Are you ready to ghost our cars and swipe our environment right?

A popular automobile brand used a thought-provoking baseline a couple of years ago. It went forth and stirred the consumer by asking – when was the last time you did something for the very first time?

The objective of the campaign was to urge the caught-up-in-the-rigmarole consumers to ‘reclaim their lives’. This idea helped change the narrative around living a meaningful existence and created a sense of independence.

Many years have passed since, it’s 2018 and a good time to ask yet another important question –

If you are a young, working professional – then,

when was the last time you ditched your car to hop into the local train or a bus?

The question in this case may not provoke much emotion, but what it certainly does is open up a conversation about environmental awareness and mindful consumption of resources. A conversation that can offer an understanding about the use of public transportation.

While on the topic of mindful use of means, we found inspiration in Japanese author Genki Kawamura’s ‘If Cats disappeared from the World’. It’s a wonderful account of how the protagonist begins to erase things from the world in exchange for a prolonged life. The book is poignant, at the same time raises a few interesting questions. When you read the book, it is hard to not think of the objects one could remove in order to give more meaning and quality to modern life or just learn from our own roots and go back to humble ways.

This very thought led to a group discussion where people contemplated the following hypothetical question –

What would happen if cars were removed from the world?

We found two polarised views and chronicled this debate for this blog. The debate may have been heated but the conversation around it turned out to be valuable.

Here are the excerpts:

For:Disappearance of cars? Great idea! Mumbai has about two million cars – getting to work will be a cakewalk once they are removed. Besides, less pollution, less congestion, better environment, reduced carbon-footprint. The list of benefits is endless; even the 2 million 2-wheelers should disappear!

Against:It’s not that simplistic and utopian. The disappearance of personal cars and two-wheelers means two issues if not more: (a) increased demand for taxis and autos, (b) far more crowded trains and buses. Currently there are only 4500 BEST buses, 150,000 3-wheelers and around 60,000 taxi-cabs. There may be an equal number of App-based fleet cabs. How do you expect these to accommodate the surplus crowd? Not many people know – but the local trains are carrying 5 million passengers already. Daily.

For:Some radical steps can be taken to fix that problem. It’s the internet-age, we are connected 24×7 through our laptops and phones, why do we need to travel back and forth to our offices every single day? Why can’t we have a better system of 3 days a week or flexi-timings? Working through video calling and other digital platforms is also digital India. If all working professionals begin to work in this truly revolutionary manner – public transport will not be as crowded.

Against:Okay, what about fares? Metro and first class compartment fares are already on an uphill climb for some. If cars disappear, wouldn’t it be an affordability issue as well? Wouldn’t the fares hike further? The costs associated with this option are ever-increasing. This sector would always be exposed to the challenges of viability gap funding to cover the fixed or the build-out costs.

For:It’s worth considering what component of the fares is fixed and what’s variable? If we agree that the roads are built by taxpayers’ money, if the health, education and other public services are supposed to be built using tax-base (which is increasing in India), why should one load the fixed costs on to the fares? Cant we innovate in the application of public finances ? Also, imagine going from Colaba to the suburbs in less than 30 minutes! Forget about metro – why not take the good old bus?

Against:Bus? Come on, who wants to spend over an hour and a half in Mumbai’s traffic, going from suburbs to the business districts?

In the end, the debate about the hypothetical disappearance of cars brought forth some important questions to ponder over:

  1. Could Bus Rapid Transit networks, BRTs, be a solution even in the island city?
  2. Are the Eastern and Western Express Highways fertile areas for conversation? Is it possible to build dedicated tracks for BEST and other private contractor managed buses?
  3. Or can better inter modal mobility systems be promoted? How about people moving from home to work in an all electric mode or  hybrid electric buses?

What’s your take?

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