Rising petrol price: weak bus, train system wreak havoc in Chennai

In what constitutes worsening news on the mobility front, the price of petrol is set to rise again, to touch about Rs.73 a litre. There is little doubt that this will seriously erode the finances of the middle classes and make it more dependent on an already creaking public transit structure. It is bound to wipe off some elements of essential spending such as food, and affect the economy by wiping out surpluses. The quality of life of Indians is deteriorating as a result of governmental failure.

The news of the petrol price rise is here. What is evident is the collapse of the United Progressive Alliance government’s National Urban Transport Policy, which had high-sounding principles of “people-centric” transport development, privileging of walking and non-motorised transport, and introduction of more robust bus and train systems.

Both the AIADMK and earlier the DMK are faced with legal troubles which have paralysed the functioning of the government. What we are likely to get is a statement from the Chief Minister criticising the Centre for the hike, but no solutions on the ground in the form of policy reform (introduce more share transport, increase the number of buses and press for increase in frequency of suburban trains and MRTS). Even the footpaths of Chennai will not be repaired, which would allow people to walk with ease.

For a comparison on fuel price, here is a table published by Reuters, giving the price of petrol between 2002 (Rs.29.94 a litre) to 2008 (Rs.45.52) in New Delhi and similarly for diesel.

In the entire period covered by the table above, and subsequently, the Government of India has been consciously pursuing a policy of allowing private cars and other vehicles to dominate the transport mix, and not compelling States to raise their public transport offerings. It has thus spurred global concerns about rising demand for fuel and pushed prices up constantly. The Metro and BRT systems for big cities have been delayed to enable the car industry to entrench itself. Two-wheelers have also witnessed exponential growth, due to the negative policies that produce private vehicle dependence.

We demand that the AIADMK Government led by Ms. Jayalalithaa expand buses in metro centres by doubling the number in operation. If it does not have the money, it should use the CUMTA (the Chennai Transport Regulator) to enable participation by small entrepreneurs under a well-regulated system. This is vitally necessary to pursue sustainable economic growth.






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