coordinate to accelerate and separate simultaneously. Congestion pricing, already in vogue, is the solution to reclaim the space. This will increase bus ridership and eventually help both private transporters and government-owned ‘deadwood’ corporation.

Congestion can only be reduced if more people prefer public transport like trains and buses. When you see pedestrians moving faster than buses, you know there is a problem. Texting or calling while driving can cause serious injuries. Use the indicator to interact with others where you are going.

Good old SRTC: J&K government’s first public sector undertaking is on the last legs of its survival. The corporation was once known for its proud football team, which is hit left, right, and center due to a shortage of staff.

As the new eco-friendly fleet of buses is seen as a convenient mode of transport on K-roads, will it help UTRTC get back to business, as usual? Exemption of road tax to e-vehicles as per the upcoming policy as stated by the chief secretary will be a commendable move ahead. RTC needs an image makeover.

Obsolete mini-buses: With no proper seating arrangements, it is a real nightmare to commute in obsolete buses in Srinagar. In 2020, during a guest lecture by a transport engineer in Bengaluru, I learned how this junk journey can prove fatal.

The discomfort is beyond words. The overall mobility in our city is slow. To weed out the diseased vehicles from Srinagar roads, policymakers have done little on the ground.

What about the high court directive about the worn-out vehicles plying on Srinagar roads, to be replaced under section 83 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and rule 96 of the State Motor Vehicles Rule, 1991! To purchase new vehicles, the government must offer at least a 40% subsidy on humanitarian grounds to strengthen public transport.

An action plan must be framed to make the buses accessible to specially-abled persons. Unfit for traveling as per the latest Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) framework, their permits must be discarded with immediate effect. Ever wondered, how does the government respond when they show their “Pollution Status Certificate?” To revamp the public transport apparatus is a defining challenge for the LG admin.

Highway Hiccups: It has become a horror highway. It has consumed thousands of lives. It is a never-ending demon. For the last 75 years, successful governments in Delhi have failed to connect this Himalayan territory with the rest of the world.

People, in winters, prefer to fly in and out of the valley. The fares skyrocket no sooner the only road link is closed due to landslides and inclement weather. Drowsy driving is one of the reasons that accidents happen on NH-44.

The drivers of commercial cabs and truckers indulge in fatigue-induced driving. We need to understand simple road science. Control, care, and courtesy are what should we learn from driving instructors. Don’t indulge in driver’s sleep.

Traffic lights: A year ago, LG admin was supposed to install 64 ILS (Intelligent Traffic Lights). How much of that Vikas has been done? Has SMC overlooked the project? We know, the government has no magic wand to undo the mess but let government improvise and citizens obey the rules.

What is the way forward?

Reams can be written on Kashmir’s ailing Transport Industry but to cut the long story short, let’s focus on how we can improvise. The owners of private vehicles, laying massive stress on roads are unwilling to compromise their luxury.

Moreover, the furious pace of motorization has led to severe traffic clog thereby decreasing the quality of life in Srinagar by losing man-hours. A pleasant trip is still a dream on our bumpy tracks full of potholes.

Srinagar Metro Rail project is a solution to this major problem. Testing tracks and trails of this ambitious 13 Km first corridor should be good to go in the next three years. It will surely lessen the inconvenience. Honking annoys. Let’s minimize it. Overcharging by auto-rickshaws is another issue not addressed.

Without electronic meters, they take you for a ride, both literally and metaphorically. Mobile hawkers must be given a designated space. Carpooling is a great technique, must be adopted. Let’s become the voice of thousands of underpaid assistants (conductors) of public buses. Their counterparts enjoy their job in other parts of India but they are exploited in the name of work back in Kashmir.

A ‘good Samaritan’ paying someone’s fare in a bus is an isolated incident. A young man offering his seat to a senior citizen/pregnant lady speaks volumes about his conduct.

Viewing the entire system through this jaundiced prism is not optimistic but wishful thinking. It is an emotional reaction not rooted in reason and logic. If we believe, this is the balm to the wounds, then it is a misleading binary- rather a false dichotomy.

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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