In 2015, 17 lives were lost on the road every hour in India. That’s almost 150,000 lives, but again, with any Indian statistic, the number is probably higher as not all road deaths may be reported or even known. The WHO estimated 231,000 road deaths in 2013 so I can’t see any reason for this sharp decline in two years given that more highways are being built and there are more cars on the road than ever.
There are horror stories of motorists running people over and then fleeing the scene, and drink driving is rampant. And sometimes by celebrities who really should know better. There is a widely held view that there are different laws for the rich and the poor here, because perpetrators, predominantly people who are economically more well off and thus can afford a car, are seldom brought to justice. The justice system here is overburdened and plagued by problems.
It is estimated that there are 20 cars for every 1000 people in India. In Delhi, the number is closer to 160 per 1000, which causes monumental problems with air pollution and traffic. We almost never get free flowing traffic here. If I can get 10kms in under an hour, that’s a good day. That’s 10km/hr, slightly slower than my running speed. I’d love to walk but walking is impossible as there are hardly any footpaths on which I feel safe. Footpaths are fair game for pedestrians and motorists alike. And I cannot be certain that anyone would come to my aid should I need it. So I jump at the opportunity for a walk whenever one comes up.
It’s not all doom and gloom. I have managed to explore a huge amount of Delhi even with these challenges. I am one of the very fortunate ones. We have a company car at our disposal with a full time driver who gets us to our destinations safely. I don’t take much public transport but there is one that I try to use whenever I can — the Delhi Metro. It’s free from traffic whims, cheap, air conditioned, well-patrolled and has women-only carriages, although commuters have to endure poor last mile connectivity.
Walking, cycling and motorised 2-wheelers are other popular modes of transport and there is no shortage of other forms of public transport. People get around on local buses — no air-conditioning, open windows, crowded but free. There are also shared and private auto-rickshaws — tuk tuks in SE Asian vernacular — which get you from point to point. For trips around the local area, cycle rickshaws are also available and cheaper than autos. For longer trips or more comfort, Uber and other cab aggregators are widely available.
I suffer from huge environmental guilt about my car usage. I have never been so totally reliant on a car. In Australia, I caught the the train and tram to uni or work every day. In London, we drove our car once a month. There is a Metro feeder line being constructed right outside my apartment complex. There are rumours that the project is suffering from funding issues. I really hope it comes to fruition.
“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport”
— Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia