“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” [Quote by Gustavo Petro, a Columbian politician]
When I first heard this, I went Yes! Exactly! This is why public transport abroad is so great. Because it’s usable. It’s mostly safe, clean, convenient, it’s a part of your daily life. And because everyone uses it, everything works.
In India, the rich certainly have cars. And the middle class. And the lower middle class. I read today that 700 new vehicles are registered in Mumbai each day. And our road area hasn’t increased in 20 years.
There is public transport in Mumbai. But it is overcrowded or has low penetration. And it isn’t fun. Waiting and getting in line isn’t fun. Jostling and sharing isn’t fun. Seats are dirty. There are smells. Footpaths are often not walkable, with dog poo and limited space – shrouded in darkness because of all the cars parked alongside which block the light. Or the vehicles actually parked on it. Or the bikes which come zooming along on the footpath because the traffic on the road is not moving. Autos and cabs will refuse rides at whim.
So yes, sometimes, there is nothing you can do except use your car. Except here, it is seldom that simple. Cars here are celebrated, desired, insisted upon. If you aren’t riding up in your own (preferably, over sized car), you are in some way lesser. It’s not about a choice, it’s a judgment call.
And all these cars usually have the owners sitting in the back with drivers taking them around. And these drivers aren’t really polite or pedestrian friendly. Not like the owners are either. For them if you aren’t in a car, you have to be treated in that way. Honked at. Driven at dangerously. Ignored. Eye balled.
People actually stare, if you aren’t heading out in your own car. And often pityingly. I was once asked, fairly incredulously, what I was doing walking on the road. Like taking a 15 min walk for a chore is so bizarre. But sadly, for those around me, it mostly is. Because it seems like the only people who are on the road, are those who have nowhere else to be. It cannot possibly be a voluntary act. And yes, sharing space with beggars, building security guards, the loiterers, the under-privileged who don’t have the luxury of personal transportation, isn’t easy. Because you don’t belong there. I wonder each time, why everyone is so happy to hand over possession of their neighbourhood roads and not care that they are dirty and dangerous and close to being unusable.
And the nicer people, will offer rides. Rides, when you are waiting to hail an auto, rides when you step out and say that no, you don’t have your car (today, it has to be said unspoken). Rides after classes, after birthday parties. And somehow, I feel apologetic. I don’t want to be ungrateful, but I also genuinely do not care and I do want my daughter to know that walking home, hopping into an auto, or taking cabs should just be a way of life, not some form of compromise. Because sometimes it’s easier, it’s healthier, it’s more convenient. Because my city, my space also includes that which I share with everyone in it. And I should be comfortably a part of that. And while we in India are notorious for ignoring the environment, it is grossly self indulgent, to see all these families, with multiple cars, guzzling space and resources and not exploring alternatives.
It’s never been about not affording the second car, it’s about a lifestyle choice. One which I am finding it increasingly necessary to have to justify.