VISITING India once a year is a remarkably accurate barometer of change. During the months before my trip this winter, press reports abroad had concentrated on India's impending economic miracle. When I looked for signs of the new affluence in Bombay, the most visible was the increase in the numbers of cars on the roads. Even residential streets in the exclusive Cumballa and Malabar Hill areas, which were fairly quiet just a year ago, now have stagnant queues of fuming traffic. The cost is not only an increase in pollution, but a doubling of journey times. Of course, traffic problems are par for the course in booming cities. What makes Bombay unique is the total absence of any transport planning. Isn't it time to think of hi-tech public transport systems as in Hong Kong and Singapore; or of strict controls on car use? Apparently, the planners have decided it's too late to build an underground metro system. All that's on offer is a nightmarish scheme to flood Bombay with flyovers.
Apart from the aesthetic havoc this would wreak, Indian transport planners seem totally unaware of a fundamental principle now taken as axiomatic across the globe—that the more roads and flyovers you build, the more traffic you generate, and the more congestion you end up with. That's why it's now universally accepted that the only way to break the traffic log-jam is by making it cheaper, quicker and safer for people to use public transport. The irony of Bombay's laissez-faire attitude to such problems is that it will drive away precisely those transnationals the city is so keen to attract. No firm wants its employees to spend two or three hours a day commuting to work, especially in a city where crazy property values mean that people have to live ever further from the commercial centre.