Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Public transport to public culture

A beautiful piece by Gurcharan das on the Delhi Metro, where he wonders if the culture of the Metro (neat, clean, efficient, respect for fellow travellers) will flow outwards into the city (or vice versa). Read the entire piece which ends with

..."But a new mode of transport is a powerful way to bring about a civic and demorctic revolution in what has always been an unkind city. After all, Mumbais superior public culture originated, in part, in its better transport system."

Similar thoughts echoed in me as I saw yet another overcrowded Bangalore bus make its way across the city. Bangalore is a city that has BMTC buses, yet there are many run down vintage "maxicabs" that ply on various routes in the city. The public transport culture in Bangalore, reflects that in Pune and other smaller cities in India. People prefer their own bikes (bicycles to cruisers, anything) and when they can afford it, they move onto their cars. The arrival of the IT industry and subsequent comeuppance of the urban "elite" has made the public transport, more "public" and "its not for me". Add to it the chauvinism of the BMTC powers that be that boards are written only in Kannada (thankfully numbers are in English, but thats really a small mercy) and it makes the buses for "them" and not "us".

All over India, public transport has to move from the "public means cheap and dirty" mentality to a "comfort" mentality that is virtually absent (except Mumbai which actually has some good options like AC buses). It took a Madhu Dandavate to upgrade our wooden sleeper second class coaches into some semblance of comfort with two inches of foam. Much of our public transport is decrepit and rundown; any lesser and they would classify as goods transport.

The way to get people to use public transport is by adding more comfort, otherwise there is no way people will give up the usage of their airconditioned private vehicles. A comfortable public transport, will, over time, translate into better public culture.

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