Thursday, August 27, 2009

The response to all those comments

Normally I save the serious shit for my other blogs and allow this one to be a canvas for some flippancy. My last post too was one such half-assed rant that I hoped disguised how passionately I really feel about several issues. It did, however, draw from my long-time sparring partners, comments that were longer than the post itself.

@Mohan: "All we need is the common sense to use the public transport." With all due respect, I believe that disseminating common sense to 6 million denizens is far tougher than raising a few taxes. But I do agree that without the Metro in operation, punishing car owners is a bit draconian.

@Shreeni: I'm sure you notice my change in stance from the times we used to discuss this issue in the 5th floor pantry. I'm suddenly all for Singapore-style despotic enforcement. The libertarian in me is still active when it comes to Censorship and Art, but he is well and truly dead when it concerns wealth distribution and traffic management.

@Sats: Just like you apologized for the NRI-snobbishness, I'm going to ask you to make allowance for my holier-than-thou preaching. I think every citizenry gets the government it deserves. We definitely deserve ours. I don't consider the government to be a separate creed of people that have nothing in common with us elites. We could stand on the sidelines and pretend that we have nothing to do with the uneducated, the disenfranchized, the corrupt, the indifferent, but let's get real. They ARE us. I know thousands of people who keep complaining about everything wrong in this country and pathetic few who can honestly say that they have used their 15-yr education or their relative enlightenment to influence anything. I am done waiting for the gory beast of a government to attain nirvana on its own to turn into a gentle genie who will repair all infrastructure. The "system" will transform if enough people ask for it. I have embraced the fact that the administration will not reach ideal state any time soon.

Here's what I was really addressing. Consider a man X driving a Toyota Innova and a man Y who travels in the city bus. I won't grudge the former his "success". Good for him and I hope he sees more of it. But consider that

* X uses a lot more of a public asset, the road, than Y.
* X pollutes a lot more of another oft-ignored public asset, the AIR! Tragedy of the commons?
* If there are 50 Xs and 50 Ys on the street (picture that , 50 Innovas and ONE bus!), it is fair to say that the Xs are responsible for the Ys spending a lot more time in traffic.

From Y's perspective, X is eating into his time, space and air. For me it seems like straightforward justice to make X pay for it. On the other hand in our system, X is more righteous and he feels he is not being served enough. By virtue of his "success" he also happens to be more influential. Which explains why the city administration is pandering to him by chopping all the trees and making the roads wider.

I could go on, but I think I'll save some material for my book.


Anonymous said...

And how is funneling money from my pocket into the pockets of some jaded, cynical, corrupt government officials going to help save our city? That is the part I am waiting, with bated breath, for some answers on.

Deppe said...

@ Anonymous
How will NOT collecting the money solve the problem? I am as cynical as you that a lot of the money will be swallowed by sharks. It's funny that that same resignation about the govt's capabilites goes missing when we say things like "The government should fix the infrastructure".

There are two aspects to levying monetary penalties on car drivers. The first aspect is what to do with the collected money. I have no clue! However, between collecting money and NOT collecting money, the former gives us a better chance of getting SOMETHING back. I'm not denying that it is a corrupt, jaded government that will probably siphon out a big part of the collected money. But waiting for the system to reform itself and then paying up doesn't seem like a productive approach to me. In a chicken and egg problem I believe it is better to just pick one and break the stalemate. And I'm picking "collect the dough".

The bigger aspect, for me, is that those penalties will be deterrents. Having to pay Rs. 150 per hr to park at Commercial street or Rs. 50 per day at office will coax at least a few fence-sitters to take the public transport(or bike) or their company bus respectively. At least once a day, perhaps! There will be a useful side effect of that. The interest groups that will pressure the government to improve bus and biking facilities will get more powerful. One of the things I like about my CEO is that he takes the company transport. I am willing to bet that his cab service is less likely to broken. Imagine if powerful folks started to use the public transport too!

Shreeni said...

Deppe: Singapore is not, and I shall decline to accept, a "despotic" entity. Its a very sane entity and their approach to most things is just that - simple common sense. All they do better than others is to enforce the rules, but while making them, they are most sane.

To answer anon: the whole political leadership issue is a vicious cycle and I don't have an answer on how to solve it, but punishing unsocial behaviour is critical. As Deppe put it out correctly, X has to punished and money is the easiest way. Redistributing that wealth to improve the plight of everybody including providing better amenities for both X & Y is critical for the system to function well. That said, its clearly a chicken and egg problem and somewhere the Govt never makes a good first move.

Deppe: The problem of cars is not just one of infrastructure. The rate of growth of cars has not stopped in Delhi inspite of a metro there. There is the "status" aspect to it. I am suspecting that the problem isn't so easily solvable, but every step towards it should be lauded.

Sats said...

well I am the first one among a lot of people to say that blaming the govt for everything is not going to get us anywhere. they deserve to be blamed but then thats a different topic altogether.

i think car owners already pay more taxes than a public transport user. with the growing income in the middle classes, we will continue to pay even a higher tax that may be slapped on the car users - as you suggest. we will crib, but we will pay. Because we want that comfort and because we do not have any option.
Fuel prices (especially in Bangalore) keeps rising, has it detered people from buying or using cars?

I dont agree with the option to penalize car owners unless there is an alternative.
We have examples. Delhi. It has a public transport system which was 10 times worse than what we have in Bangalore today.
The pollution levels were alarming at one point.
They did a few things right:
A good metro (with an expanding network)
Switched all buses and autos to CNG.

The difference is evident. Lower pollution. Many of my friends now only commute by metro. They do have a 'family' car which is not used for everyday commuting.

So this success story survives in the same political mess as any other parts of our country. How did they do it?
I personally know a lot of people who were activists in this process.

Also, credit goes to a leader like Shiela Dixit for executing on these policies pretty well.

One has to stop looking at road transportation as the ONLY option. Irrespective of the growth rate, there is only that much one can widen roads to. Why not have a rail network like a outside ring, along with the metro system?

At the end of the day, we are both talking about 'policy level' stuff (taxes/ transport systems) for which the buck stops at our administrators and political parties. Finally either ways the role we can play is make a noise, put pressure on the government to act, act faster, act right etc.

Sats said...

i cannot IMAGINE why a metro system should not be connecting the city with its airport - which is almost out of the city.
This should be perhaps the FIRST link that should be made and automatically the number of taxis plying to and for will drop.

But no - our metro plan will connect MG road first to the rest of the city. MG Road is already "relatively" well connected.

I dont know the current status - maybe BIAL is on the route plan of the metro now. But why is it not PRIORITY? cant the policy makers be pressurized there?

Sats said...

The HAL airport at one time had a HUGE parking fee - dont remember right now. some 50/- or more. even if i was just using it for 10 min.
What happened?
People did not stop coming to HAL airport in their cars, instead people (including me) parked illegally on the approach road to HAL airport (near Megabowl etc) causing a block to get TO the airport.
Soon, there were two guys with a FAKE yellow parking slip who made an empty spot a parking spot and charged 10/-

Paying a fine is cheaper sometimes - or bribing someone. These could be some side effects. So we land up with other problems now...