According to a new study that evaluated traffic levels in 53 countries, Mumbai traffic has come off as the worst. The TomTom Traffic Index report found that out of 403 cities, Mumbai’s traffic levels force drivers to spend the most extra time in travelling. Colombia’s capital city Bogota, Peru’s capital Lima, India’s capital Delhi, and Russia’s capital Moscow are next in the rankings.
The TomTom Traffic Index found that drivers in Mumbai spend 65% more time travelling because of the high traffic levels. Delhi, which ranks fourth on the list, has a 58% increase in travel time due to traffic.
Moscow has the highest rate of traffic in Europe with a 56% longer travel time, found the report. Istanbul in Turkey follows closely with a 53% increase. Brussels, London, and Paris also rank among the top 15 most congested cities in the world.
In the US, heavy-traffic cities are Mexico City with 52%, Los Angeles with 41%, New York with 36%, and San Francisco with 34% increase in travel time. In Canada, Vancouver has the highest travel time with a 38% increase.
The TomTom Index finds that traffic levels have risen in almost 75% of the cities evaluated. Only 90 cities logged a decrease in traffic.
“Globally, traffic congestion is rising. And that’s both good and bad news. It’s good because it indicates a strong global economy, but the flip side is drivers wasting time sitting in traffic, not to mention the huge environmental impact,” said TomTom’s VP of Information Ralf-Peter Schaefer.
What’s plaguing Mumbai?
In heavy rains and crowds, Mumbai’s crumbling infrastructure is exposed through accidents; this the public believes is avoidable if the government prioritises development.
A tragic accident fresh in Mumbai’s memory is the CST bridge collapse that killed six and injured 31 this March. In 2017, the Elphinstone station stampede resulted in 22 deaths and 39 injured commuters.
Overcrowding at major local train stations, like Dadar and Andheri, is a common complaint of Mumbaikars, especially commuters, during torrential rains. Another complaint the residents have is the city’s pothole problem. A website that tracks the number of potholes on the city’s roads puts the current tally at 27,412.
The Asian Development Bank says India needs $112 billion annually to meet its development targets. Unless the government is able to create synergistic partnerships between the public and private sectors, that amount will need to come out of the country’s GDP, resulting in a 4% decline in revenue.
Most of India’s unfinished development projects are in Maharashtra, the state infamous for land disputes, political impasses, and red tape. So, from a lack of funds and incomplete projects to old, colonial-era structures not upgraded, Mumbai becomes a dangerous city.
These pending constructions then create bottlenecks and traffic pile-ups; for example, recently, Juhu Tara road was unexpectedly shut down because the Meghwadi Nalla road bridge was declared structurally unsafe.
The irony is construction of new Metro lines, underway to amp up the city’s public transit services, is itself causing traffic. Construction on the Western Express Highway and Linking Road has resulted in major traffic as travelling time in those corridors has more than doubled.
So much so, that Mumbai Police has requested employers to stagger office timings to reduce rush hour traffic while construction work is underway, reports the Hindustan Times.
Will going hi-tech help tackle Mumbai traffic?
In 2011, Mumbai introduced a new traffic management system as part of a World Bank initiative.
The World Bank says the headquarters of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) will have a live GPS for tracking traffic on to a map with red, amber, and green veins. At 220 centres, the city’s traffic police force will also have monitors installed with 600 remotely operated zoom cameras that can track traffic in real time.
There are also intelligent detection cameras at high-congestion spots that have replaced the fixed traffic light time table.
The World Bank says, “Detection cameras are placed at strategic points, besides sensors beneath the road surface. If traffic stops flowing before the green signal switches to amber, the light automatically trips. This is what is called intelligent signaling.”
While the MUTP is a step in the right direction, the World Bank’s Transport Specialist for India Atul Aggarwal says the sheer volume of construction projects on Mumbai’s roads puts these hi-tech cameras at risk of damage.
Moreover, the police force needs to believe that the technology can revolutionise their traditional role of traffic direction.
“Getting the system to work through the control room rather than manually by policemen at traffic junctions requires a change in mindset, which we are overcoming through regular training,” said Aggarwal.
Coastal road project: Boon or bane?
Another major policy is the BMC coastal road project that includes an eight-lane freeway from Nariman Point to Worli Sea Link and Versova. It will cost an estimated Rs 12,000 crore and is expected to be completed by 2022.
However, the project has received backlash from residents, conservationists, and activists because it will disrupt Mumbai’s coastline, marine habitat, and fisherfolk community with no effective rehabilitation.
Mint reports that fishing societies Worli Macchimar Sarvoday Society and Worli Koliwada Nakhwa Matsya Vyavsay Sahakari society filed a petition for over 11,000 fishermen in Worli and Parel to get government subsidies.
The Bombay High Court directed the BMC to submit data on how this project will impact the fishing communities; the civic body had earlier said that fishing areas and breeding grounds would not be impacted.
A study also found that the project will “irreversibly damage the coastal ecosystem”, said the Hindu.
The study notes that the road project will take over the the rocky littoral zone (shore) where the sunlight is able to penetrate the water and allow plants to grow. This rocky area is also home to crabs, lobsters, prawns, goldfish, and pomfret, who won’t be able to survive if their habitat is changed.
“It will be an eyesore that will not make sense financially or even from the traffic decongestion point of view,” said Samir D’Monte, an architect from Bandra Collective.
“In general, only 8% of Mumbai’s citizens have access to cars, and barely 2% would need to use these coastal roads to travel long distances… Instead of spending crores on a coastal road, what we need is public transport that will benefit the majority of the population,” said D’Monte to Scroll.
What the city really needs
Maharashtra drafted an urban transport policy in 2017 that placed emphasis on infrastructure used for public transit and invited ideas from residents on how best to curb automobile use.
The policy wants to see 80% of all commuting done through walking, cycling or public transport. To achieve this, the state has pledged to have at least 50% of its population within 500 metres and 60% of all workplaces within 0.5 kilometre of a public transit stop.
This policy was drafted with help from the Pune chapter of the Institute of Transportation & Development Policy that forms eco-friendly urban policies.
That countries like India need public infrastructure is a given. However, they should strive to form sustainable urban transport policies—from electricity cars, heavy parking fees, a cap on cab licences, and increased public transport—that will benefit the population in the long run.
Mumbai also especially needs fast-tracked dispute resolution committees, licence approvals, and programmes to attract private investors who will ensure that funding for construction remains stable.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.