Visit to Delhi and Singapore – Day 3

Professor Greg Marsden

Today was a chance to see a bit of Delhi and to experience a bit more of the transport system. It started however with front page headlines of “Blame Game over thick smog cover”. Arguments about whether the smog resulted from Diwali celebrations, burning of straw in nearby regions or the emissions from cars were put forward. It seems like a combination of those factors with the winter weather (short sleeves and quite mild…) have contributed to recorded levels 15 times the safe standard for Delhi (1554 micrograms per cubic metre). Not good news for anyone living here.

My trip out began with a visit to the recently refurbished and beautiful temple for Emperor Humayan. Since the 1100s it appeared that each new dynasty would set up its own palace area along the river.

I also got chance to visit the Lotus temple and a national craft market as well having a taster lunch of Southern Indian cuisine with Sanjay. The variety of flavours and dishes that comprise a meal seem in stark contrast to the UK!

I then got the chance to ride on the Delhi Metro. It covers around 180km and around 2.5million passengers per day. It was modern, fast and comfortable – although crush loading and sharp elbows around the interchanges are every bit as prevalent as any major Metro system you might think of. Mass transit systems such as these are very expensive (and there is a big expansion programme underway). However, it is difficult to see any other transport solution for a city of 16 million which is still growing.

That takes me to my reflections on getting around on the road network. The traffic generally follows the lanes with a bit of creativity and a lot of horn. There was perhaps a bit more on-coming traffic in our lane than I am used to… What is amazing to watch (when it works!) is the mix of traffic. Three wheel cycle freight bikes with a tonne of steel on them, cyclists crossing 4 lanes of traffic, auto rickshaws, people sat side saddle on the parcel shelf of motorbikes without helmet, powerful buses and a mix of cars all competing for the limited space. I was struck by the countdowns on traffic lights – for the drivers not the pedestrians. These were particularly useful so that drivers could turn off their engines during the 3 minute cycle times of the lights – but they also acted as a chequered flag to some effect! I wonder if the lone contra-flow cyclist in 3 lanes of traffic made it home? Did the guy with 2 dozen eggs on the footplate of his motorbike have them scrambled? Whilst it all seems to function as a bit of a slow dance, it is easy to see why the safety record is as it is.

My final reflection on Delhi was the rather surprising news that the Supreme Court had allowed four wheel traffic into the Delhi BRT corridor and this seems to have halted progress on further BRT schemes until after the election. Apparently an individual can raise a Public Interest Liability claim and have it heard by the court. Whilst they had asked for BRT to be removed and the court had not gone that far, it seems peculiar that the judiciary should extend itself to the details of policy rather than whether the existing rules allowed for that policy to be implemented. That would be a worrying trend. It does go to reinforce the importance of winning the public debate.

Next stop Sinagpore – where I am visiting the Land Transport Authority and some ITS alumni (some of which have done great things in the LTA). I will be presenting on the Disruption project – so a fairly formidable task of explaining what the Singaporeans can learn from our experiences with snow and ice!

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