Tickety-boo

July 13th, 2009

(1) Here in Delhi traffic tickets tend to arrive in the mail at least a month, and often a few months, after the alleged offence took place. On almost every occasion the alleged offence was committed at a time and a place where our car was not. Every year we receive a ticket relating to an unlikely offence allegedly committed on the suspicious date of March 31. The alleged offence is never severe — jumping a red light, taking an illegal right turn, speeding, not wearing a seatbelt — and attracts a fine of something like Rs 100.

I heard about someone (for the gossip-wary, this is a source just once removed) that she has had her traffic tickets cancelled by the simple expedient of having a friend in the traffic police shift those tickets to some other car license plate number in their database — any one, just so long as it is not her own.

(2) On 18 June I parked my little car as usual in the municipality-authorised lot a stone’s throw from Delhi Police headquarters and a short walk from this newspaper’s office. The parking attendant gave me a ticket and I paid him his Rs 10. Come evening, when I returned to collect my car I was told it had been towed away by the traffic police. The parking contractor had been waiting for me so that he could take my keys and recover the car from Daryaganj police station. Why was it towed? I was told by the attendants that this was because the local traffic cops had not received their monthly monetary subvention from the parking contractor. So a traffic cop came and picked up one car, which happened to be mine, allegedly as a means to harass the contractor. The attendants urged me to “write about it”. (My car does not bear a “press” sticker.)

Case (1): The ticket system needs to be totally overhauled. Protesting a wrong ticket is an impossibly inconvenient process; the fine is low, therefore one grimaces, pays and forgets. But it’s an unjustly obtained revenue stream, wide open to abuse. I want my traffic tickets to arrive within a week of the offence and carry a photo of my car committing the offence (or the name of the ticketing officer, if it wasn’t a camera-caught offence). Yes, traffic cameras are expensive, but as even relatively law-abiding Washington, DC, found, a sizeable investment in cameras and systems yielded an immediate and huge income in traffic fines. The city earned back its money within several months, as I recall, and everything earned afterwards and since is gravy.

Case (2): Parking policy is a mess. Rs 10 for a whole day’s parking is an absurd indulgence, but one which, not being lavishly paid, I am grateful for. The contractors’ attendants are very useful because they watch our cars while we’re away (yet petrol vanishes from my tank). Having individual contractors, though, is a problem, because it opens the way to abuse. I can’t think of any good solutions. But perhaps we can bypass the problem by making parking totally fee-free. Parking zones should be very brightly marked (we’ve needed more intelligently designed street furniture for a long time now) so that any illegal parking can be noticed and the owner ticketed or the car towed under the transparency safeguards in case (1) above. The lost revenue can be made up by boosting fuel prices and instituting a respectable annual car-owners’ tax.

Whatever it is, the traffic police and those who plan and build our transport infrastructure need to be efficient, responsive, transparent and responsible. There’s too much traffic on the roads, and too little logic and design going into managing it. What’s the use of always playing catch-up? Eventually, this transparency thing is going to become a significant local political issue.

del.icio.us:Tickety-boo digg:Tickety-boo newsvine:Tickety-boo reddit:Tickety-boo Y!:Tickety-boo