February 14, 2020
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Angels On Wheels

Angels On Wheels
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This is the American city that most resembles Delhi. Think Delhi. Think flyovers, car culture, traffic and people living in separate colonies, linked by highways. Of course, there are differences. Delhi has more tractors plying on its roads, at least at night. Los Angeles has the Pacific Ocean and Hollywood. But the City of Angels has nothing like the Delhi Metro. India’s capital took a great leap ahead of LA when the metro opened in 2005. In all of LA, there are two short underground rails and four commuter services. That’s it for more than 15 million people spread across a metropolitan area of more than 1,200 sq km. As for buses, forget it. Getting anywhere by bus can take hours, thanks to clotted car traffic along most major routes, all hours of night and day. There’s a reason for LA being a no man’s land for public transport. It’s because the car is king and it’s always been so.

This is the city that pioneered drive-in restaurants, drive-through banking and entire radio stations devoted to traffic reports. Infamously, the General Motors Company, with a little help from Firestone Tires and Standard Oil, bought the city’s network of electric tramlines in the 1930s and ripped them up. Afterwards, they sold GM diesel buses and gas-guzzling cars to a puzzled populace that was wondering how to get to work. It’s a bit like ceding mtnl to Reliance or Airtel and being taken aback when they start tearing down the overhead phone cables. You’d think LA residents might have put a stop to some of this over the years and demanded a subway system or at least that GM leave the trams alone. You’d be wrong. In 1968, people here were asked to vote on a big bond issue to raise money for an extensive subway and rail system and they rejected it. Overwhelmingly. To paraphrase the late Charlton Heston’s pro-gun slogan, the only way they’ll take their cars from them is to pry their cold dead hands off the steering wheel. Given the air quality on your average spring day in Los Angeles and some of the horrendous freeway pile-ups, that may not take too long. Delhiwallahs can stand tall around their Angeleno friends and counterparts these days. The Indian capital, at least, has a world-class metro.

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