Tuesday, September 2

A newcomer in a city

Some days back NY Times looked at the challenges immigrants faced when they come into the city. For example:

Newcomers suddenly realize either that the city is not working for them or that they are inexorably becoming part of it, or both. They find themselves walking and talking faster.

Somewhere later the writer points out :

People are everywhere, but ignore each other on the street. Friends might live in distant neighborhoods, and seeing them often requires booking time, like an appointment, weeks in advance.

In many places, I felt like that you could replace NY with Mumbai and the article would still make sense. As an outsider to both, I could see the similarities that so many people refer to. However in terms of one aspect NY is so much better - the public transportation system.

I am not talking about about the crowds in suburban trains of Mumbai and the stress of taking a train everyday. This is more about how the system is organized. On the New York map, the subway system (metro) looks like a series of lines snaking through the city. In some places these lines run parallel to the grid like streets but in most cases they have evolved over a century of demand from the suburbs. Mumbai has three main lines covering most of the city.

However it is the synergy between the trains and buses which is lacking in Mumbai. In NY when you step out of your house buses are available with five minutes of walk. Again when you step out of the metro, the bus stop is practically outside the subway station. This is not the case for most places in the suburbs of Mumbai.

Another aspect is that in NY the comparable time difference for a bus and a taxi ride would be very little, therefore no point in paying much more for the taxi.
I know that many people in Mumbai use the bus-train system, but most of my friends often resort to taking an auto if they are running late since buses are very slow.

You could argue that Mumbai is more crowded and space is a constraint but then so would people say is the case with Manhattan - the main part of NY. But somehow they have kept the roads wider by forcing people to make taller buildings. The traffic flow is still smooth and people can think of using a bus. This is not practical in Mumbai and each day more people end up using private cars or autos thus chocking the roads even more. Trips which should take ten minutes end up taking an hour.

While the New York plan may not work for our cities, we still need to learn how to keep commuting easy for people who come to our cities to work.

No comments: