Moscow and Mumbai seek “magical formula” to tackle traffic jams

Rushhour traffic in the heart of Moscow. Source: AP

Rushhour traffic in the heart of Moscow. Source: AP

Despite a high percentage of public transport usage, the overall number of vehicles is increasing in both megacities. Authorities are keen to improve commuting times, especially on working days

While Mumbai has 18 million inhabitants and 1.8 million motor vehicles, around 400,000 vehicles drive into Moscow every day. What can be done to tackle the two cities’ traffic jams?

The Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin announced the city’s latest measures to tackle transport congestion at the recently-held Moscow Urban Forum. In 2013, the city government built 72 kilometres of new roads and 14 large transport structures. In addition, there will be 30 new metro stations and direct main roads connected to peripheral areas in the foreseeable future.

Moscow ranks first in the 2012 Congestion Index by Dutch company TomTom. Transportation times in the morning and evening are 106 percent and 138 percent longer than during off-peak hours respectively, according to the index.

Sobyanin admitted that “many residential districts are practically cut off from normal transport routes or the metro, and transport hubs with efficient public transport are not within walking distance.”

“During the last ten years we have excessive construction with limited transport infrastructure to support. Unfortunately we are quite behind in this field. That’s why we increased our budget investment to fill this gap,” added Marat Khusnullin, Deputy Mayor for Urban Development and Construction.

Despite being 7400 kilometres apart, Mumbai faces some similar challenges. As of August 2013, car traffic in Mumbai has increased by 1,175 percent even though the city has only built over 900 kilometres of new roads over the past 40 years.

Uma Adusumilli, Chief of Planning Division, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) told RIR that the upcoming elevated and underground metro lines would help decongest the traffic in the city and improve east to west connectivity. “The public transportation system by train is very efficient in terms of its timing, accuracy and environmental conditions,” Adusumilli said, adding that there is a huge strain on the existing infrastructure, with trains being overcrowded on account of commuters travelling from north to south just to change lines to travel to the east or west.

To broadly tackle traffic congestion, the Maharashtra state authorities established the Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA), a government agency to coordinate a wide spectrum of stakeholders including MMRDA, BEST (the operator of the local buses) and all transport institutes.

Sunday evening traffic on Mumbai's Marine Drive. Source: Ashan De Silva

Also, in collaboration with The World Bank, Mumbai has introduced a traffic management system that monitors “some 220 junctions at a time through more than 600 hi-tech remotely operable zoom cameras.” These cameras map out the intensity of the city’s traffic, provide information for real time adjustments of traffic signals and thus facilitate a more efficient traffic flow.

Despite a high percentage – 80 percent in Mumbai and 70 percent in Moscow – of public transport usage, the overall number of vehicles is increasing in both cities.

Broader solutions for Mumbai and Moscow

As key members of BRIC emerging economies, the rise of a middle class in India and Russia results in an increase in vehicle ownership and private transport. In 2013, there are 4 million automobiles for 12 million inhabitants in Moscow and 1.8 million motor vehicles for 18 million residents in Mumbai.

To reduce the number of cars, this year the Moscow city government has introduced paid parking lots, which seek to discourage inhabitants coming to the city by private transport.

While Moscow deputy mayor Khusnullin thinks there is “no magical formula” to solving the problem of traffic congestion except building new roads, strengthening public transport and reducing the number of cars, Colombian politician and urban designer Enrique Peñalosa believes building more roads alone cannot solve traffic jams.

“We think that traffic jams are going to be solved by building more roads. But that has never worked, anywhere in the world. Building more roads will just lead to more traffic jams,” Peñalosa said.

In fact, Russian and Indian start-ups have come up with some out-of-the-box solutions but they lack government support. Last month two Mumbai-based entrepreneurs have developed an app Traffline for users to keep track of the city’s traffic, including road accidents and traffic jams. Yandex also has a similar offering but it can even provide traffic jam forecasts based on the current levels of traffic.

Architect and urbanist Richard Burdett added that there is a need to balance efficiency and quality of living. He said, “Imagine it only takes you 11 minutes to commute in a city of 8 million people like Hong Kong but it takes 4 hours to commute in São Paulo. The fundamental question is not about the time, but the experience of the time spent on commuting. If a father takes his kid to school on a bicycle, it may not be a bad thing even it takes him 4 hours to travel every day.”

Asked about the difference between India and Russia, Adusumilli, told “If you look at the infrastructure of Indian cities, then technically it is not as well developed as in Europe or Russia. We have bad roads, but it should be noted that people move through it with pleasure. They have no money, they drive on crumbling machines outside the terrible heat, but despite all this, they are smiling and friendly with each other.”

Given the growing traffic jams in Mumbai and Moscow, the authorities in both megacities have their work cut out for them.  

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