A lot of projects are in the pipeline to make Panaji a Smart City. However, Panaji can never be a Smart City without a smart road transport. The number of automobiles registered in the state is almost equal to the human population, an alarming fact that must be truer of the capital city than any other part of the state, considering the affluence level of its population. Panaji’s population, projected from the 2011 census with the assumption of unchanged growth rate of 8 per cent as in 2001-2011, should be at least 1.2 lakh. Going by the registration figures, there should be 1.20 lakh vehicles in the Panaji city. Leave aside the thousands of vehicles from outside that come to the city, the capital’s own vehicle population is clearly mind-boggling and unsustainable.
Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar needs to pay special attention to the city that has been electing him. He has been a champion and patron of the Smart City mission from the beginning. But he cannot hope to make Panaji smart without making road transport sustainable and enjoyable in the city. Cities across the world are beginning to realize the mistake in allowing unrestricted car ownership and unrestricted access to roads and unrestricted parking. They are beginning to realize the high costs they are paying for the lack of restrictions. The costs are rising in terms of higher expenditure in expansion of roads, road accidents, congestion, air pollution and greater incidence of lifestyle diseases for lack of physical movements. These costs have been rising in Panaji as well.
No single department, no single officer, no single minister can take the big decisions that need to be taken to impose restrictions. Panaji looks to Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar to take those decisions. The first big decision he has to take is to put restrictions on the purchase of cars. The transport department of the Karnataka government is actively considering a proposal to allow anyone to get his car registered only if he can show to have ample parking space within the premises of his house. The rule is aimed to reduce the occupation of road and footpath spaces by cars. It is also aimed to reverse the trend of every family buying two cars. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar should ask the transport department to frame and implement a similar policy for the state. Panaji can become a model city for the enforcement of the policy.
Actually, Parrikar need not wait for a policy to emerge for the whole state. He can start off straightaway from the Panaji city. Panaji is run by a corporation headed by a mayor who can take decisions to check congestion and air pollution in the city. Parrikar can work through the City Corporation of Panaji and the Smart City Mission to impose restrictions on car ownership in the city by making it conditional on proof of parking space. He can do it in a still better way. He can impose a vehicle quota system. Many cities of the world have succeeded in reasonably addressing the problems of congestion and air pollution by imposing a vehicle quota system. The pioneer of this system was Singapore which from 1990 has allowed purchase of a limited number of cars only through annual auctions. Nobody could walk into a showroom and buy a car. The number of cars to be auctioned annually was directly proportional to the development of infrastructure. The annual growth in the number of auctioned cars was just 3 per cent. China adopted the Singapore model in some cities. Shanghai enforced a similar vehicle quota system in 1994, Beijing in 2011 and Guangzhou in 2012.
Other cities of the world are imposing restrictions on use of roads by cars. Mexico led with restrictions on entry of cars to central areas on certain days. Manohar Parrikar’s Smart City should place restrictions on entry of vehicles in certain areas on certain days and during certain times. Parrikar can adopt Kejriwal’s Odd-Even number plate formula but with caution. In Delhi, the rule did reduce the number of vehicles on the roads and drove more people onto metro and buses, but the reduction was not very significant as the air pollution did not fall during those days. A major reason for the partial success was that many families owned two or three cars and could find an odd or even numbered car in the house to drive. Parrikar, while he imposes car ownership and movement restrictions, should also make public transport frequent, fast and comfortable. The public transport that operates today in the city is cattle transport.