Stuck in Traffic: How I Might Have Averted a Major Jam

Getting stuck in traffic is possibly the worst thing ever, especially in the morning. It simply ruins the rest of your day.

You wake up, get ready, and leave for a 9 hour job. You leave and end up stuck in traffic and your entire day goes for a toss. You are frustrated, irritated, and end up antagonizing others.

Now, where does the problem start? In today’s world, everybody relies on Google Maps. With Google advertising on Television about the awesomeness of it’s Navigation and Live Traffic relay, every Tom, Dick and Harry is busy using it to get to their destination. I’m not blaming the efficiency of Google Maps, but it did cause what I would call an Antagonising Disaster in Bengaluru.

To give a background, I need to travel to HSR Layout from Bannerghatta Road. There are two primary routes to reach this destination:

  1. BTM Layout and Central Silk Board
  2. Bommanahalli and Mangammapalya

The first route is perennially jammed because a vast majority of the traffic flows on this route, especially buses, and with bus stops placed precariously close to the signal, say goodbye to reaching office early.

The second route is less congested, faster and allows you to enter HSR Layout from the other end.

Now, the fastest way to reach HSR via the second route is: Vijaya Bank Layout – > Kodichikanahalli Road – > Devarachikanahalli Road – > Begur Road – > Mangammapalya Road and then turn into whichever main road of HSR Layout you would like to go to, starting from 5th Main.

Now, in order to get on to Mangammapalya Road [MR], one has to turn right onto Hosur Road, and take the immediate left. There is an opening on the Service Lane. This, is where the problem started.

BBMP had shut down the junction for a few days, in order to build a median on MR. Along with this, as part of traffic control, they barricaded part of the Service Lane. Thus anyone going from Silk Board towards Bommanahalli would have to get onto the main carriageway because the service lane is shut. Further, those coming out of HSR Layout via MR, would have to compulsorily take a left towards Garebhavi Palya because there was a Median that extended to the service lane barricades. Sounds complicated doesn’t it?

Once this was done, Google, which tracks every Android device, assumed that the junction was shut and thus stopped directing traffic on this route. It would direct all traffic towards Silk Board from the Bommanahhali signal, or worse, divert people onto a teeny-weeny, narrow, pothole ridden road parallel to Devarachikanahalli that went thru Virat Nagar, Vird Nagar and came out at Roopena Agrahara. Ultimately, all traffic ended up at Silk Board. Now, Uber drivers normally prefer following Google Maps. The situation is worse if you’re in an Uber Pool. The driver does not know the route, and even if some passenger wants to get off on MR, the map would direct them to Silk Board, then turn into HSR 5th Main, and then come back to MR. Very agonising, and antagonising.

I figured, let me try and fix this issue.Thus, I began shaking my phone. I shook it. Submitted feedback. No change. Repeat process. This went on for THREE WEEKS till Google finally removed the Road Closed Sign. I even tried to upload a pic of the junction in my feedback. It took a while, but in the end, it worked.

The reason why this affected me so much was, since all traffic going towards HSR Layout, or even beyond Agara, towards Marathahalli would end up going to Silk Board. Not just Uber and Ola drivers, but even regular folk who didn’t know the city ended up on this route. A major Pain in the Nether Regions, I say. This often resulted in nasty waiting times at Silk Board, sometimes lasting up to 25 minutes. This pileup also impacted traffic going toward BTM since all those waiting to turn right would hog up the left lanes. Further, the ripple effect caused by this caused pile-ups on all sides of the Silk Board flyover, creating a Royal Mess!

Now that the situation is back to normal, I for one am happy. Lesser traffic jams, faster traffic, but unfortunately, no reduction in people mindlessly following Google Maps.

Here is a screenshot of the junction in Question.

A Google Maps Screenshot of the Junction of Mangammapalya Main Road and Hosur Road at Bommanahalli.
A Google Maps Screenshot of the Junction of Mangammapalya Main Road and Hosur Road at Bommanahalli.

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Corrupt Babus from the Stone Age are Impeding Better Transport

Many ‘futurists’ and a significant number of urban local government officials and policymakers I’ve met and/or interacted with hold the following view – ‘Internet, faster communication and changing social attitudes will soon make large urban agglomerations i.e cities in the form of cities irrelevant. We will be participants in an era of small, compact cities with innovators, job creators and seekers moving to such cities from megacities to make their fortunes’.

This view is often represented as a fact in many conferences, seminars and ‘talks’ by organized by the intelligentsia which in turn has transformed the view into conventional wisdom. They are wrong. The internet or any other faster means of communication (except  teleporting perhaps’ will never be able to match  This view combined with the very Indian tendency to ‘equalize’ development of different regions has led to some perverse policy prescriptions but that is a matter for another day. In this post, I will discuss a little on why the ‘compact future city’ view is incorrect and touch upon what we need to improve transportation outcomes..

In his book- The Rise and Fall of Nations, Ruchir Sharma writes:

‘In recent years it became fashionable to argue that location no longer matters, because the internet makes it possible to provide services from anywhere. But physical goods still make up the bulk of global trade flows, and location still matters for companies that want to be close to their customers and suppliers.’

Some of you may argue that physical goods will not constitute a majority of trade flows in the near future where trade will mostly constitute IT based service sector transactions; and that’s when we will see intelligent people leaving cities along with their businesses for small towns. You would then be wrong. Again. Later in the book, Ruchir Sharma writes this:

‘Today the internet is making geography irrelevant neither for manufacturing industries nor for service industries. People still meet face to face in order to manage and build service companies that provide everything from internet search engines to cargo logistics, and new companies in these industries typically set up in the same town to tap the same expert talent pool. The result is the rise of cities with a cluster of companies and talent in a specific service niche.’
‘In South Korea, Busan continues to thrive as the nation’s leading port and as a regional hub for logistics service companies. In the Philippines, Manila has been rising for some time as as a major global provider of back office services, and now that business is spilling over to its satellite cities, including Quezon and Caloocan. Dubai continues to build on its dual role as a major port moving oil and other goods and as a service hub for the Middle East.’

To the above list, I would add- Bangalore continues to thrive as India’s leading education hub and as a hub for R&D, IT-BPO companies; Mumbai continues to thrive as the city whose professionals arrange financing for mega projects across India and Kolkata for producing intellectuals who fill our history textbooks with crap.

In short, cities will NOT become small. Businesses and intelligent people will NOT move to compact cities. Most of India’s megacities will keep getting bigger. (I’m not saying that there is no future for second cities and therefore we should ignore them. They are a very integral part of the modern economy and need to be accorded that status. That discussion is for another post). Our planners and urban administrators need to imbibe this very basic fact when they are managing our cities. In my opinion, amongst these planners and urban administrators, the ones that need to learn this lesson the most are – public transport officials.

A few months ago, St Srikanth of Depot (Srikanth) and I had a chance to interact with officials of BMRCL (Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited) and BMTC (Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation). Almost every second conversation we had with a management level employee revealed their deep discomfort about private operated public transport facilities. Before these conversations, I admit to having hoped that public transport officials would recognize that government ownership of public transport infrastructure and the legal monopoly over these operations would increasingly lead to very bad transportation outcomes. Those hopes were dashed after the above mentioned conversation. I realized that these buggers are going to sit on their arses, wait for their retirement and meanwhile prevent and/or harass tech enabled transportation systems like Uber, Ola and ZipGo and oppose private entry into the business in the traditional forms.

Before continuing that rant, I will emphasise the need for an efficient public transportation system in every city. As mentioned before, every city is essentially a concentrated labor market. Businesses – low tech, high tech, service sector, manufacturing like to set themselves up in cities as these cities offer them access to a large pool of labor in short distance. This in combination with the fact that most of their suppliers and customers too do the same lead to something known as agglomeration benefits. All the above depends upon the efficiency of the transportation system and the density of urban living. The higher the efficiency of transportation networks and the density of urban living, the greater the agglomeration benefits and therefore higher incomes.

Let me illustrate this with an example from our National Capital Region. Say Srikanth decides to shift from Bengaluru [He is desperate to] to the wretched hellhole that is NCR and rents a place in Dharuhera (About 45kms from Gurugram). He is forced to rent here because he has a taste for luxury and but his bank account isn’t all that good enough to enable him to live in Gurugram. It takes about an hour to travel between Gurugram and Dharuhera as he travels through public transport, Uber and Ola aren’t available in Dharuhera and the nearest metro is HUDA city center which is about 40kms away.  What are the chances of him accepting a job paying ₹60k per month near Rajiv Chowk i.e. Connaught Place, New Delhi over a job paying ₹55k in Gurugram ? (It takes about 2.5 hrs to travel from Dharuhera to Connaught Place). Very low. He most probably will take the ₹55k job as it saves him 3 hours of travelling everyday. The company in Connaught Place will probably have to do with lower quality labor or increase the offer and thus incur higher labor cost.

Haryana Roadways is one of the worst state road transportation companies (SRTCs) with only about 100 buses in operation in Gurugram on about 15 routes. If one attempts to go via public transport from Dharuhera to Gurugram, he or she is forced to take the very rickety illegal buses as the Haryana Roadways buses on the route are very infrequent. The private ones that operate are harassed and sometimes seized if they use the Haryana Roadways logo to escape harassment. If private bus operators existed and the construction on the highway is completed, the route will take about half an hour. Srikanth might take up a job a little further away from Gurgaon say at Hauz Khas @ ₹58k.

Now, back to my rant on BMTC and BMRCL. The old geezers in BMTC and their parent PSU- KSRTC will NEVER give up their legal monopoly. The ones in BMRCL will take another 10 years to realize that Majestic and MG Road no longer are the locus of business activity in Bengaluru city and that the locus has shifted to suburbs like Whitefield and Sarjapur. If Karnataka and other states stop harassing tech based taxi and bus aggregators like Ola, Uber, ZipGo and ends the legal monopoly of SRTCs and their subsidiaries, the transportation outcomes in our cities will vastly improve and believe me and the years of Urban Economics research- the resultant increase in agglomeration benefits will make everyone richer off.

Why aren't those in power giving us better transport? Click To Tweet

This article was later republished on Swarajya.

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Motorcycle Taxis: Zooming Past Traffic

Motorcycle taxis in India have been in existence since the 1980s.

Founded in 1980, The Goa Motorcycle Taxi Riders Association (GMTRA) was set up to operate two-wheeler taxis in the state. The following year, the Government of Goa began issuing licences to riders, known as Pilots. They use Yellow-coloured motorcycles and have fixed rates.

Pilots waiting to pick up passengers at a Motor Cycle Taxi Stand in Vasco da Gama, Goa.
Pilots waiting to pick up passengers at a Motor Cycle Taxi Stand in Vasco da Gama, Goa. Image copyright AaronC, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons/Flickr.

In June 2015, a company called HeyTaxi started two-wheeler taxi services in Mumbai. Taxis could be booked using an app. A few months later, a Bangalore based startup called HeyBob began offering the same services. Here too, taxis were to be booked with an app.

What happened next?

The Regional Transport Authority [RTA] in both states began preparing various guidelines and regulations for bike taxis. That is, until Maharashtra’s Transport Minister Diwakar Raote decided that “Such taxis are extremely unsafe and should not be allowed” and rejected the proposal of the RTA to permit them with a fixed colour-code and fare slab on the lines of existing autos and taxis in the city.  Karnataka meanwhile said that the Transport Department could issue such permits, but the State Government would have to notify guidelines for their operations. In spite of this inanity, both HeyTaxi and HeyBob continue to operate today.

Bike Taxi Stand at HUDA City Centre.
Bike Taxi Stand at HUDA City Centre, Gurgaon. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

In late 2015, two companies Baxi and m-Taxi started offering Bike Taxi services in Haryana’s commercial capital of Gurgaon. With inadequate public transit in Gurgaon, they were quite successful. Taxis can be booked using an app, or hailed from a taxi stand like the picture above. Both companies had the necessary permits from the Haryana government and were looking to expand services into neighbouring Delhi.

Now, in a significant move that will boost the Motorcycle Taxi industry in India, Uber announced the launch of UberMoto, a move that was emulated by its local rival OlaCabs within hours as Ola Bikes. Both services are confined to Bengaluru as of now. Both have a minimum fare of ₹15, with Uber charging ₹3/km and Ola charging ₹2/km thereafter.

Given the massive userbase that Ola and Uber enjoy, this is going to be a big advantage to the entire industry. The advantage Ola and Uber will enjoy is that existing customers merely have to update the app. However, existing service providers have experience in dealing with the industry and traffic, and as existing entities, can also slash prices to compete with the two giants. HeyTaxi also allows people to send shipments across Mumbai using its fleet.

It remains to be seen how this will affect streets. Hopefully, it will help rationalise and streamline traffic, rather than mess things up more.

We look forward to women driving Motorcycle taxis in India.

UberMoto and OlaBikes have arrived. What next? Click To Tweet

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