I apologize for the lame post titles lately. I blame the jet lag and the dial up connection.
But traffic does indeed suck. Every time we step outside, my nerves end up rubbed raw by the horror that is Bombay traffic.
And as we drive, I keep wondering, have we brought the worst sides of industrialization to India, instead of the best?
Several months ago, Siddhartha Shome published a piece in Breakthrough regarding Tata's plan to start producing $2,500 cars. Shome supported the plan and suggested that Western environmentalists are hypocritical for extolling Priuses in the United States while chastising Tata for producing a cheap car that gets more miles to the gallon than the Prius.
At the time, I agreed with Shome. Who are Western environmentalists to get on their soap boxes and tell Indians that you shouldn't drive cars that are way more environmentally friendly than 99% of cars in the United States? Wouldn't it be great if Indians started driving more of these ecologically friendly Tata Nanos and gave up their 30-year old gas guzzling polluters?
But once in Bombay, I realized the truth. In India, a 30-year old gas guzzling polluter is never going to be sent to the scrap yard. It will be driven and driven and driven until it dies. Then it will be fixed and driven another 10 years until it dies again. At which point it will be fixed and driven until it literally disintegrates.
So the Tata Nano isn't a replacement for a vehicle already on the road. It's an additional car on the road. And there's the rub.
Because if this were just about the environment, I'd feel uncomfortable telling India, "You don't all get to have cars."
But this is not about the environment. This is about quality of life.
And the truth is, the quality of life is getting worse and worse with every new car that ends up on the roads. The traffic is so bad that merely going outside has become a giant headache.
Forget rush hour. Any hour of the day, the traffic is maddening.
Bombay doesn't need more cars. What it does need is a better public transit system. At present, the train system is a relic from the British Colonial days. And the trains are so crowded, that people are cramped together, and practically falling off the trains. It's so bad that my relatives refused to even take me on a train.
"Why isn't there a proper subway system?" I asked.
"Not enough money."
The problem is, a lot of corporations stand to gain from putting more Indians behind the drivers seat. Residents of Bombay may lose out, but Ford, Tata, Honda, and Toyota all win. So there is a keen interest in foreign investment in cars for India.
By contrast, companies don't stand to gain by developing a public transit system. In fact, the better the public transit system, the more car companies lose out.
I think the solution must be, then, to find a way to semi-privatize the public transit system here in Bombay. Because the government doesn't have the money to improve things. If there is a way to create an incentive for corporations to invest their money in public transit, then the system will be updated. Without private investment, I'm not sure the system will ever be improved.
Even if that's not the solution, it's clear that something has to be done. And fast. And that more cars aren't going to make anyone happy. Except for the CEOs of Tata, Honda and the like.
4 months ago