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Try new ways to rein in unruly traffic

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Mar 10, 2018, 4:56 am IST
Updated : Mar 10, 2018, 5:01 am IST

Abolish all traffic policemen and confine our police force to solving crimes and fighting corruption.

The traffic of Indian cities can be dubbed the “wild east”. (Representational image)
 The traffic of Indian cities can be dubbed the “wild east”. (Representational image)

“The more you have
The more you have to leave behind.”
 — From Thumboo Mey Ghabrahat by Bachchoo

Mr Ashank Desai, co-founder of IT technology firm Mastek, says in an article on the Internet that he asks taxi drivers in London what they think of the congestion charge which motorists, but not taxis, pay to enter central London. The cabbies inevitably and unsurprisingly tell him that the charge works extremely well for them.

It reduces the flow of private cars through central London making it easier for cabs to get around, and depending upon the number of trips they can make per hour considerably increases their income. Mr Desai then tells the cabbies that his company Mastek, together with a conglomerate called Capita (consistently labelled by some British publications as ‘Crapita’), invented and installed the technology and number-plate-recognition systems that make congestion charging possible. Mr Desai then boasts that the grateful cabbies refuse to charge him the fare for the ride.

I don’t suppose the taxi drivers ask Mr Desai for any form of proof that he is indeed the man who installed the cameras and worked out methods of depriving the private motorist of ten to eleven-and-a-half pounds for entering the central zone. The cabbies, who probably have never heard of Mastek, must take his word on faith.

Having read this, I am tempted, the next time I get into a black cab, which is not very often as they are an expensive way to get about, to pose as the brains behind some system that congestion charging uses. I don’t think I should go so far as impersonating Mr Desai or claiming to be the IT brain employed by Mastek. That may or may not be a crime in UK law. But I can certainly construct some fantasy and invent a company which made the increments in taxi-incomes possible. I may be let off the fare for the journey. It’s a gamble, but it’s worth a try.

The alternative, besides taking buses and the tube into central London from my home, which is outside the Russian-Arab-black-money nexus of the centre of London, is to drive. This costs me £10 each time I venture in or cross town. If I don’t pay it by midnight the same day, the 800 cameras deployed at the borders of the zone will have my car registration number, trace the car’s ownership and charge me a £100 fine.

It doesn’t take much imagination to work out that I am not as pleased with Mr Desai’s invention as the London cab drivers are.

Being a conscientious citizen, I appreciate the fact that traffic has been eased and billions of pounds are gathered through congestion charging (at least a few hundred of those from my own shallow pocket) and that it may reduce air pollution in the city and save lives.

Now it is being suggested that congestion charging be introduced in Indian cities to decrease or discourage the volume of traffic on our overwhelmed roads. Driving in Mumbai and Delhi this very week, I can certainly appreciate the case against overcrowded roads.

Nevertheless, in this short and happy week on perhaps 10 or 12 occasions the hiatus in my driven journeys was not caused by the volume of traffic but by the bad behaviour of our urban drivers.

In several instances this amounted to crossing a junction through a red light and pausing in the middle of the junction through 10 changes of the traffic-signal, hence blocking the traffic in the perpendicular direction. That’s just one persistent offence. I won’t bore you, gentle reader, with the myriad others.

Instead, allow me to pose a solution to decrease traffic offences of this sort, which I am sure Mr Desai and the brains behind the congestion charge have not thought of. They needn’t feel threatened though, because my scheme can run parallel to congestion charge technology.

Let me make it simple. The traffic of Indian cities can be dubbed the “wild east”. It’s a frontier to be conquered and here are the easy steps towards the conquest:

Abolish all traffic policemen and confine our police force to solving crimes and fighting corruption. Then recruit a special traffic constabulary — a volunteer army of people above the age of 18 who will be equipped with uniforms with in-built cameras. This new constabulary will not be paid a salary, but instead they will be empowered to detect any breach of the traffic code and impose instant fines on the offenders according to a scale of punishments. So, let’s say `500 for crossing lanes, `1,000 for crossing a red light, `600 for crossing a pedestrian crossing when pedestrians want to cross, `200 for horning in a silent zone, `1,500 for driving on the wrong side of the road, etc. The fines will be immediately collected and the camera, connected to a central monitoring point in the city, will record the transaction and of course contain proof of the offence being committed. The constable will then be liable to pay 10 per cent of all his or her collections to the city coffers and keep the rest.

The spirit of free enterprise will push this new constabulary to stop and fine as many offenders as they can, their remuneration being payment by results.

Now the hazard in this scheme is that offenders will try and drive away, in which case the camera can record their number plates and, further than that, the constabulary can be equipped with special firearms which disable the tyres of fleeing vehicles. Dishoom — boom!

I realise that this is a drastic addition to the scheme but will certainly punish those “miscreants” who try and unfairly escape justice. Apart from the fines, they will have to pay for new tyres. The moral advantage is obvious. The bribes that traffic cops now demand are instantly turned into legitimate levies and India’s traffic-problem is alleviated if not stamped out. Make in India indeed!

Tags: traffic, ashank desai