Traffic of the Rich (Cars) !

Mumbai has a shortage of broad roads. Most roads are narrow. Nothing unusual about that as it is kind of an island town, thin and narrow, unlike bigger cities such as New Delhi which does not have a space constraint to expand.

I do not think Mumbai can expand any further than it has done over the past several decades. There is not even an inch of space anywhere to expand, and the strain on infrastructure is now so enormous that the government is struggling to keep pace (and of course, the people have always been struggling !).

Instead of 3 lanes on one side of arterial highways, there are 5 or even 6 lanes of cars nudging against each other to find the tiniest of spaces to move ahead. It is a wonder how the traffic moves at all. Sometimes, it might be better not to look elsewhere and just concentrate on the car in front of you, lest you get scared with the chaos around you everywhere. I do not understand how a total foreigner would take in all the scary stuff around and still hopes that everything would be fine at the end of the day.

So, it is only interesting to see the increasing population of bigger SUVs and state-of-the-art sedan models from around the world, competing with thousands of the usual small cars on Mumbai roads (I presume that this scenario repeats in all major metro cities of India). Due to the phenomenal commercial and entertainment success of Mumbai, probably the proportion of large cars on the road is higher in percentage terms (New Delhi should have more such cars in absolute terms as it is the political capital wherein politicians feel safer in very large SUVs).

Given that the roads cannot be widened anymore in Mumbai, the plethora of large SUVs reduce the number of possible lanes – that’s what you would tend to think, right ? No, that is not really the case. The SUVs are treated the same way as any other small car, and the SUV driver cannot ignore the presence of all the small cars around him/her and needs to navigate rather carefully. This is unlike in New Delhi, where “might is right”, if you know what I mean.

Occasionally, I try to estimate the penetration of cars such as Audi, BMW, Porsches and Mercedes Benz in the ever swirling traffic situation outside, when I am travelling and I am kind of bored. My latest analysis shows that Audi has overtaken all the other luxury cars and models out there on Mumbai roads. I may be wrong but believe eyes do not lie, however I do not have access to car sales data for the current year, I am sure Audi would have stolen a march over the others all across India for sure.

So, I sometimes wonder how these car owners react to the chaotic situation out on the roads when they move around. On the highways it is not just cars, but also other types of vehicles such as buses, trucks, motorcycles, scooters and autorickshaws which collectively try to outnumber the cars. This is unlike in most parts of the developed world where the highways are only for cars, buses and trucks. I mostly see fully tinted glass windows on these high-end cars, and they do mean something, I guess.

All in all, this traffic situation is not going to change for the better anytime soon – in fact, I believe it will never change. The proportion of luxury cars on the roads can however vary, in some relationship to the country’s GDP growth rates in the coming years. The issue is always on how the government can rise up to the alarming situation of worsening traffic on the roads and ensure safety for one and all.


Vijay Srinivasan
15th January 2012


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