Friday, 1 January 2016

Looking beyond the Odd-Even Rule

As Delhi braces itself for the implementation of the Odd-Even rule to help decongest the roads and bring down the extremely high levels of pollution in the city, it's also important to think about some of the other solutions that will help smoothen the flow of traffic.
If you have driven (or have been driven) on any city in India you will agree that one of the main reasons for traffic jams (apart from the high number of vehicles on the road) is the complete lack of adherence to basic rules of driving like sticking to lanes, following traffic lights, etc. In my view if we  are able to convince/coerce people to follow some of these simple rules then a lot of the traffic congestion can be eased. I derive this understanding from my visits to developed countries where people (including Indians) tend to follow the rule of law and that really eases the flow of traffic and eases the stress of driving on the roads.

How to get people to follow traffic rules?
Fear of law. Period. That's how people in developed countries are kept in check, because they know that if they mess up, there is a high probability that they might be caught and penalized heavily.
I can hear you all saying "Well we all know that!" and "It's easier said than done", and although I may partly agree to your outbursts, I still believe it may not be difficult to implement this if we can cross the threshold of political and bureaucratic lethargy.

Here is the plan.

  1. Identify a few key junctions/points around the city (and keep these a strict secret)
  2. Install high resolution video cameras that record the traffic movement and relay to a central server.
  3. Create a team of 10-15 traffic officers that pick a random time of the day and analyze the footage to identify offenders.
  4. Send challans to the offenders with photographic evidence, also use newspapers to highlight the offenders that were caught to further drill the point among others.
"The Plan"

What would it take to implement this?
  1. High resolution cameras
  2. Storage space for the recorded footage
  3. Video analysis software to go through the footage
  4. Team of slightly tech savvy traffic officers
  5. Software to record and generate challans (If one doesn't already exist)
  6. Heavy fines for offenders.
  7. Co-ordination among traffic and transport departments.
  8. In case of Delhi, political will from Central (owns traffic police) & State (owns transport) govt.
There will be some hurdles in the way and I am sure we can iron them out to create a sense of fear of law. For instance, you might say:

"This is going to be really expensive"
[Response] Well, we can start small, maybe just with 15-20 key places for starters and then ramp up slowly. Cameras and storage space needed of this small number may not be cost inhibitive, if these places are kept a secret then even this small number may be enough to keep people guessing and instill the fear of law among people. Also, if this is successful the benefits may far outweigh the costs.

"It's going to be really time-consuming to review the footage"
[Response] Not all the footage needs to be analyzed, the traffic officers can pick random periods every day and identify the offenders during that period, they don't need to analyze the footage for the entire day. Again, the idea is to instill fear that if you don't follow the law then you will be caught.

"How will you penalise out-of-town vehicles"
[Response] This is something that I still haven't been able to work out. Does anyone have any suggestions?

"People may not pay for the challans/fines generated from an "automated process" and still keep driving around"
[Response] - To begin with, publish the car numbers that have been issued fines on a website. Also, allow people to pay for these fines online. For any challan/fine that is unpaid for more than x days the fine amount is doubled and if it remains unpaid for an year then visit the address and impound the said vehicle, also you can enforce insurance companies to not issue insurance policies to such vehicles until their fines have been cleared.

This solution is not new and in all probability has been suggested by someone else, but I still think its worth trying in addition to the other initiatives that would help.

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