A Bangalorean rues over people not walking any more
I look back at my childhood in Bangalore with awe and joy. In the 90s, I remember walking to school with a group of friends. Commuting to school was never a matter of concern either to us or to our parents. Luckily, the schools we were enrolled in were closer home and hence, walking to school was the only option. Roads were less crowded, footpaths were clearer and walking on roads was a hassle free experience. When public transport was the only option for many, walking used to be the last mile connectivity.
I remember a bridge across a water stream on the way to my school, which often collapsed during heavy rains. Upon hearing about the incident in school, we would be on a constant lookout for adventure while going home and make merry on the way. I still have vivid memories of scores of parents waiting on the other side of the bridge anxiously waiting for us. However, events like these never dampened our enthusiasm of walking to school.
When I was a bit older, I remember feeling excited at the prospect of exploring new routes to college every week. In my childhood and teenage years, kids cycling to schools/colleges were a given. It was such a common sight. Sadly, not anymore! Commuting is a much dreaded activity nowadays. What used to be a comfortable 15-20 minute journey many years ago easily takes more than an hour now! Walking is no longer an option, thanks to the mind-boggling traffic that has taken over every part of the road. It saddens me to say that walking has been taken away from us.
So, what has changed in the last 10-20 years?
As the city grew and stretched from all sides, public transport did not grow at the same pace. Investments in public transport, non-motorized transport were very meagre or sometimes not even budgeted. The need to reach farthest corners of the city for work coupled with an absence of faster/cheaper commute options drove people to invest in private vehicles. Today, we stare at a number (75 lakhs of vehicles until Aug 2018 for a population of 1.23 crores) which is an obnoxious figure. There doesn’t seem to be any respite as more vehicles are registered everyday. This trend will only increase unless there is an intervention by the state to provide for public transport at a faster pace and at an economical price.
There are several thousands of citizens who walk long distances, take unauthorized, unsafe private vehicles to their work place as the BMTC fares are unaffordable. According to a recent study by a transport group —Bengaluru Bus Prayanika Vedike— BMTC fares for the first five kilometres are the highest in the country. BMTC bus fares must be made affordable for all citizens and must aim at becoming the preferred mode of transport for all. BMTC and Bengaluru traffic police(BTP) must come together to make BMTC buses run faster on roads where it is possible to have bus lanes. Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) bus routes must be the option of commute where metro and suburban routes don’t exist. Buses are also optimum for traveling shorter distances within zones, and also prove to be the best option for last mile connectivity for metro and suburban trains.
The various stakeholders related to transport need to come together, and have to look at the planned metro lines once again, alignment of stations and the last mile connectivity. There need to be concentrated efforts towards increasing the ease of use of suburban trains in the city, which may help ease the traffic on the roads. The areas with dense traffic have a parallel suburban rail network and there needs a coordinated effort from both the local and central governments to run the trains on these routes to allay the peak hour rush.
Non-motorized commuting options like walking and cycling need to be encouraged. However, footpaths are barely functional in our city. Most of them are broken, dug up, laden with construction debris, cables and numerous motorised vehicles being parked adding to the chaos leading to more people to opt away from walking. Bengaluru is no longer pedestrian friendly as the pleasure of walking short distances have been snatched away by the non-user friendly footpaths.
Cycling is another commute option that is hugely neglected. We must start using cycles for shorter distances and ensure we make way for cyclists on the road. Cycle Days that have started in few localities is a welcome change towards promoting cycling in our cities.
Clearing footpaths of debris and parked vehicles, fixing the broken paths must be done on a priority basis by the local bodies (corporators/councilors). We must also pitch in this effort by doing everything that does not hinder free movement of people on footpaths. I feel no single effort can clear the mess of traffic we are facing as a city. It needs to be a good mix of initiatives from the government including clearing hurdles for public transport and making them available for public use at the earliest, an increase in awareness of benefits of public transport and conscious efforts by citizens in reducing the use of private vehicles.
Shilpa is an IT professional. This article is written as part of the AIC community media project at Co Media Lab, in partnership with Deakin University and IdeoSync.