I love Guwahati. I was born and raised here. I left the city more than a decade and a half ago for studies and a career. Staying all over India and visiting a few foreign lands intensified my love for this city � may be I was homesick. Now, I am back in my hometown and I have time to contemplate on what it is that endears this city so much to me. It did not take long for me to realise that it is the combination of the comfort of a small town and the convenience of a major city (well, almost half the conveniences of a major city) that makes Guwahati unique.
In terms of area, Guwahati is neither too large nor too small. The population of the city is still optimal, going by the urban population density elsewhere in the country. However, in terms of traffic, Guwahati is abysmal! How did a small city of this size manage to bungle up its traffic so bad? I think the answer is sheer lack of planning, apathy and poor civic sense. Of course, the infrastructure � rather the lack of it � does not help, nor our incompetent administration.
Ask anyone in the city about the sudden chaos in traffic, and the chances are you will end up getting the million-dollar answer � �Oo-bare� (Yes, our style of pronouncing Uber � the taxi aggregation and hailing firm). But are Ola and Uber the only issues? Yes, and no. These two taxi aggregators have definitely acted as a multiplier to the existing traffic conditions; however, there are other reasons as well. I will share those, once I am done talking about Oo-bare.
Last month on an Uber ride to the airport, the cab driver started a casual conversation about how the traffic in the city is progressively deteriorating. The gentleman mentioned that there are more than 5,000 Uber cabs in Guwahati and close to 3,000 Ola cabs. A back-of-the-napkin calculation would put the four-wheeler vehicles on the road at about 1,25,000 (considering approximately 500,000 vehicles were registered in Guwahati between 1990 and now; and assuming only 25 per cent of those are four-wheeled passenger cars). Now, assuming Ola, Uber and other taxi aggregators in the city to have a combined fleet of 10,000 cars, it is clear that approximately 8 per cent of cars on Guwahati streets are taxis. It becomes more interesting when we consider the fact that this 8 per cent passenger vehicles were added in the last 2-3 years compared to the number calculated since 1990!
Clearly, we have a problem of having too many cabs and taxis on the streets. What is the solution? Obviously, capping the number of cars affiliated to each taxi aggregator service. What surprises me is the fact that why the administration has not done that yet. It is too obvious a problem and too obvious a solution. May be there is more to it than meets the eye.
The other major reason for the traffic nightmare in Guwahati is the rogue city buses and shared tempos or Trekkers. Are these above law? If not, then why cannot they adhere to basic traffic rules? What prevents the traffic police from, say, booking negligent drivers under IPC Section 279 � �Whoever drives any vehicle, or rides, on any public way in a manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life, or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.� If city buses strictly followed (or were made to follow) the FIFO (first-in-first-out) logic at bus stops, with strict adherence to halt timing limits, half of Guwahati�s traffic woes would vanish. Is this such a hard thing for the administration to implement? In fact, this is a zero-risk high-return option for the administration to showcase good governance.
Another contributor to traffic jams is the lack of appropriate parking spaces. Just think about this: how many commercial establishments on the entire GS Road have designated and adequate parking spaces? I guess more than 70 per cent of the establishments do not have designated and sufficient parking lots. The GMDA is only interested in making quick bucks from the roadside parking syndicate, all the while turning a blind eye to such blatant lack of urban planning. I think there is something innately corrupt, morally and otherwise, in our society when you allow people to make money out of parking by the roadside near Pratiksha Hospital on the VIP Road � a relatively thinly populated road where people visiting the hospital are in a distressed state of mind.
Finally, the worst contributor to this traffic madness in Guwahati is us. Yes, you and I. Theoretically, we know we are supposed to go around a roundabout when there is one while making a U-turn; however, strangely, we are hit by partial amnesia on this fact the moment we see the U-turn in front of the Dispur Secretariat. We do not respect pedestrians while driving and while walking, we do not respect the incoming traffic. Kids fleet about dangerously on moto-scooters � a new absurd trend and wearing a helmet is pass� for us. Driving lane discipline has been reduced to a distant foggy memory, while applying for a driving licence many years ago, if at all we did give and pass a proper driving test.
I feel the worst thing is silence and inaction on the part of the common man. It is time we spoke to the errant Trekker driver, requested the traffic police to enforce order among city buses, told the young ones to be careful, be responsible as individuals and as a society � act educated; not just be literate. I dream of a Guwahati, where you can walk freely without fearing being run down by a city bus; or cycle to work; or seeing Fancy Bazaar free of vehicles with people lazily shopping around with an ice-cream cone in hand; or driving around the city without cursing everything that moves. And the beauty of it all is that this dream can come true. All that is needed is intent.