Roads in our cities are so crowded that during peak hours vehicles move not faster than average man’s walking speed. Vehicles cannot be moved faster than 10-12 miles per hour during peak hours on our city roads which in a way hampers normal routine of the people. What is the solution for this perennial problem? More roads, more flyovers, more underpasses, etc? We have been creating more roads, flyovers, etc but the traffic on the road has only increased and looking at the urbanisation and future population growth rate, the problem is only going to aggravate in the coming years. The more vacant road you have in cities the more encouragement will be for people to use their personal vehicles. Congestion on roads will not only restrict the people’s movement but also adds to air pollution as we have been seeing it in Delhi every year.
The best way forward is to discourage people from using their personal vehicles for their daily commuting and encourage them to opt for public transport system. The only way to curb traffic on roads is by making it expensive, that is by levying congestion tax which will discourage people from using their personal vehicle for daily commuting. Money so collected can be used for improving our public transport system.
New York city has decided to impose congestion tax from 2021 onwards to tackle the problem of crowding on roads. Money so collected will be used for the purpose of improving the road conditions. Some European countries and Singapore have already been imposing congestion taxes to a great effect. What is good for them can be good for us too.
London charges a congestion fee of 11.50 pounds on weekdays in a 20-square km area around the city centre for vehicles entering between 7am and 6pm. It uses automatic number plate-recognition cameras at 348 entry sites, and vehicle owners entering the zones either pay online or via their mobile phones or at specific stores. Singapore follows a similar system. We have many such examples which our government agencies can study before coming out with the best system suitable for our city roads.
Last year Delhi had planned about levying congestion charges to unclog the overcrowded roads of the city. The government had zeroed in on 21 stretches in the Capital where congestion tax could be imposed to ease traffic and check pollution. However, the government had set no time limit for the congestion fee to take effect.
We have been trying to overcome the problem of congestion through unclogging the roads through various means. Historically, our responses have been directed towards building more roads or widening existing ones — only to find that those, too, become jammed. So, time has come to change our approach and face the problem head on by imposing congestion taxes.
Congestion tax will be called anti-poor by some NGOs and activists. Those who had opposed toll collection will say it is tax for roads which are not there. This can be used to encourage people to use public transport system which in turn calls for an efficient public transport system which many cities (almost all cities) in India lack.
There are also people who say congestion on roads is a sign of progress. What does the long queues in front of doctor’s dispensary indicate? Of course, success of the doctor in his profession but at the same time it indicates failure of our healthcare system. Similarly, congestion on roads may indicate the success story of Indian automobile industry but at the same time brings out in open our failure to match the success with sufficient infrastructure.
We have passed the stage of blaming someone for insufficient and inefficient infrastructure in our major cities and we need to concentrate on possible remedies now. Congestion pricing is perhaps the best solution available under the present circumstances. It will not only reduce congestion which in turn improve air quality in the cities but also help to collect money for infrastructure development. Also, lesser congestion on roads may encourage walking and cycling.
However, congestion charges need to be levied only after a thorough study of the roads, entry and exit points, arteries, etc. Technology to be used for the purpose too must be of the highest quality and ensure that movement is not hampered, not in any way. So, we need to do less of rhetoric and more of study and research before implement the plan.