An 18 per cent increase in vehicle population in the last year alone is a clear indication that wealth is being created in this state. In the last financial year 75,534 vehicles were added to take the total to 8.65 lakh or roughly one vehicle for every two residents.
The fact that Goa is richer than the rest of India comes through when one looks at the vehicle ratio for all India which is 1: 56 or one vehicle for every 56 citizens. The Goa scenario is very close to European standards. In 2010 the UK had roughly one vehicle for every 1.9 persons while Italy fared still better with a ration of 1: 1.4. The United States holds the record for the most number of vehicles which was a whopping 239 million in 2010 and a ratio of 1:1.3. For those keenly watching the population clock here is something to wonder about: the total number of vehicles in the world crossed the one billion mark in 2010. Is this going to increase? Certainly. With economic growth accelerating in China and India there is still a lot of more vehicles to sell. China incidentally has a ration of 1:17.
Is the increase in vehicle population a bother? The answer is not easy. It depends on where you are placed. If you are sitting in a car showroom waiting to book a vehicle then the number of vehicles on the road is the last thing on your mind. On the contrary, the rate of interest on the loan you are about to take is your foremost consideration. On the other hand, road planners are worried. The government and civic bodies are under tremendous pressure to create wider roads and more parking space. Panaji the capital city is running out of parking space and double and treble parking has become the norm instead of the exception. The situation in Mapusa, Margao and Ponda is no better. The previous Congress government lacked the political will to create parking space, penalize errant parking or widen the highways. This burden has now been passed to the new government which is yet to apply its mind to the problem at hand.
Have road widths and length kept pace with the increasing number of vehicles? Not everywhere. The main trunk routes are congested. The Mapusa-Panaji stretch has the highest number of vehicle trips per day and though a major portion have been converted into four lanes, it is not even close to the desired width. The grandiose plan to convert NH17 and NH4A into state of the art highways has run into trouble on account of protests. And those who think that only Goans or Indians protest should take some time off to study similar protests in the US, UK and Australia which resulted in construction of many roads and highways being abandoned.
Individual modes of transport are a fall-out of poor public transport and the prestige that goes with owning a vehicle, especially a car. Unfortunately there are no studies in Goa on the impact of car and two-wheeler travel on communities. Of course individually owned vehicles have made travel much easier and remote areas more accessible. But it has also place tremendous pressure on land and financial resources. Vehicle travel is subsidized the world over and there is no country where vehicle owners exclusively pay for construction and upkeep of roads. This naturally creates a gap between road length and number of vehicles resulting in traffic snarls and accidents.
The previous government had virtually abandoned its responsibility towards organizing traffic on the highways and cities. We haven’t reached a tipping point and hence a cap is neither desirable nor possible, but governments should have plans in place to deal with issues arising out of a rising vehicle population which has been accelerating from 2008-09 onwards. An 18 per cent hike leaves little room for manoeuvre and unless the present government acts with speed, the race to keep things under control will get tougher.