I have always appreciated a good public transportation system. Before coming to Australia for my masters, the only decent one I have come across is in Delhi. It is a vast metro network, which works on economies of scale model and the passengers end up paying a cheap fare. However, that is only one mode of transport that Delhi has that can be considered good, with autos charging a higher fare on the meter and a bus system that is largely inefficient. Sydney on the other hand has probably one of the best systems in the world for public transport. To be fair to other countries with a vast public transportation system, I have only used the one in Sydney. Nonetheless, I do not think any system can be more convenient than the one in Sydney.
A vast train network that connects the practically the 60-70 sq km radius of the massive city with trains that travel to other cities in the state of New South Wales (NSW) as well. There is the excellent system of buses, which connects every small and big neighbourhood in the city, a lifeline for the inhabitants of Sydney. Then there is the wharf, which connects all the small islands with buses running within the island so that you have walk as less as possible. There is also the light rail system, closer to a tram than a metro; there is only one light rail route but many more being built. This makes it four, four different public transportation systems, doing their job and allowing travellers to move across the city with ease and at a reasonable fare.
The efficiency of a public transportation system is best seen during a time of duress. On the 18th May, the bus drivers were on a strike to protest against the privatisation of the bus network. With buses not running, and trains to my neighbourhood done for the day, on a late night I was stuck at my university with no direct way to reach my house. However, there then lies the strength of an efficient public transportation network. I was able to take a train to one of the neighbourhoods close to mine, and then take the light rail to my house. Granted, I was lucky that the one route that the light rail takes goes through my neighbourhood. Still, I could not help but appreciate how efficient the system is, even on days like this.
The Opal card, which is like the metro card in Delhi, but you can use it for all the modes of transport and can use it in any city in NSW. The only problem I could think was of navigating yourself through the transportation system and eventually home. If it were not for GoogleMaps, I would most definitely find it hard to make my way home if I did not know the routes properly. However, I come from a belief that we should judge a system by its ability, and not its inability to fulfil any duty; in that regard it is a more than capable system. Only Sydney and Melbourne have such sophisticated systems, but the Australian government is working towards improving it in other major cities like Canberra, Adelaide, and Brisbane.
As an Indian, I could not help but want this system in India. We can certainly do with lesser cars on the streets of major cities. An efficient public transportation system goes a long way in the development of a country. Delhi has probably got the best transportation system followed by a relatively old and overpopulated one in Mumbai, with cities like Pune, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai not even coming close. Mumbai locals will always be an iconic form of transportation, but they are outdated and if Delhi can come up with a vast and efficient system like the metro, so can Mumbai. Delhi has a few stations, which run entirely on the solar energy, epitomising the efficiency of the system itself.
Public Transportation generates massive external benefits, and as a form of government expenditure, it helps the government build confidence with the citizens. There is a strong case for subsidising non-private means of transport, such as bus, coach, tram and rail. The effect of a subsidy on public transport is to reduce the costs of supply to the provider, and the Indian government can benefit from a planning aimed at subsiding public transportation system, which makes it cheaper for the supplier as well as for the consumer. The government will have to oversee the development of the project to avoid moral hazards and inefficiencies.
They will need to know how to manage the system when real income rises making the system an inferior good. Let us look at the benefits rather, public transportation can reduce oil dependency, buying of cars and creates spaces suitable for the services economy. Regardless of what the inefficiencies can be in the future, we must look at the ability of a good transportation system to make life easier for the citizens. India is in dire need of one in every major city, for it to rival the best countries in the world.
It certainly has the potential to do so, and it is targeting to build a better system in many cities. Maybe they can take a page or two from the system in Australia. I have always realised the importance of a good transportation system, and hopefully when I return to India after my masters, I could be a part of a project, which aims to create a good transportation system.
This article is written by Ratish Srivastava, who is currently in doing a Masters in International Relations at the University of Sydney, Australia.