Less Traffic Day: Air quality improves in Bengaluru but activists remain sceptical

While Bengaluru’s Namma Metro witnessed an increase in ridership on Sunday, the state’s pollution control board said there was a drop in air pollution.
Less Traffic Day: Air quality improves in Bengaluru but activists remain sceptical
Less Traffic Day: Air quality improves in Bengaluru but activists remain sceptical
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The first-ever ‘Less traffic day’ in Bengaluru on Sunday was a success on multiple levels. According to officials, not only did the number of private vehicles on road decrease as compared to previous Sundays, the ridership on Namma Metro went up by a fair margin.

According to Namma Metro PRO Vasant Rao, the number of people using the metro went up by more than 11, 000 when compared to the previous Sunday. In order to encourage public transport usage, the metro also offered a special discount of 25% on rides.  The BMTC gave a Rs 5 discount on its day passes.

The same was true for BMTC with the department running more than the usual number of buses on a regular Sunday.

But the brightest point about the exercise was that the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) observed an average reduction of pollution by 26%. For this KSPCB compared data from its Hebbal, Jayanagar, Mysore Road, Nimhans, Silk Board, SG Halli and Majestic monitoring stations of the past three Sundays.

All the indicators— particulate matter (PM 10), carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide witnessed a drop in numbers.

Jayanagar, a residential and commercial neighbourhood, witnessed a 33% improvement in its air quality.

The exercise also promoted the use of bicycles and electric vehicles. On the occasion State Transport Minister HM Revanna flagged off a cycle rally organised by the Bengaluru Traffic Police, State Forest and Ecology Department and the Pollution Control Board.

The Karnataka government announced the ‘Less Traffic Day’ initiative in December 2017, with the aim to ensure that Bengaluru never faces a smog situation like New Delhi.

Bengaluru has 64.36 lakh registered vehicles under the non-transport category, of which 49.42 lakh are two-wheelers and there are a total of 71 lakh vehicles in the city.

‘Something better than nothing’

Activists are, however, not fully optimistic about reducing pollution or traffic congestion with this approach.

“I have been always sceptical of this method from the start. The pollution figures are fantastic and seem too good to be true,” says Srinivas Alavilli, co-founder of a citizens’ collective Citizens for Bengaluru.

“The fact that it is being done on a Sunday is ridiculous. But this is also showing result and better than nothing,” he opines. Instead, he called for a wider engagement from the government on the issue.

“We as CfB had for long asked for a three-month pilot asking BMTC to reduce all fares by 50% and have dedicated bus lanes but our idea was applied partially,” he said. He suggested that it can’t be a standalone effort by the BMTC but has to be in unison with the Traffic Police Department, and employers.

The BMTC saw a 43% spike in ridership within 15 days of reducing fares in its AC buses. He pointed out, “We can see often empty buses running while other users are standing at the bus stops. If the bus routes are rationalised, we will see much improvement. There has been a long-standing demand to the BMTC to release the route specific data which can be improved upon,” he added.

“It is a disappointment that the BMTC is not releasing the data despite requests,” Srinivas said.

Lekha Adavi, Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike said, “If you have to encourage public transport then you have to disincentive private vehicle usage. Both have to go hand in hand.”

“Instead of restricting private vehicles on some roads, the government is restricting buses. For example, from MG Road side, if one has to go to Yelahanka, Yeshwantpur, Banaswadi they have to go via Bamboo Bazaar after buses were disallowed in the TenderSURE Cunningham Roads,” she elaborated.

These are certain decisions that really discourage people to use public transport, she said.

“The fares have to be reduced. BMTC has the highest bus fares in the country. This is also due to lack of subsidies from the government,” she said.

Earlier too, experts have suggested the answer to Bengaluru’s traffic problem lies in smarter bus routes and cheaper tickets.

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