Traffic Management: Caught in the Lane

DQI Bureau
New Update

Aditya is a manager of a retail chain in Mumbai. Every day, he

drives down from his home in Borivali to midtown Mumbai. The to-and-fro

commuting eats up a good 3-4 hours of his daily life: valuable hours that he

could have better spent with his wife and 6-year-old kid.


Over the years, he has seen the construction of many new

flyovers. They succeeded in easing congestion for a while, but increasing

vehicular traffic soon caught up, and it was the same old story of hour-long

snarls all over again. Aditya has often wondered what it would take to ease

Mumbai's traffic woes.

Traffic congestion is a serious problem in most Indian metros.

The scorching pace of economic growth and the growing incomes of India's

burgeoning middle class are only likely to make the situation worse. Public

transport systems are overloaded, and there is a limit to how much additional

infrastructure such as roads and rail lines a city can add.

Of course, city planners are doing the best they can to cope up

with the increasing stress on the transportation infrastructure. For instance,

in Mumbai, tens of flyovers have been-and continue to be-constructed, and

existing roads widened.


But, creating more infrastructure is not a solution by itself.

The improvements in infrastructure will always lag behind the increase in

traffic. Its benefits are only short-term; what's needed is a more

imaginative, holistic and integrated approach to the problem.

A piece of statistic from the Mumbai Traffic Police web site

illustrates the magnitude of the problem. While the length of roads in Mumbai

increased 127% between 1951 and 2004, the population increased 301% and the

number of vehicles a whopping 3,109%.

The improving-infrastructure approach seeks to accommodate the

future. What is also needed is a preventive approach to actually reduce the

traffic on the roads. This can be achieved in two ways.


Better PTS: An

efficient public transport system (PTS) can effectively reduce the traffic on

city roads. There's considerable evidence to suggest that vehicle owners will

use a mass transit system, if a good one is available. In fact, because of

traffic snarls and the problem of finding parking space, many commuters in

cities like New York and London choose to travel by the metro rail network.

Many cities in India are already taking steps in this direction.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently laid the foundation for a metro rail

network in Mumbai. City authorities are also exploring providing public

transport on sea routes that connect important hubs of Mumbai.


But building such alternative transportation systems require

huge investments. That is where we come to the second approach.

Second Option: Cities

around the world, such as Singapore and London have introduced congestion

charging schemes to reduce traffic. For instance, in London, drivers are charged

a fee for entering the central London zone. The idea was to ensure that those

using the road infrastructure made a financial contribution towards it,

discouraging vehicle owners from making unnecessary journeys and encouraging the

use of public transport systems.


The results were impressive indeed. The traffic in central

London went down 10-15%, and traffic speeds went up by a similar percentage. In

fact, what made the London Congestion Charging Project such a success was the

technology that backed the whole process.

The Mumbai

Traffic Scenario




Road Length (Kms)




Population (Lakh)




Number of Vehicles


11.23 Lakh




A Tech Solution

The aim of the LCC project was to reduce traffic in the center of London
during peak hours by charging vehicle owners a fee to drive through the area at

certain times. What was unique about the project was that there were no

tollgates or barriers to collect charges from vehicle owners.

Instead, a network of cameras records the number plates of

vehicles entering the city center. An automatic number plate recognition (ANPR)

system grabs the live video stream of vehicles, converts them to still images,

uses certain in-built business logic to identify the number plate from the

image, then applies optical character recognition (OCR) tools and converts the

number plates into text.

What this means is that the ANPR system then digs into the

database that stores the vehicle registration numbers, matches them against the

numbers captured through the live traffic stream and then uses the attached

information to charge vehicle owners. Hence, charges could be collected without

slowing down traffic in any way.


Singapore too has had a lot of success with its Electronic Road

Pricing Scheme. Technology plays a big role in the success of the scheme, albeit

in a slightly different way than in London. In Singapore, gantries are located

at all entrances to the central business district and on roads with heavy

traffic. Cars are equipped with an in-vehicle unit that contains a pre-paid cash

card. Every time a car passes under a gantry, a toll is automatically deducted

from the cash card.

Cities in India can use either of the two examples. Congestion

charging brings with it a dual advantage: it reduces traffic on the roads and

generates funds that can go towards improving alternative systems of transport.

But, congestion charging can be a politically loaded issue. In

London, too, it was not an easy decision to introduce a fee for private vehicles

to use certain roads. But the London Mayor Ken Livingstone remained committed to

his vision, and Londoners today enjoy the fruits of the LCC. Introducing such

schemes in India will require political consensus and strong political will.

From a technology and project implementation standpoint, India

has no dearth of talent. After all, our IT talent is exported across the world

to solve some of the most complex challenges. It's time we harness it to solve

domestic problems as well. Indian companies have enormous experience in

successfully implementing large-scale, citizen-facing, mission-critical

projects. And these are challenges the Indian IT industry will welcome with open


Ravindra Kadam

The Author is Head of Solutions and Strategy, Mastek group