Illustrating the heavy traffic congestion on Indian roads, a report released by a major global location technology specialist has ranked three Indian cities in the top five among 416 cities across 57 countries, for having the worst traffic gridlocks. The ninth edition of TomTom Traffic Index for 2019 has Bengaluru topping the list with Mumbai and Pune in fourth and fifth positions respectively. Delhi comes in eighth, marking an improvement from its fourth position a year ago. Highlighting the plight of commuters in Bengaluru, drivers in the southern tech city spent an average of 71% extra time on the road due to congestion. This translates into Bengaluru residents spending an extra 10 days and three hours driving in peak hours.
Traffic congestion hurts the quality of life, reduces productivity and saps the economic potential of our cities. This gridlock is the result of poor urban planning and public transportation shortfalls, which in Bengaluru have led to an explosion in vehicle population from 50.5 lakh in 2014 to more than 80 lakh in 2019. The subpar bus service and tardy pace of metro rail expansion have made India’s Silicon Valley a commuting nightmare.
The story isn’t very different in other urban centres like Delhi where the metro service may be a lifesaver but lack of adequate buses continues to hobble commuters. Mumbai’s urban rail service still caters to millions but hasn’t been modernised anywhere near potential. In the long term of course we simply need more cities across the country, relieving the pressure on existing ones. But as the Amaravati fiasco shows, the project of building new cities is mired in bureaucracy, land acquisition struggles and above all politics. This must change, otherwise the promise of Indian cities serving as engines of economic growth will remain significantly unmet.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.