Saturday, March 19, 2016

Global Gridlock - National Pain

In a recent speech, Bill Ford (great grandson of Henry Ford) questions what happens to the world if our cars and trucks double, triple and quadruple? With cars becoming more and more affordable, with focus on elimination of CO2 emission almost looking straight into our eyes with electric cars and improvements in technology working together, we can see a day when environment and vehicles coming closer to one another, and probably coexist in harmony.

But we are left with a greater challenge that is not getting adequate attention: the freedom of mobility! Bill Ford estimates that by 2044, when the world is expected to reach its peak population of about 9 billion, we would be having about 2 - 4 billion cars and other vehicles on earth, from today's 800 million. And most of this growth is expected to take place in the developing world!

We are heading towards a national gridlock, whereby we might be spending time in our vehicles more than at home or work. This is already visible in several major cities of the world - where adults have begun to carry mobile toilets in their cars or wear adult diapers, and carry food as one expects to remain stuck on road due to traffic jams. Remember the 100 mile long traffic jam of Beijing that took 11 days to clear? Aren't Indians spending about a week per year, just stuck in traffic jams alone, already? What a waste of our life and resources. Rapid urbanization with more and more people choosing to live in urban environment will add up to this huge maze. Will we end up with a global gridlock? 

India's motor vehicle sale per 1,000 persons is growing at a rapid rate of 18 persons adding up a car or a three or four wheeler each year. India is the sixth largest motor vehicles manufacturer in the world today. Increase in road space can never catch up with this demand and supply chain. After all, as Bill Ford says, "four billion clean cars are still four billion cars! A traffic jam with no emissions is still a traffic jam!" So, finding alternate technological and people friendly solutions are a must.

a) Integration of ticketing system, as done in several cities of the world must be implemented right from now with use of smart cards that can be punched at buses, train stations, metro rails and even rental cars.
b) Smart solutions by way of car pooling has to improve with focus on shared services.
c) Smarter cars that can talk to one another, predict a grid lock and allow one to take alternate routes for improving mobility
d) Smarter roads and parking lots that can speak to cars whereby one can book a parking lot even before you arrive to ensure that one doesn't keep travelling around to find a place.
e) Stronger laws to ensure that every housing complex comes with adequate amount of space to park as many cars as there are apartments. (A walk across places like the South Extension in New Delhi would make sense of what I am saying where vehicles are parked for days and weeks at times on the road, as most houses do not have adequate parking spaces in their own house.)
f) Mandatory following of lanes, with segregated and safe lanes for different types of vehicles
g) Work stations to come up with expected number of employees, and housing complexes within the work station area. For example, if a company comes up with a plan to engage 2,000 employees, the complex also should have place for at least 1,000 employees to live close by, within walking distance. This would greatly reduce commuting time and vehicles on the road. Companies can easily reap the benefits of it as they need not organize transport and can also charge nominal amount as rent while the staff will be available to the company even during emergencies, or say, even if there is a national gridlock of traffic jam!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Managing Cities : Developing Outwards is better than Developing inward

Every Indian city seem to have some common woes : transportation, water supply and solid and liquid waste management are the most common, directly affecting people and their health. Services come next with affordable access to health and education being the biggest dragging points with ever increasing population. Let us take the case of transportation for our discussion.

There are three approaches to solve or reduce the problems of commuting in a city context : (a) increase road space - by widening the roads, laying new roads and flyovers; (b) reduce the number of vehicles that hit the road - essentially through levying of special taxes or by rationing of roads. This is again, an attempt to increase the space per vehicle ratio, so that vehicles can move faster than 20 km per hour speed, below which has been the bane of city transport. The third solution is through (c) improving intelligence. This is done through intelligence based signalling, technology providers linked with transport monitoring and updating suggested route and possible time of arrival in real time etc. Basically this is technology driven. The fourth generation solutions are looking at the star wars style of working to create "flying cars" and these seem to be still far away. With fear of terror strikes even at the thought of baloons and drones flying above, the chances of creating controlled corridors for such flying cars, even if technically feasible, to use of them for regular commutation seems far fetched. This leaves us with searching for transformational solutions.

The cities need to be seen differently. The cities come with an implosive nature of attraction - which means, people, services, transport et al keep increasing through high immigration and inputs, and then implode from within as the services and infrastructure can not cope with the people and demands for mobility. So, cities need to be built differently. They should be explode externally (leap frog to) to far off smaller towns. This means, cities should not be adding up, or eating up suburbs into themselves. Instead, specific growth factors should be taken out of the city to enable them to grow faster, better and with lesser strain on the cities and its populace. For example, take the case of Mumbai. The pressure on Mumbai was reduced when the focus on Pune was increased. The Expressway added to the spread and growth of Pune and the towns along the with, with lesser pressure on Mumbai - at least it gave the benefit of moving from rapid urbanization to a slower urbanization. Such satellite cities and districts need to be built with additional incentives. For example, if West Bengal need to reduce the burden on Kolkata, quality of Universities and Colleges need to be improved in other parts of the state. Say for example, Murshidabad district can have a Special Economic Zone for crap and hardware processing, Malda can have SEZ for food processing, Puruliya or Bankura can have SEZ for Researches, Burdwan and North Dinajpur can have SEZ for health etc. These kind of spreading and special incentives can have long term impact on the overall economy of the state, short term benefits of reducing migration influxes, and overall benefit of sustainable development and economic growth. Simply, it means, build satellite townships and districts across the states, and not in major cities and metropolis alone. It comes without saying that connecting each of them would cost less than managing mammoth cities.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Spectre

A spectre is haunting India. The spectre of "patriotism". Ultra right wing nationals and neo-liberals are at war with one another, fighting over the essence and meaning of "patriotism". In the midst of their battles are the weapons thrown at one another: freedom of speech, Constitution, devotion to country and, of course, Pakistan! The melee has been tormented by clarion call to banish those who promote "sedition", doctored tapes, arrest of students in Universities, a numb police force that lets lawyers beat of the "accused" while they are still in police custody within the court premises, and the media that is divided vertical and center.

To start with, the call to prove one's patriotism constantly seems to be challenging. Isn't it something to be taken for granted? I have been traveling a lot around in the country. Yes, once I felt I wasn't welcome in the country....and my patriotism was almost tested. An officer in Rajasthan had questioned me on the "need for Madrasis (people from South India are clubbed together!) to come and work in Rajasthan to teach them how to do risk assessment". I was angered, but I kept my cool. Had I blasted and shown my patriotic nature, probably I would not have succeeded in getting the program I was promoting. The program took off shortly thereafter, and the sail was smooth. Is Indian patriotism often chauvinistic and regional, I wonder.

The political class enjoys the troubled waters as always there is room for many to come up, shout, and hide under the filthy waters. This has been the case thereafter. Once the patriotism of students was questioned, everyone jumped into the fray. Isn't it the fact that things like these, like rumour, get thicker as they spread? So, every political party joined one side or the other. Now, one needs to measure their level of patriotism against the standards of our patriotic netas (leaders). That is a tall call. Naturally, either you are seditious or you are a right wing conservative. Now, conservatism took one step further: someone puts a price on the tongue of a student leader, and another puts up a price on the head of the young man. Well, don't laugh at the stupidity of the police: they file a case on defacing public wall (for pasting the posters), and not for the threat! No wonder, why every one fears the people with opposite ideologies. Imagine someone wants to cut off your head, and the police files a case of noise pollution!

Did I say something wrong? Err.... Lest I be charged with sedition! So, let me attach an apology with case someone in any color of dress is hurt.