That was the question posed on the discussion forum of one of the bigger newspapers in the country, which also publishes from Chennai.
We posted the following response on the forum:
With the right set of circumstances, most people would opt not to use their cars often. The magic that will get people off their cars and on to buses, trains, cycles and even get them walking is integration.
I should be able to walk in safety (read good footpaths) to a bus, switch at will to a train, and be assured of some level of comfort and above all, safety and reliability in public transport. Affordable costs is another aspect.
There is a lot of public health literature that points out that a mix of walking and use of public transport gives you the right amount of exercise and saves the atmosphere from avoidable pollution, not to speak of global warming gases. Why invest in treadmills when you can take in wonderful sights and walk/ride to work and back?
For an ambitious people with grand notions about their global stature, Indians have historically given themselves the worst public transport systems, with few modern exceptions. Abusive transport staff put off many people; rickety trains and buses (contrast with air-conditioned small cars for the middle class), and outmoded ticketing systems make life hell.
Above all, our ‘babus’ and ‘netas’ think public transport is meant only for the poor. Their own travel is with police clearing the way or using red lights on cars. With a resounding kick to that anti-democratic ideology, we will all be better off. All of us can still use our cars when the situation requires it — we may just have to pay something extra for the privilege.