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Article in The Times of India
Authored by Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan


National Coordinator of
VOTEINDIA movement

Public tranport the only way out

One of the great boons of modern civilization is the relative ease of transport. A few centuries ago, it was widely believed that a pilgrimage to the holy city of Benaras was equivalent to the final passage to the cemetery. So great were the travails of travel that people rarely ventured out of their immediate vicinity. Unlike the Roman empire, Indian monarchies paid little attention to highways and an efficient transport system.

Happily, the British rule changed all this. The great highways and the massive rail network built painstakingly by colonial rulers integrated our economy and made long distance travel safer and affordable at least for the middle and upper classes. The railways also made our national movement a reality. Gandhiji used rail travel creatively to mobilize the masses and knit us together as a single nation. It is impossible to think of our society and economy without an efficient transport system.

And yet we experience increasing problems in travel. As more and more people travel for business, family reunions or pleasure, our transport network is overloaded. Our big cities are choked with motor cars and highways are congested. Holiday travel with children needs painstaking efforts and a great deal of advance planning. Air travel is possible at short notice, but simply unaffordable to the many. And getting accommodation in trains is a nightmare.

A good, comfortable, accessible, affordable public transport system is the essence of freedom and modern civilization. Europe represents the best in this respect. On any day, at any time, you can travel anywhere across Europe by rail. The usual difficulties we experience - advance planning, reservations, wait lists, emergency quotas, cancellations - are unheard of in Europe. Public transport is plentiful, frequent, reliable and affordable. Within one hour you can get into a train for a long distance journey.

Like in much else, we have adopted the United States as a model for transport. The private motor car has become the symbol of freedom and prestige. It is unthinkable that a family with a decent income will rely on public transport in cities. Buses are uncomfortable and congested. They are irregular and unreliable. As a result, every family's dream is to own a car, motor cycle or scooter.

India is more like Europe with high density of population and many large towns and cities. Our roads are not planned to take a car or scooter of every family. The result is enormous congestion and virtual paralysis. With passing time, travel is getting slower and more difficult. We are spending more money to widen roads and build flyovers, but our traffic is getting slower and slower. Many commuters spend two to four hours a day on the road traveling from homes to work and back. Life in urban areas is increasingly painful.

We need to focus on urban and long distance transport. Easy and comfortable travel accessible to ordinary citizens is the essence of modern life. Our obsession with private transport should yield place for efficient public transport. The government is doing everything possible to encourage the building of an international airport near Hyderabad. But overseas travelers do not even average about 200 passengers a day. There is no way huge investments can be justified for such low volumes. What we need is massive investment in cities for high quality public transport - underground tube or mass rapid transport systems over ground, and efficient signaling and more and faster trains for long-distance travel. Without such clear headed thinking and focused application of resources, our cities will be unlivable and travel will be increasingly painful, taking us back to medieval days.





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