Transport. Transport offers mobility. From mobility comes access. Access to work, socials, leisure, everything. Transport systems even shape our cities.
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For years now, transport in Bengaluru has been in a state of breakdown. Our roads are flooded disproportionately with cars and two-wheelers which compete for every inch of space with the buses that carry the majority.
We’ve all become weary travellers. It is now not uncommon to put off a jaunt to meet someone or attend a function unless its critical or something we cannot wriggle out of. Social connections are being rewired to lessen impact.
Adding to this is the latest pressing problem of humanity, climate change. Transport systems account for between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of world energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, says the London-based World Energy Council. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport are increasing at a faster rate than any other energy-using sector, says the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cutbacks in emissions are simply going to have to be done, and India’s massive and energy-thirsty cities will have to implement reforms soon.
Put simply, for cities like Bengaluru, this means reworking everything from urban planning and land use policies to building efficient and attractive bus transit systems for widespread public use. This means a politics where citizens, employers, businesses and politicians come together.
On November 21st, a day-long meet called ‘MobiliCity’ takes place at the Indian Institute of Science. Officials, experts, a lone MLA, and worried citizens are indeed coming together. Look up mobilicity.praja.in. On tap are a number of sessions. First is a panel discussion on Karnataka’s draft transport policy. Another session is on road design to accomodate pedestrians, vehicles, water and electricity lines, and tree cover. This one promises to be interesting, it has two BBMP engineers presenting.
This is a long overdue meet, and yet, there is a risk. Too often such engagements end up providing intellectual highs and transient joys for a select community, which may well include a tiny chorus of officials who may not be able to do much on their own. Still, it’s a start.
What the city really needs is belief, both amongst the citizens and officials, that policy can work. For this, at least one simple, explainable, practical idea must emerge soon. This has to be a consensus idea that everyone — citizens and enforcement officials — are willing to comply with. Too much has gone wrong in the past, on the backs of words, reports, grand plans and promises. The idea could be a congestion tax along specific corridors, or redrafted zoning rules, or declaring key shopping districts as pedestrian-only areas, or anything else.
We have to make an elementary and sensible reform work, and make sure it is seen as working, and then grander designs could follow.
For Bengaluru’s transportation, the climate change issue may actually be a blessing in disguise. Some experts argue that moving to sustainability will more likely fix the general brokenness of access itself and the city may renew itself again. ⊕