Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A freakonomics Solution to Pune's Traffic Woes

Driving on Pune's roads is an ordeal one has to go through, and for a few unfortunate souls its a daily affair. There are a number of problems - One biggest being "When to stop at a signal and when not to?" For instance one would often find people going ahead on a red signal. Though it is universally accepted that Red signal is a stop sign, you'd often find people not giving a damn about it. If you happen to be an unfortunate one who believes that one should stop at the Red signal, you'd be horrified by the persistant honking that follows. The things become so worse, that eventually they are completely out of phase ie. you'd find vehicles forced to stop on Green Signal and others just continueing to go as if it's a big deal.

Here's a slightly toned down version of what the problem looks like. (Source is

The question is how to solve this problem? You'd hear cries about - What if we "educate" the people that "Following Traffic Rules" is in your interest? Now I am not personally convinced of efficacy of any such mechanism. So Let's ask this question from a different view "What really causes people to break the traffic rules?" Possible reasons are
- They never believed that they were meant to be followed
- There is no benefit that they get by following traffic rules
- or They know that they can remain anonymous while continuing to do so.

Which means - there is not enough incentive to follow the traffic rules nor there are enough deterrents to stop breaking. So let's disturb this cost-to-benefit equation a bit. Obviously, you cannot offer benefits. So can you put more deterrents? Possibly yes.

How do we go about doing this? There is a solution to this problem, which unfotunately is a bit expensive, but with a little bit of efforts (and sacrifice in terms of advertisement revenues) from Local News Papers and co-operation from Pune RTO, can be achieved. Infact, this solution might actually generate a few part-time jobs (or other incentives can be thought out.). The solution is as follows - You deploy a bunch of young kids on each of the traffic signals and ask them to perform only a simple task. Whenever they find a vehicle breaking the rules, they simply note down the number of that vehicle and thats it and around 8pm everyday they submit the list of all such vehicles to one central place (say a Newspapers' office.) The newspapers office then with the help of RTO, figures out the owner's of the registered vehicles and publishes a database of 1000 offenders every day on the front page of their Local Version of Newspaper (most of them have eg. Pune Times, Pune blah blah etc.) The format should be as follows -
- Vehicle name
- Vehicle's Owner
- Number of offenses.

With Font sizes becoming bigger and bigger when number of offenses increases.

What this would actually result in - No one can remain anonymous breaking signals and one is bound to feel embarrased, when one's pal point out his name in the newspaper. Imagine if you are "behind some girl and she figuring out your name in a newspaper? Gosh that alone can be the single biggest deterrent."

I firmly believe this would alleviate the problem to a great extent and eventually it will be solved.

Possible problems - How do you guarantee that the kids will really stop at the signal and not write fake numbers? (I guess one can write a program, to figure out fake entries, eventually, but for the time being lets accept that we live with this limitation.) Imagine offering right incentives to people eg. Their name published in a newspaper for doing this noble job?

Other possible outcomes - There will be a unique data available about the vehicles, which might throw in light on something else we have never thought about yet? eg. You may find a certain number of Honda Activa's registered during so and so time period. That's just one example. Now imagine what you can do with that data? Possibilities are limitless.

Happy Driving...... :-)

Anyone interested in "funding" this project, drop a comment!


Suman said...

IMHO, the real problem lies with those who a) drive a lot, b) couldn't be bothered with mere annoyances such as good manners, courtesy, or some form of orderly road behaviour, and c) don't find anything embarrassing about committing an offence. This group includes several people who drive for a living - think autorickshaws, buses, and the flaming 6 (ha ha!) - seaters.

These people, at least, would sadly be completely immune to your scheme. Not to mention the duh-wots-a-nwspapr-pls college kids. :-)

Suman said...

I do like the idea of the profiling information, though. Here in Geneva, if you get more than a certain number of parking tickets, you can have a court summons sent home. For speeding/DWI, your license can be taken away for 2 (!) years, and for this duration you can only be granted a one-seater car that can go 40 kmph tops. Now that's embarrassing. ;-)

Abhijit said...

Actually, it is not as bad! Because most of the Rickshawallahs' six sitters do not drive a self owned vehicle. So he name that will be published will be that of their owners' name, who's not going to like it so much and ditto for PMT (which will be slightly less effective, for their known shamelessness.)