Friday, January 30, 2015

Driving on a Camel's back - certainly not a solution to any problem

Almost ten years ago, crossing the road at at a college was very hard. It was a highway and traffic moved fast. The solution was obviously to slow down the traffic and what better way than a pair of speed breakers.

The net result - the traffic became slower but was it easier to cross the road. Of course not! As speeds went for 50KM/hr to 10KM/hr, the gap between the cars became one fifth. Now, there was a stream of cars - none of which were willing to stop voluntarily and let the students pass. If you took the risk of crossing partway, there was still the problem of negotiating the remaining half of the road.

It should be obvious that speed breakers are useful for low traffic scenarios and not a high traffic one. However, these are the solutions applied when the traffic flow becomes high.

I recently drove to Calangute from Mapusa and it was like driving on a Camel's back. The number and frequency of speed breakers is remarkable. I found myself to be far less inclined to show any courtesy when negotiating a speed breaker.

An experiment worth doing: I find that I cross a reasonable distance from a speed breaker. Never close to the speed breaker. Is it me only or is that a common practice?

By contrast, we stop at a stop sign in the US even if there is no traffic. We cross the road without worrying about whether the oncoming car will stop.

 I don't believe that we when in India are a worse people. We have created systems and processes which brings out the worst in us :(

The speed breakers do not encourage a socially desirable behaviour. They increase the irritation and frustration of a driver - especially as each one is designed to be as uncomfortable as possible to ensure that the drivers have no choice but to slow down.

Why not put an effort in to make sure that drivers stop at a stop sign or a pedestrian crossing. Even more so, make sure that the person behind does not honk or overtake from every which way if a person has stopped to show even minimal courtesy to pedestrians.

And once traffic is high, invest in traffic signals and teach people to stop even if the signal is not for vehicular traffic but for pedestrians.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Smart Cities? Start with Smart Laws instead

Will Chandigarh be the first smart city or these three with US contributing something or other? Does it even matter to most people?

I wish the government would work on simple, smart laws first. By smart I mean, that it should be easy for a person to comply with the law. It can't be that hard :(

A simple example -  shifting a car from Chandigarh to Goa. (As one person in RTO of Goa wanted to confirm that I knew I will have to pay road tax again. I am ignoring double taxation in this case.)

If the car has to be in a different state, the registration needs to be changed. That is the law. The process:
  • Get an NOC from Chandigarh 
    • Nice that they have convenient booklets containing all the forms including multiple copies which need to be filled and pages with labels for pasting  documents which need to be supplied.
    • Proof of residence is not a problem for me any more as over the last few years all my documents have the Chandigarh address.
      • But I can't forget the pain of opening the first bank account in Chandigarh after moving there.
      • Nor can I forget the problem registering the car I had bought and no acceptable proof of residence. Fortunately I got the voter id just then and survived.
    • Need to get a report from NCRB that car is not stolen. The data is online and can be accessed but I need to get the certificate from central police station.
    • Chandigarh is a compact town and I live in the heart of it. So, making 3 trips to get it was not a major hurdle especially if I can time my trips to avoid extreme traffic.
      • Go the police station - requests taken in the morning only
      • Submit request next day morning
      • Pickup the signed printout in the evening.
    • Comparatively painless process 
      • Get a token - a long queue
      • Wait turn to submit
      • Pickup NOC's next day  
Now enjoy the leisurely drive from Chandigarh to Goa.
  • Make a request for transferring the car in Goa
    • Visit the RTO office
      • Confusion about which forms I need to fill
      • Buy more forms than needed, for example form to re-register car, form to change address, form for transferring car to another person, ...
      • Fill the forms which seem appropriate
      • Show and have to remove the re-registration form
      • Need to add Form 28. 
        • A copy of which had been returned along with NOC
        • Why this form as it is an application for a NOC which contains the same information on the NOC? Why bother to understand?
      • Proof of residence is a problem
        • Own the place where I stay so sale deed will do
        • Need to get it notarised
      • Get the certificate that the car is not stolen once more.
        • This time from Panaji 
        • I am not in Panaji and a long drive or, more likely, two drives. Update - took 3 trips. I never expected them to want the Form 28 copy and not the NOC copy :) I had not taken the former with me :(
      • What next? I don't know yet.
      • Update: After submitting the file, I have to wait for 6 weeks for them to verify with the issuing authority that the NOC is genuine!
I wish what we get from the US is Reagan's signature quote: Trust but verify whereas all our interaction with the government is 'Don't trust and don't verify'. Those who need to circumvent the laws don't really have a problem. The rest of us run around in circles.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Getting Lost on the Highway - Again!

After the previous experience of getting lost, we were far better prepared. I had looked at the maps, estimated the times, noted the small town names to make sure that we did not take the wrong path.

Our problems were compounded by a poor choice the data network supplier. I had incorrectly assumed that one supplier would be a reliable alternate and backup in the interiors. I had also not realised how expensive data usage with maps is if you are roaming on a 'partner' network. Our balance in the prepaid account had been exhausted even before we found our hotel in Jaipur.

Maps mention routes by the highway numbers - even paper ones if one find one these days. Often there are multiple numbers for the same highway, especially the state highways. However, I don't recall seeing many highway signs with highway numbers. Certainly not at the junctions. Why is that so hard? May be as a programmer, a simple code as a key is the obvious first choice and I can't see the administrative and decision taking complexities involved :)

My preparation helped. We were on our way from Udaipur to Anand. About midway, there was a turning for a highway to Vadodra bypassing Ahmedabad. The road was 'straight' after that.

When expected, there was a turning. However, all the signage mentioned was - 'Modasa'. There was no mention of Vadodra. Obviously, there was no mention the state highway number. Because of my planning, I knew 'Modasa' was on the correct route! So, we took the turning and were pleasantly surprised by an excellent highway. Once we got on it, we knew it was headed towards Godhra and Vadodra!

I didn't realise it but somewhere the highway turned! The road was excellent and we knew we were moving fast in the right direction. And then the realisation came. There was a small sign which indicated that we were still on state highway number 5! In the absence of data connection, we relied on the good old network of asking people. Their directions were remarkably clear and precise.

We kept asking for directions at suspicious crossings. In a small town, even a slightly wider road may be the highway you want. We reached an hour later than expected but enjoyed the experience of asking for directions. Especially, just near the end.

One person was very confident and asking us to turn in the direction from which we had come! Fortunately, the shop owner knew better and gave us the correct details. As we moved, we could hear him still explaining to the enthusiastic, helpful by-stander!

I hope someone in the highway planning department wakes up and realises that putting highway number of exit signs does not require much space and may even help his family and friends one day :)