The future is in rail, not cars

The Union Budget and the Railway Budget, presented recently, did not come up with any worthwhile incentives for effecting a shift in the preferences of people from private to public vehicles. However, the recommendation to release 10,000 buses into the urban veins will go down as the most mentionable step in this direction. Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has proposed these buses to be purchased under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The Minister allocated Rs. 14,873 crore for the year for JNNURM, of which a considerable portion will be set aside for new buses, it is presumed. However, it remains debatable if the urban thoroughfares already begging for space under the deluge of traffic would be able to cope with more buses. It mentioned that during the 2009-12, the JNNURM introduced 14,000 buses into towns and cities and these have served as an incentive for people to switch over to public transport.

The allocation is all likely to spur the growth of commercial vehicles, which according to the Society of Indian Automotive Manufacturing (SIAM) could register only 0.2 per cent growth in the last eight months of the current fiscal. Yet another positive signal comes in the form of hike in excise by three per cent for more space-consuming cars like Innova and SUVs. Though increase in Customs duty on imported luxury cars too has been hiked sizably—from 75 to 100 per cent — their market share being very minuscule, the impact will be negligible.

While this might be a reason for cheer at the national level, the fact that a Commuter Rail Service (CRS) for Bangalore has been totally disregarded by the Railway Budget has come as a big dampener. Bodies doing advocacy for public transport such as Praja had welcomed the RITES report (when it was released some eight months ago) as an endorsement of the long-term demand for the Railways meeting the needs of people travelling to and from Bangalore daily. According to Sanjeev Dhamannavar, founder-member of Praja, the Railway budget has also made no allocation for improvement in interconnectivity, signalling, and platforms. Adds Satya Sankaran, another member of Praja, the Railway Budget has come as a big disappointment as the people had canvassed support for the CRS for the last three years.

Intra-State connectivity

Satya says that while any amount of improvement in urban road transport should be welcomed, the intra-State connectivity with Bangalore has been given a go-by. “It is only possible through improvement of the rail network as trains have the ability to access the core of the cities by cutting through the clogged arteries. What is the use of making provision for a VIP Lounge at the Bangalore City Station when the common passengers have to jump over the rails to get to the other platforms or stand in serpentine queues at ticket counter,” he questions.

Incidentally, even the State Budget talks more in terms of making Bangalore more navigable for car-users as it has allocated money for 17 flyovers and underpasses in the city. The Metro Phase II has been allocated Rs. 8,696 crore which does not provide connectivity to surrounding towns.

Even pedestrians’ needs have been ignored totally. Says Sanjeev, “It is an index that pedestrian does not figure anywhere in the scheme of urban mobility for the planners. The traffic congestion has rendered life stressful for the urban residents and the need for foot overbridges, skywalks, subways and user-friendly pathways should have received some attention,” he avers.

Public advocacy groups resent the fact that beneficial and less expensive options such as CRS which could be operationalised with enhancement of the existing infrastructure, do not find favour with the planners any more while money-spinners hog the limelight. They say the State Government failed to push the case of the CRS with the Centre while exhibiting willingness to make the city more car-friendly.

Published in: on March 9, 2013 at 3:41 am  Leave a Comment  

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