Saturday, January 26, 2013

Will you help improve traffic in Pune?

We often say that people in Pune have no traffic sense. We do not follow even the most simple rules like stopping behind the white line at a traffic signal. But this is not entirely true. There are people trying to improve the situation. I have seen them stopping behind the white line, directing traffic at congested intersections, helping the traffic police. These people understand the advantage, benefit and the critical need of having a disciplined traffic. The problem is that they do not have any authority. They cannot effectively nudge others into becoming more sensible drivers. This policy aims at, among other things, enabling such people.

Remember, crowd behavior (which includes traffic)  is about critical mass. You do not need to convert everyone on the road. Most people will do what the guy next to them is doing. Currently this critical mass is tilted towards aggressiveness on the road. But if it sways towards more responsible behavior, that will quickly become the default and there will be a drastic improvement in the driving conditions in the city of Pune.

Background
The Pune Traffic Police facebook page has close to 30,000 subscribers. People used to report traffic violations and the Traffic Police would respond with the action taken. This received extremely enthusiastic response from the people initially. But the Traffic Police could not keep up with the reported violations and it eventually lost momentum.
The critical time for a new rule, is the 'breaking in' period. Some rules like P1/P2 parking, wearing seat belts, were monitored and violators fined effectively when they came into effect. Now they have become second nature to most people and do not receive a lot of oversight.

Policy Goals
It aims at making the general public a participating entity in the implementation of traffic laws, as opposed to be being just the affected party.
It aims at lessening the burden of commissioning and managing the non-capital aspects of traffic management by providing a mechanism to involve private players and volunteers in checking traffic violations.

How it works
This policy applies to traffic laws like, stopping at red light (behind the white line), not parking in no-parking zones, not going the wrong way, etc.
City will be divided into number of sectors (by clubbing together electoral wards or some order more sensible way).
Private agency (or private citizens) will have to collect photographic proof of vehicle breaking a law.
A central database (website) will be provided to upload the photographs and other details like Date, Time and Location. A Phone Application (Android/iPhone) can also be developed, which will make this whole process very fast and simple.
Chief responsibility of traffic police will be to recover the dues.
The dues will be adjusted according to number of violations in that sector. Higher dues for sectors with higher violations. (This will give an incentive for private agency to record more cases of violations, and for public to violate less.)
People will be given a chance to contest the fines in a special tribunal, comprising of Traffic Police, Corporators and NGOs. Basic verification of photographs is not very costly (softwares are available). The fixed cost of verification will be borne by the losing party.
Private agency will get an assured sum plus a commission on dues collected.
Contracts will be for a limited period (say 2 years) and bids will be called for each sector separately.

Benefits
Economic incentives will bring in a lot of manpower and resources into traffic management.
Adaptive pricing of fines will give people an incentive to follow the rules and urge other people to do the same.
As collection of dues is strictly out of private hands, there is no danger of misuse of power.
A basic fixed remuneration will ensure that private agencies can maintain operations even when violations are low.
Because there is a price for false appeals, appeals will be less hence process will be more efficient and fast.

Limitations
This policy does not help with immediate resolution of traffic jams, parking violations, etc.
If the values of fines and also the fixed benefit to private agencies is not proper, it can lead to non-profitability for private agencies or extortion for violators.
If the tendering process is not open and transparent, it can lead to cartelization and corruption.
Not effective for violations which are difficult to record (like honking, etc.)
If people feel animosity towards the private agencies, it might lead to clashes.

Sunset Clause
This can be implemented for a period of 6 years. It can be scrapped if the overall traffic sense and discipline has improved to a sustainable level.

In Conclusion
Though this is not the solution to all traffic problems, if implemented properly, this can lead to improvement of conditions for all the stakeholders.

(This was originally written as an assignment for the GCPP course.)

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