March 26, 2009

Of Mumbai and more... I

I had serious reservations about living in Mumbai two years ago - still have as a matter of fact. But the famous Mumbai spirit is ever present and infectious. But being an outsider, I observed that in spite of having the best bus transport in India (BEST), the traffic situation is terrible. And getting worse. A lot of contributing factors: bad roads, slow flyover constructions, terrible and untrained drivers, road blocks like filth, garbage, illegal parking, and sometimes just the humongous human crowds. What are the agencies who are supposed to provide for the public doing? Why are some of them thriving, while others are woefully fumbling and stumbling?

Recently, BEST, traffic policemen, firemen have all realized the importance of actually turning in a profit rather than just waiting for the government to wake up and allot them funds. Better late than never, I say. BEST has been the path breaker and how! They are already turning in a profit, adding new buses to their fleet every year, paying their employees a pretty penny, and making moolah from advertising space both on and in the buses. Add to that the fact that their buses are almost always clean, or maybe I should say, swept and seats wiped. It seems nigh near impossible to evade buying a ticket, so I guess, this is a big contributor, but be that as it may, they are really a shining example. Oh, they could do more, sure, but hey, when you take a look at, say, our locals, traffic policemen and firemen, well, it becomes clear how far ahead BEST is.

Generating a profit is not for the money part alone, it also means you are able to pay your employees a decent salary - enough for them to be motivated to do their jobs properly without resorting to bribes. It also means expanding your workforce, which in turn means a bigger profit. And if these agencies fight for it, they will soon have laws standing by them to make it easier for them.

Take BMC for example - their Keep Mumbai Clean act is wonderful. Everyday, on my way to work, I see scores of their personnel clearing the trash and even the human feces from roadsides and footpaths. And they seem to take their work very seriously. I travel by the Western Express Highway, JVLR and Powai. Every road that I see is clean. Admittedly, these are all arterial roads. I frankly have no idea about the smaller, more densely populated (and hence, more filthier) roads and areas. But this initiative is commendable, especially in a city like Mumbai, where trash and filth seem to have become a part of the cityscape.

If our traffic policemen can take a cue from BEST to raise funds here are some ways to go about it:
  • Fine illegally parked vehicles. Double the fine for those who are double parked. No new law required for this one. Can be implemented straightaway.
  • Fine vehicles which have broken down on the middle of the road. A large fine if broken down on an arterial road, a larger one if broken down on the highway. A hefty one if broken down on a flyover. (seriously though, why do these decades-old, smoke-belching trucks want to use the flyovers when they woefully lack maintainance and the power required to negotiate the flyover? once these trucks break down, you cant move them and these people start their repairs then and there and leave behind grease and oil to show for it. fine them. if they can afford to strike days on end protesting the fuel prices, they can cough up fines for not maintaining these vehicles too). Also, make towing a vehicle compulsory. People waste time sitting in traffic just because some idiot thought that he could flout laws and common sense and not service his vehicle for a dozen of years. He should be fined for causing offices and people loss of money and mental trauma!
  • Fine abandoned vehicles - you know, the vehicles which have broken down and have been abandoned in the middle of the road - and include the towing charges as well.
Even if they implement this, their inflow will increase enough to actually recruit more who will help implementing these rules and fines.

For the BMC, well, things are not easy. They cannot fine people who defecate on the roadside as there is lack of sanitary services these people could turn to. And no, this is not to start the debate on how the slum dwellers are living illegally on government land or not. Bottom line is, it cannot fine them. So then, what can it do?
  • Fine for dumping garbage right next to the garbage bin and not in it.
  • Fine for leaving behind refuse and garbage after any and every festival and gathering - religious or political. If people can take organize gatherings, they can organize the clean-up as well.
  • As it falls to the BMC to take care of our roads, they can also charge every single hoarding - whether lighted or on sticks, large or small; on the divider, near the footpath and of course, over the road. BMC could mint thousands during election time or when some political big-wig comes visiting. And lets not forget political hoardings congratulating their party head on his/her birthday, political scaffolding larger than the deity whose celebrations are on, wedding mandaps and more. Admittedly, this would be neigh near impossible to implement what with the BMC and local politicians being in total cahoots.

Local trains. No, I don't have any suggestions for this one. Why? Because, there is no separate agency which operates this for Mumbai! Centrally governed, how can anyone have any inkling of the daily hassles? Why not increase ticket fares? What about the poor, you say? They don't pay for the ticket when it so low either! Why not increase the ticket price, for people like me who actually pay for tickets? Why not recruit the beggars on the train to clean the trains every night? How about recruiting about 50 people whose sole job would be to close the train doors at night? Almost everyone who commutes by locals, has an opinion on how they could be better. But most of these would require dedicated and constant aid from the government which, woefully, we have come not to expect at all. So, the locals go on, overburdened and with nowhere to go. Let me backtrack a bit and state for the record that the daily job done by the Central and Western Railway is admirable. So many trains, crisscrossing tracks, high train frequency all must be a daily headache and miracle to manage so successfully [yes successfully, ever heard of a Mumbai local accident or derailment?]. Dirty trains and stations? Ever think twice before tossing that wad of plastic or paper on the tracks? Where can it generate money from with tickets as less as 4 rupees and scores of people traveling ticketless nonetheless? No, there is not one but myriad reasons why the locals are the way they are. And if we as citizens and users don't change some of our habits, well, we have no right to complain about these agencies and the way they work.

Why cannot these agencies aim for profit, when government funds are irregular and in short supply? Aren't these agencies supposed to work for the city and help it gain prosperity? But when will all this come together? When we, as citizens care to see and get it done. Which brings us all to another pet peeve of mine: citizen responsibility. But then, that is another rant, sufficient for another post.


Anonymous said...

Privatization? Isn't that a simple solution to all the problems and issues listed?
Just keep an eye on the Reliance Metro coming up in the Andheri - Versova link - just see how reliance is going to run the same... well i am pointing towards their professionalism, but just that when these essential service lands in pros, they make the best use...
Look into the public transport systems in other cities.. say Indore, the Public Transport buses are 50% in private hand and the system works awesome.. Go further east, look into Japan, Singapore. All the public transport are at least 50% offshored to private local companies. Same stands true in London. They have private trains which covers half of the traffic. Even NY Metro is 80% privatised... if I am not wrong.

Anways.. another awesome article.. I loved it..

Priyanka said...

Ah, but that is my point. Why can't PSUs in India think of generating profit? It is almost as if PSUs and profit-making are not synomous!
Privatisation, in itself, might not be the only way out. I mean look at Indian Railways, it is earning a good amount of profit - and all by increasing the tariff of seats where people would pay. On the other hand, Privatisation alters the aim of the body completely - from public service it goes to only profit. Agreed, there are good examples of these, but then look at the bad ones as well. Ever tried to travel by the completely privately owned transport in Gurgaon? Harrowing experience.
The half-and-half ownership might work, but in India - without strict laws and precise legislation - it might just be wading into murky waters.

Anonymous said...

Ms P:
Just a small point to ponder: Do you really think, public transport should be profit making? Tell me, what good will it do to us as a general public? Take for example, Indian Railways: You noew have 88 berths where even 72 were pretty difficult to be placed in.. in the end its we who are suffering. According to me, atleast public transport should be huge profit makers.. they can be in slight loss or no profit no loss!

Stupidosaur said...

Good dissection.

@Anonymous 2:
If you aim for no-ptofit-no-loss or loss-only, things get stagnant or even rotten.

You got to make profit and then put it back into the cause. Then its a progressive, incremental, growing system, though still a non-profit-no-loss

Priyanka said...

@Anonymous: I think stupidosaur said it all. Just to add a bit: the increased number of seats/berths in this population-laden nation is exactly what is needed. Ever traveled in a train that did not have people without tickets sleeping on the floor? If it is comfort you wish for, by all means, travel by the 2-tier AC. You want to travel comfortably and dirt-cheap?! Can't have the seat and sleep on it too!!


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