Horse Before The Car

An earlier post, on 17th September, titled Thank God It’s Tuesday, has stirred the hornet’s nest. The nest, that we also call home. Battle lines have been drawn. Predictably, as my readers would have come to guess by now, only me on one side.

Matters came to such a pass that the entire duration of a drive to a restaurant, about a week back, lasting about forty-five minutes, one of the longest forty-five minutes I have encountered, was devoted to a discussion on the subject of car-free Tuesdays, as has been proposed, and implemented in parts of Gurgaon, and, on which subject, my earlier post was based. Despite knowing who I was up against, there being no place to hide inside a car on a forty-five minute drive, the debate was joined.

Just as well, because what was understood to be a one-day adventure, is now expected to become a weekly affair. Come Tuesday, come car-free day in Gurgaon. The next Tuesday is never far away.

Reproduced below, to the best of my memory, is a summary of what transpired in the confines of a car travelling forty-five minutes to a restaurant in Delhi, with four people inside, about a week back, as night was falling. In order that you do not go scrolling down to the bottom of this post, I will only reveal here that all four occupants came out alive, without signs of any bodily harm or physical injury.

Them:

Cannot understand the criticism of car-free Tuesdays. It is a good idea. You have to start somewhere, isn’t it? Maybe it cannot be done on other days of the week for some reason. Going car-free on one day of the week is a step in the right direction and we should encourage it. And it is OK if a cost-benefit analysis has not been done. It is not possible to have a cost-benefit for everything. This is for raising awareness amongst people, of the benefits of not using cars. Even raising awareness is a benefit, is it not?

Me:

I have nothing against it. But, if it is such a good idea, why are we doing it only on one day of the week? Every day should be a car-free day. Hastily declaring a day as a car-free day sounds fishy to me. It reeks of tokenism; doing something because you are under pressure to take some action, irrespective of eventual results. The Gurgaon administration will perhaps claim that pollution levels on Tuesday have come down thanks to this drive, without certifying if the levels on other days go up.

And what about impact on output, or GDP? Is there nobody missing a meeting? Is there nobody rescheduling planned work? Are there no workers unable to make it to work? Are they going to do that missed work on another day? Will that not increase the pollution level on that other day?

Where do the bicycles and shuttle buses being used on Tuesdays come from? Is there an alternate use which they are being forced to cancel, for their availability for car-free Tuesdays? What about the GDP loss on account of withdrawal from those services? If not, then do we have an excess of this equipment? Who is responsible for spending people’s money on buying needless equipment which will only be used on Tuesdays?

If the administration is saying that private companies are providing these resources at no cost to the exchequer, we will obviously believe them. Because private companies in India are set-up for the purpose of charity and public good. To chip-in as and when a government official gives a call for a car-free Tuesday. Making money is not part of their DNA. They will neither look for compensation nor contracts in lieu, for the services so provided.

Before the government implements a plan, there needs to be an assessment. The assessment needs to say that the plan will add value, or, be good for the world, or the part of the world they are responsible for. If assessed to be good, it should become a law, and implemented forever. If not good, what is the point of doing it even one day of the week? One does need to have a view. It may not be an exact mathematical assessment, but a view needs to be taken, based on available information, whether a proposed action will be of benefit or not.

If the population being addressed is that of adults, where is the need for “show and tell”? Are we saying out adult population is not smart enough to know what is good for them and what is not? There are education and awareness mechanisms available, like advertising. Why not use them? And, if people, based on their assessment of the world around them, have come to the conclusion that driving is the most effective means of transport for them, are they not going to continue driving on other days of the week once these special shuttle-buses and cycles stop being available on those days?

If raising awareness were to be enough, why don’t we switch off all traffic lights and make them work only on, say, Wednesdays, to raise awareness among people that it is good for them to follow traffic rules. The rest of the days should, arguably, be smooth because we would have told those foolish adults what they would never have otherwise known. Or hang people for murders committed only on Thursdays. Murders on other days will automatically stop. Of course we have a foolish adult population and we need our wise administrators to tell them what is good for them.

Though I have clearly expressed my views in the earlier post as well, having heard strong contrary opinions from my family members, I wanted to open up the debate to a larger audience. I have been known to be a fair person, especially when under pressure to be fair. Would welcome your views on the subject. Of course, any views different from mine could be subject to summary deletion.

I have also attempted to use the polling option to seek specific feedback, if you can spare a minute.

 

Thank God It’s Tuesday

Once upon a time, not so long ago, people who could afford to travel far, would tend to do so. And people who could not, would not. People who could, and would, would come back with scarcely believable stories of how they would sit alone in big, powerful, hired cars, on the smooth tarmac of wide open roads, and barely crawl, while watching cars with two and three passengers whiz by in reserved lanes. These people came back not only with these fantastic stories, but also with valid questions about our government’s commitment to development, and if ever a time would come when, after years of pushing people to buy cars, for the good of the nation, what else?, the government would ask them to not drive them. The cars we mean. How long could they keep going to these faraway lands for these experiences? And, were the many, who could not, to be forever deprived of the fruits of development?

Thankfully, those dark days can be safely consigned to the dust-bin of history as a bad memory. Youngsters do not need to grow up with the burden of being born in an under-developed nation any longer. Gone are the days when one would need to travel to developed countries in the West in order to experience development. It is happening here. It is happening now.

It has been announced that Tuesdays will be observed as Car Free Days in Gurgaon, that Mecca of modern development.

You heard it right. We are there. After years of pushing people to buy cars, for the good of the nation, the government is now asking people to not drive them.

The salutary effect of this announcement is already being felt all around, even though the first car-free Tuesday has not yet come around.

It has immediately ushered in a private shuttle-service provider being contracted to offer transportation services to people. A shuttle-service provider who would have had no business from the government if cars had not been prohibited for a day. A shuttle-service provider, who, being a commercial enterprise, will offer these services by losing money.

HUDA, our Urban Development Authority, has promised to repair all roads in Gurgaon. Their impeccable reasoning, it appears, is that since roads will not be used any more, at least for driving, it would be safe to repair them.

Showing solidarity with the decision, the chief of the traffic unit of Gurgaon police has committed to walk to her office that day. In the emotional aftermath of this momentous announcement, it was unclear whether she will walk to her office from across the road, or from the entrance to her office building. In any case, her able team has promised to keep her entire possible walking route clear of all pedestrian traffic on the car-free day so that she is able to effectively enable the common man to walk freely on the roads.

In addition, the traffic police has assured people that since there will be no vehicles on the road, they will ensure that not only are traffic signals not violated, but people also park only in designated places.

It is promising to be an exciting day.

“It would not have been possible without your support. This is really a celebration of your tireless efforts. You have continued to buy cars, each bigger than the last, mindlessly, while we have continued to mindfully neglect public transportation and the environment,” the Minister, just arrived in a posse of SUVs trailing dust in post-monsoon September, said, as he stepped onto the stage to speak at an event to announce the occasion.

“Did you know that this decision will save an average of 2.6 kg of greenhouse gas emissions per person per day?” he said as soon as the applause had died down. “And it does not end here. Since it is so important to save on greenhouse gas emissions, instead of a mere 2.6 kg of greenhouse gas emissions per person per day this Tuesday, we will ensure that the savings can double to 5.2 kg per person, within a year. To enable us to meet this objective, two new car-making plants, to be set-up in Gurgaon, exclusively for producing gas-guzzling SUVs, have been sanctioned today. Now it is in your hands to ensure that Gurgaon delivers, yet again.” The rest of his words were drowned out in the thunderous applause that greeted this announcement.

To commemorate the occasion, a major South Korean car company has announced a special Car-Free Day edition of their most popular model. These cars will be collector’s item and will have only one useful function; of making the car maker rich without any logical reason.

A European car maker has announced the sacking of their CEO on account of poor performance in India and the government’s unhappiness about the same. It has been reported that if he had delivered on his targets, the Car Free Day would have been scheduled much earlier, as the desired saving target of 2.6 kg of greenhouse gases per person would have become possible earlier.

Claiming that most of the work that made this day possible had been done during their tenure of ten years, the Opposition called a Press Conference on the sidelines of the main event.

“Nothing is impossible,” the leader of the Opposition said, “when one is armed with a complete lack of ideas and knowledge about what one is doing. This concrete and glass city, is a case-study in the complete absence of policies that lead to rapid development. In a city that has come up in less than thirty years, and was meticulously planned from scratch, we have successfully failed to plan for people to cross roads, how one road will connect to another, and even for parking. If that had not been done in such a thorough manner, how would we be building this spanking new underpass where we are holding this meeting, as we speak, or the parking structure over there? Not only that, the many twists and turns you have to go through under the brand new highway to locate your turn, made more challenging by the traffic police frequently changing the direction of turns without any announcement or signage, is a shining example of the complete absence of planning. I challenge you to reach Moulsari Avenue, a mere 500 metres away, in less than 30 minutes. If this is not development, show me what is.”

Meanwhile, at the main event, the Minister revealed that delegations sent to other global cities to study their interventions have yielded many ideas that will soon be implemented. For instance, in one place, only even and odd car numbers are permitted on specific days. “Isn’t that wonderful? Now each person can buy twice the number of cars without the need to drive an inch more. I assure you that by the time my term finishes, from one car-free day per week, we will ensure that each car can be driven only on one day in the week.”

Yet another box has been checked off in our relentless drive (no pun intended) towards development.

Let us, this day, solemenly pledge to contribute to development by buying more cars, especially ones that we cannot afford, as it will help us in walking more and using public transport more.