Parisar held a public discussion of its study titled ‘Understanding the Flyover Phenomenon’ on 24th June 2016 at Indradhanushya, Pune. The programme included a presentation of the findings from the project, following by special guest Prof. Geetam Tiwari’s review of the report and her recommendations on how to take this further. and of the larger issue that was being looked at through the report. Later, Dr. Rajendra Ravi from the Institute of Democracy and Sustainability (IDS) expressed his views on the subject after which a session of question answers followed.
Prof. Tiwari commended the fact that instead of focussing on a technical analysis of mobility, this report tries to capture people’s perception and the role this plays in the choice of transport systems made by the city. She observed that safety and how it is affected by flyovers is something which needs to be documented and understood better. She added that data from the National Crime Records Bureau not only shows that the number of accidents, and fatal ones at that, have increased in Pune but that it has one of highest rates of accidents (fatalities per 1000 people), compared other cities in India. This needs to be taken seriously, as the cost of life as a result of the way cities are planned is something that can be avoided. On a related note, she commented on the fact that the 48% of people who felt that flyovers haven’t worked in the past attributed this to bad design and/ or wrong location, instead of questioning the efficacy of flyovers themselves. While on one hand she recognised that this section of the public needs to be targeted in any awareness campaign, because they harbour the hope that flyovers when built rightly will solve congestion, she also commented that studies all over the world suggest that infrastructure determines the way people decide how to travel. So, if a city focuses on and provides good public transport and non-motorised transport infrastructure, people will choose to travel differently. She felt that India is still placed quite strategically to take such a decision as the rate of car ownership in India is much lower than the international average.
Her overall reaction to this report and to the issue at hand was that there is need of introspection. We need to start asking the right questions when it comes to mobility. She commented on the cost benefit analysis, saying that these studies are only effective up to a certain extent. One has to realise that, transportation is dynamic. Assuming that increased vehicles will keep increasing congestion indefinitely (ever increasing v/c) is not borne out by empirical studies, since people will find alternative routes to their destination or businesses will change their offices out of congested areas. For any study, hence, considering the aspect of human choice is essential as transportation is ever changing according to the needs of the people. In terms of asking the right questions, she cited the example of Vienna who as a policy believe in keeping the volume/ capacity ratio poor (v/c determines congestion on a road, when v/c is poor the roads will get congested), which in turn affects where people choose to live, choose to work and choose to go for recreation. In a sense, this forces people to reduce their need to travel by keeping v/c low.
Another question she felt needs to be asked is how is the quality of life getting affected by flyovers and that stream of transportation development? Are health impacts, productivity being accounted for? She concluded emphasizing the need to question such investments from all these perspectives is crucial in changing perceptions.
Rajendra Ravi spoke about how perceptions affect decision making and how these can be changed. He started out saying that groups like Parisar are doing work which seems to go against the established flow. The only way to change perceptions in this scenario is consistent advocacy with the help of studies like these over time. His main perspective towards the whole issue was that of democracy. He commented that today policies are saying all the right pro-poor, equality based things, but when it comes to execution there is a huge gap. This gap can be reduced significantly with the pro-active roles of media and political leadership. While it is mostly felt that politicians take certain stands in spite of knowing better, the fact that they do not know or understand better is true in itself. With an ignorant mind, the adoption of western concepts and ideas makes for a hazardous situation in our cities. We need to understand that western solutions are not always the best, more so not all necessary that they will fit into our socio-economic setting. We have enough indigenous knowledge to work upon to come up with solutions for our cities.
The report can be read here.