The economy, science and technology advancements, societal norms, religion/spirituality are some constant factors that have been impacting and molding humankind for the last few centuries. Now we have another factor that impacts and rules our lives – TRAFFIC! It’s global phenomenon – from San Francisco to New York to Mexico City to Rio De Janeiro to London to Istanbul to Shanghai to Mumbai to Bengaluru to Bogota to Manila – traffic snarls affect humanity profoundly. After weather, traffic is a perennial topic as a conversation opener.
According to an April 18 report released by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and commissioned by Uber, India’s biggest cities may be losing up to $22 billion annually to traffic congestion. On average, travelers in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata spend 1.5 hours more on their daily commutes than their counterparts in other Asian cities during peak traffic times.
Interestingly our lives today are also divided into two distinct categories – week days and week -ends. Weekdays are spent by majority of the adult population at work, while the kids are learning away at school. Weekends are for chores, family time, hobbies and anything else that you can’t do on the weekday. While capitalism has primarily been responsible for this broad categorization of our time, traffic has added to it. Think of catching up with family or friends or enjoying a meal at your favorite restaurant or simply catching a movie in the theater on a week day – nearly impossible. Getting home after work and then heading off somewhere – may be after midnight! ☹. Weekends too, it is best you get done with your activities before evenings to avoid the weekend traffic.
Small mercies, at least we have tried to make it easy for the kids. The kids have an early start and end at school these days to beat the traffic. From starting at 8.30 am, schools now start at 8 am these days in Bengaluru. Hopefully they don’t need to start earlier than this in future. Once the kids have been packed off to school, the adults descend on the roads and then the mayhem begins.
In 2007 it used to take me 30 minutes to commute 15 kms from my home to office. Today it takes 1 hours, 15 minutes on a good day and most of the time, my car is standstill or crawling along at a snail’s pace. The infrastructure has remained the same, while the number of vehicles on the road has increased multi-fold. As of May 2018, there are 75 lakh vehicles (52 lakh two wheelers, 14.5 lakh cars and 8.5 lakh other vehicles) registered in Bengaluru. In 2008 there were 30 lakh registered vehicles, a 2.5 increase in vehicles in 10 years.
The app-based taxis brought in convenience and control on the prices but they are a major contributor to the traffic congestion. When you exit the Bengaluru airport, there will be at least 300 cars waiting for riders. It takes a taxi driver anywhere between 2-6 hours to get his return rider back to the city. Such a waste of time, resources and loss of opportunity to earn a livelihood.
While tele-commuting is the most efficient way to work these days, there are days you must travel to meet co-workers, clients and business partners. Nothing like meeting and interacting with people in person to raise your spirits. For work I need to traverse from one end of Bengaluru to the city centre passing through high density traffic areas. I tried different means of commuting – driving my own car, Uber, metro train, local trains, autorickshaw and BMTC buses.
I also experimented with travelling at different times of day to find the best times to travel. The best time to leave your house in Bengaluru is before 8.00 am. After 8.00 am every minute delay getting onto the road, will result in an exponential increase in your commute time. After 7.45 am it is impossible to get an app-based taxi to commute to work. So, if you have missed this window, you better wait till 10.30 am or later to leave for your destination or just continue working from home. Similarly while returning back to your home, you have to start your journey by 4.45 pm latest.
It took me a few days to finally arrive at my optimal commuting solution – take the metro feeder Volvo bus till the metro station, then hop on to the metro train to the city centre and finally hail an autorickshaw for the last mile connectivity. It takes me one-hour door to door which includes a 5-minute wait for the office elevator and minus the traffic stress – in Bengaluru this is HUGE. Most importantly it gives me time for doing other stuff.
This commute gives me ample opportunity to observe people as they go about their lives. The bus and metro rides are most interesting. I have seen people complete their daily prayers, buff their nails, cram last minute for their school examinations, catchup on their emails/social media updates/new updates, watch movies and call their loved ones for their daily check in calls. Last Friday, I overheard a teenage boy advice a teenage girl on how to circumvent parental restrictions for mobile usage. Thankfully the girl didn’t buy into it as it would hurt her parents. Bless her 😊. Sometimes there is a toddler who is excitedly looking out of the window, watching the city and sights. Frequently commuters offer their seats for elders or women and children – heart-warming indeed. All the while people are peaceful and calm, as there is no honking, pollution and stress of driving or standing still in traffic. The walk to get on and off the train adds to your steps on your Fitbit and keeps you healthy too.
The advent of app-based taxis circa 2013, sounded the death knell for auto rickshaws in Bengaluru. Till then the auto rickshaw drivers held the commuters to a ransom. They were almost wiped out, but off late there has been a resurgence, mainly for two reasons. Firstly, it is extremely tough to get an app-based taxi during peak times and secondly the autos can weave in and out of traffic at will. The auto drivers are back to their ransom mode during peak hours but come what may they get you to your destination on time. The wind blowing in your face is rejuvenating too.
The only drawback of this is that the makeup and hair get messed up especially during the auto rides. Redoing your hair or makeup on arrival is a small price to pay for reaching your destination stress free.
While I have been enjoying the experience of observing people because of traffic, great minds around the world are looking to solve the traffic problem with innovative ideas. Watch these interesting videos on hyperloop and future transportation concepts. While there will be changes in the ground transportation, there will change in air travel in future too. While planes have been flying longer, they haven’t been flying faster since the 1960’s. SpaceX’s plans to fly us across the globe in 30 minutes – watch this TED Talk to learn more.
It is said that art mimics reality. When my son was 5, he had built a traffic jam with his Lego blocks 😊 😊. Today’s kids, embracing realities of life.
Traffic and wading through traffic unknowingly add stress to our lives. I didn’t realise it till I found my optimal method to commute to work. Just when I thought I have solved my commute problem, BBMP has created a new problem. They have started repair works on the road outside the metro station causing a major slowdown in traffic especially in the evenings. Now I am figuring ways to circumvent this hitch in my commute.
Traffic these days is very much like life. Right when you think you have things in control, it throws you a curve ball. Nothing is constant. The only constant in life is Change. One must adapt to change and move forward, else you will know what life has in store for you!!