‘City roads are wide,but space available for traffic is an issue’https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/city-roads-are-wide-but-space-available-for-traffic-is-an-issue/

‘City roads are wide,but space available for traffic is an issue’

At an Idea exchange moderated by Sagnik Chowdhury,Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Vivek Phansalkar speaks on the challenges faced by the police in managing the city’s traffic,the increase in the number of vehicles on Mumbai roads and the need for more rigorous driving tests

SAGNIK CHOWDHURY: What are the challenges you face in

managing the city’s traffic?

In 1991,the number of vehicles on Mumbai’s roads were nearly seven lakh. It was 6,80,000,to be exact. In 2011,it was 20.33 lakh vehicles. In 2013,it might have crossed 21 lakh.

The daily average registration of vehicles in Mumbai Metropolitan areas is around 470 vehicles,of which 225-230 are motorcycles. The increase in motorcycles is 203 per cent in 20 years.

Population increase is nearly 24 per cent and space cannot increase. Space is constant,unless you reclaim,or unless you create levels over levels. In terms of the 55 flyovers and other connectors such as Bandra Worli Sea Link,there has been addition of road space,but an equal amount of road space has,over a period of time,gone to encroachments,slums,footpaths not available for walking,people walking on streets,no parking spaces. The official figure for BMC for on-street parking is 12,000 vehicles against 20 lakh which are on the road.

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Figures show that around 23 lakh people travel by train and 43 lakh by bus. The scenario is that around eight per cent of people in cars are eating up 80 per cent of road space,including parking space. And around 85 per cent people are using 15 per cent road space. That is a major challenge.

SAGNIK CHOWDHURY: What are your views on congestion tax and the traffic restraint system that are being considered?

It will need a lot of work. Our experiences in our country normally is we do not abide by ourselves. We require constant enforcement. Even a board saying one-way is no assurance that people will not come.

P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: But the traffic police did propose a congestion tax,didn’t they?

We propose many things. There are several ideas that come forth from people. But suppose we implement them,how are we going to enforce them? There are many things that should be done voluntarily but that doesn’t happen. Thus,we are thinking if these schemes will work.

DIPTI SONAWALA: At the Metro in Ghatkopar,there are many bottlenecks and hawkers have now encroached the space below it.

You are talking about Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar corridor,which has 11 stations. If you look at the alignment on JP Road,all stations of the Metro are landing on the footpath. And footpaths are as narrow as two-and-a-half or three feet. There are several encroachments in the way of widening. You can only imagine what is going to happen when commuters from (Metro) stations land straight on the road. When the Metro starts,the road is going to close.

The biggest limitation is the rehabilitation of people who have encroached public spaces. But after having agreed on a package,it is a major issue to convince every person to move to the space allotted.

SAGNIK CHOWDHURY: But is there a situation where the traffic department’s views are disregarded?

Infrastructure projects have their own project consultants and experts who take everything into consideration,especially entry and exit points management. I cannot make a general statement that we were not involved in the planning of any infrastructure projects.

SAGNIK CHOWDHURY: What is the stance of the traffic police on the Pedder Road flyover?

If any work has to happen on Pedder Road,then,considering the size of the road,it will not be possible for work to go on,unless the road is closed. At best,one lane movement towards south and one towards north in the portion of construction will be a possibility. It doesn’t matter how much construction is going on,because if you are allowing three-four lanes to move,it doesn’t serve any purpose. For all practical purposes,whatever length you choose from Haji Ali. There are various proposals being discussed.

SMITA NAIR: How has the length of roads in the city increased over the past ten years,vis-a-vis the number of cars added?

Now,we have a total length of 1,941 km. But more than the length,it is the breadth that is the problem. There are wide roads in the city. But how much space is actually available for traffic is the issue. Traffic is essentially an urban space management issue and that is the realm of the municipal corporation and the developmental authorities such as MMRDA.

SAGNIK CHOWDHURY: What is your engagement with BMC on issues such as potholes?

Potholes are a serious issue,which severely affects traffic flow. Suppose there are 100 vehicles,when one encounters a pothole,it is going to stop for one second. The second vehicle will stop for two seconds. So the hundredth vehicle faces a 100-second delay. And this goes on. And that is why there are traffic jams. We would love to have pothole-free roads as much as you would. But we have a double problem. When potholes are formed,we have to deploy more people to help people navigate those areas and when they start filling potholes,we also have to give a closing time. And often,after the work is done,the visibility of it is complete but the ‘curing’ part takes a little time so there are altercations.

ZEESHAN SHAIKH: We read about skill upgrades in other forces. Is it rare in case of traffic police?

The Mumbai traffic police are the only traffic police force that have has a traffic training institute. In fact,we train traffic police of the entire state. We also get requests coming from Assam and Uttar Pradesh,but priority is our people. However,we train people from Chattisgarh,Jharkhand,even Nepal and Bhutan. We have three-day capsules and a ten-day training programme that every constable goes through.

SHIVANI NAIK: Would you say that driving tests in India are strict enough?

It is a serious issue. The transport department has its own limitations and problems,such as not being able to conduct tests for want of space and manpower. But if we have rigorous tests and better-tested drivers,it will make a huge difference in traffic management ad traffic discipline. We have to make the driving licence a precious commodity.

TABASSUM BARNAGARWALA: What are the steps being taken to address the health concerns of traffic policemen?

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It is not just the standing,it is the job content. There are issues such as diabetes,cardiac problems,hypertension and sleep apnea. Every individual needs to take care of his or her own health. Self-regulation is important. But we have a good health scheme. Many hospitals in Mumbai conducts check-ups for our personnel. We get assistance from institutions. Sessions are organised to address health issues of our personnel.

(Transcribed by Smita Nair,

Megha Sood,Gautam S Mengle &

Srinath Rao)