Public transport policy revisited

On January 10, the day Ratan Tata launched his much-awaited cheapest car in the world, one of the TV channels aired a panel discussion, mostly featuring auto industry experts. With the exception of Sunita Narain, head of the Centre for Science and Environment, nobody even remotely acknowledged the enormity of the daily travel crisis. If Nano sales take off in a big way, the roads may even get completely clogged. The Nano is a cost and engineering marvel, and a well meaning entrepreneurial endeavour. But the promise of individual mobility will end in collective gridlock. The pro-Nano panelists uttered the usual platitudes about the crying need for more infrastructure. Undoubtedly, a lot more roads are needed. But building more roads by itself will never solve the problem. Cars will expand to fill up the available space, the automobile version of Parkinson's Law. In Los Angeles, despite frequently building ten-lane highways, officials predict that travel times will double by 2020. Besides, the legal and other costs to building roads in cities in India are huge