‘Srinagar’s public transport dysfunctional for three decades’

‘Srinagar’s public transport dysfunctional for three decades’
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Traffic management expert says efforts afoot to redesign system for public convenience and safety

SRINAGAR: In a city that has public transport available across only 40 percent of its area, a Public Transport System (PTS) architect with 17 years of experience in the field is preparing a plan for an effective transport system in Srinagar.
Delhiite Anuj Malhotra, 42, has been in Srinagar for the past five months studying the city’s PTS, which, as he described to Kashmir Reader, is a total mess. “It has not been working for at least last 30 years,” he said. “Earlier, SRTC was a good public service provider, but with the passage of time, the private sector has increased and services have reduced,” he explained. Planning a massive overhaul of Srinagar’s PTS, Malhotra, currently the sole expert involved in the process, said that the government would have to step in for better results. “I have researched and studied all the bus routes of Srinagar… there are lots of overlaps and at least 60 percent of Srinagar is without a bus service,” he said. But, he added, for the rest of the city “there are multiple service providers, which has added to the mess”.
“Transporters are competing on the same route,” he said. “When competition increases, reliability decreases. That is what has happened to the Srinagar PTS.” Malhotra, who designed India’s first Green Way in Bhuj, Gujarat, said that any good bus service system requires three basic things–reliability, comfort and few interchanges. “There is no reliability in the Srinagar PTS as no passenger knows when the vehicle comes to their area, nor are they sure about the time their journey will take,” he said.
“There is no time management… there is no direct bus service to destinations which saves time and there are many such inefficiencies in place,” he said.
Srinagar, he said, has a huge population but most civilian areas are unserviced by public transport, which has led to an increase in private transport. “Once the PTS is made better and bus service providers bring in changes to become reliable, traffic issues will be eased out,” he said.
For a comprehensive PTS, Malhotra said, “We are bringing in comprehensive changes with the help of the government. The system is being overhauled. I have submitted a request for proposal (RFP) with the Housing and Urban Development Department, and it is under process. Once it is done, we will hire a consultant who will make the policy which we will guide,” he said.
“I have given plans for 72 junctions in Srinagar for now. They are working but there are challenges,” he said.
Malhotra observed that the design of Srinagar roads was “not good”. “There is a need for massive infrastructure,” he said. “We are starting from scratch. At least six departments are working in coordination with each other, which you would not have found in the past.” Citing the example of the Mechanised Parking System in Lal Chowk, Malhotra said that there was no break in the divider for people to take a U-turn and park their vehicles at the facility. “Now, I have written to R&B (Roads & Buildings department) to break the divider outside the parking facility so that it is easy for people to drive to the area.”  More complications, he said, are created by the fact that Lal Chowk has many facets, including tourism. “We are working in a way that every concern, be it that of businessmen, vendors, shopkeepers or of tourism, is kept in mind.”
“I’m designing the roads for the Central Business District, which
includes Lal Chowk and adjoining areas,” he said. It will include designing streets, pedestrian ways, bus stops and rationalisation of bus routes. “It needs robust re-planning,” he said. He identified the Srinagar Traffic Police department, Srinagar
Municipal Corporation (SMC), PDD, SDA, R&B as those involved in the process. “We are starting to work with LAWDA (Lakes and Waterways Development Authority) and I&FC (Irrigation & Flood Control) soon,” he said.
On the Boulevard, he said, “There are no parking slots near Ghats, which makes it difficult for visitors. There should be shops, car parking spaces, public toilets at every Ghat so that people find it easy to commute there. We are working on such a system.” In the city, he pointed out, there are no bus-stops at the main interchanges. “A shop, a medical facility, eateries, a good lighting system and other facilities would help in making the PTS attractive,” he said. “It is not about commercialisation but is a necessity,” he maintained.
On the movement of VIPs in the city, Malhotra said that everyone is sharing the city space. “Requirements of everyone have to be fulfilled, be it pedestrian or motorist, and we can’t avoid protocol,” he said. “Our system should not be hostage to marginal issues.” Observing that inter-departmental work was the “toughest job”, Malhotra said, “It is the need of the hour to create a viable atmosphere for easy work and feasible systems. For an intelligent light system, at least four departments are working together, including PDD, SMC, R&B and Traffic Police,” he informed. One of the key things Malhotra said he was working on was a water transport plan. “All the waterways of Srinagar connecting with Jhelum are being studied and I&FC, LAWDA, Transport Department and the Traffic Police are working on it,” he said. “The idea is to give options to passengers,” he said. “Traffic will only get better when a passenger has at least three options available: boat, bus, rickshaw, cycle and car. A good PTS will have an overlap of these three options.”
To be successful in its endeavour to make the Srinagar PTS viable, Malhotra said the involvement of local groups is mandatory. But, he added, “Three groups had come to me but when I gave them work, they back-tracked.”
For better traffic management on city routes, Malhotra observed that training for traffic cops was mandatory, although the department also needed to use a smart system that would reduce human intervention. About his interaction with transporters, Malhotra said, “I have held at least half-a-dozen meetings with transporters and so far I have not felt any negative approach.”
However, he said, “For any policy to be successful, we need to bring the stakeholders to that level. The gap between policy framing and transporters won’t take us out of this mess.”
In his 17-year-long career, Malhotra is credited with Ahmedabad’s Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). He has developed the BRTS of Surat and Pune as well, besides working in Delhi, Ranchi, Jaipur, Daman and Diu, Rajkot and Vadodra.
Malhotra is waiting for the appointment of a CEO for Srinagar’s Smart City Mission so that he can coordinate with him and not have his plan overlap with the Government of India-funded City Development Programme. “I have also started working on the Jammu PTS,” he said.
“For long-term change and benefits, we will have to wait as the preparation of policies will take not less than a year,” he said.