Straphanging in New York and Chennai

I have done it only once, but it was an unexpected ride over six years ago. I had to reach my hotel in the Southeast side of Manhattan in New York, with a newly purchased suitcase. From midtown, I took a train that was terminating at the Brooklyn Bridge, from where the hotel in Peck Slip was walkable.

I remember that New York was operating “kneeling” buses even years ago. I watched with interest, as the buses tilted towards the boarding side, their chassis quickly losing a few inches in height, as pneumatic power turned them people-friendly. After the people — including old people and the disabled — had boarded, the buses regained those crucial inches.

Today, I read an appeal online put out by the Straphangers campaign in New York, calling upon commuters to show their support massively for congestion pricing proposals in Albany. Congestion pricing would mean a cleaner New York and sustainable public transport.

This is an idea whose time has come. As the car lobby gains new territories in the developing world, India in particular, the demand that car users be asked to pay for the luxury of using the roads, polluting the air and exposing people to risk of harm will grow stronger. 

Unfortunately, despite being such a populous country, Indians do not have the capacity to organise and make a demand for congestion charging. As the number of cars sold in India increases, measures to regulate them in the city centres will become inevitable. As we have noted before, those who are more influential among the car users will try to retain their advantage by calling for curbs on the others. The Tata Nano drivers and others at the bottom of the ladder will find themselves a hated lot as the ivy league at the wheel of Mercedeses, BMWs, Skodas, Toyotas and so on find the roads choked.

It would help everyone, therefore, to have a congestion pricing scheme, and as London Mayor Ken Livingstone has stated very sensibly, the bigger and less fuel-efficient the car, the higher the congestion charge (and we don’t think the Porsche protest at this is convincing at all). The view is that if people can afford such cars, they can afford the charge too. The money should go towards better suburban, MRTS and metro trains and comfortable buses for the rest of us — this will translate into cleaner air, less respiratory distress and longer, healthier, safer lives for all Indians.

The benefits of a stronger public transport backbone have been emphasised at a recent conference held in Bangalore, India under the auspices of UITP. The interesting headline for the item on the conference in The Hindu is “Where there is a wheel, there is a way.”

On behalf of transit riders in the city of Chennai, India, we offer our wholehearted fraternal support to the New York Straphangers‘ campaign as they show their strength in Albany.


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