Tourist destination Goa is choking on its traffic

By Frederick Noronha, IANS

Panaji : Laidback Goa is choking on its traffic – literally. Besides a spurt in the number of vehicles in a state with poor public transport, lack of road sense is adding to the woes.

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Retired naval commander John Eric Gomes, a prominent campaigner for civic issues, notes that parking has become a major problem in the state. It is often impossible to find four-wheeler parking space in the capital Panaji and the commercial centre Margao in south Goa.

Officials here say that Goa, with its 1.4 million population (apart from tourist visitors), has an unprecedented number of vehicles at 50,000. Automobiles have been increasing exponentially over the past five years due to easy availability of loans. The number of vehicles is expected to double in the next two years or so.

Politicians and administrators have long been mulling over building multi-storey parking facilities. But it's far from clear whether this will stem the crisis in the 3,700 sq km state where the lack of decent public transport is contributing to the traffic hassles.

Gomes says licences are given by inspectors to unfit drivers while the traffic police haul up helmet-less riders, closing their eyes to more blatant traffic offences.

Goa Superintendent of Police Atmaram Deshpande agrees: "Our roads are capable of handling traffic for the next 10 years, if they are kept parking-free. Every city should identify captive parking like drive-ins or stacked parking."

Deshpande told IANS: "Every new public amenity like hospital or market should build its own parking space along with the main building. The vehicles cannot be allowed to occupy public parking."

Social activist Soter D'Souza considers planning authorities to be the "main culprits" for the growing traffic problems. The planners and civic authorities, he says, have not done their job.

Construction of recent buildings has been permitted without sufficient parking space and pavements, D'Souza notes. He laments that pedestrians are forced to walk on the roads, either due to absence of footpaths or obstruction by electrical transformers, telephone boxes and hawkers.

Gomes says: "If the government had ensured good public transport, people would not have had the need to travel by their own vehicles. The state-run Kadamba Transport Corp vehicles are poorly maintained and badly run while private bus operators are a law unto themselves."

Some believe the solution could lie in discouraging motor vehicles from entering the city during peak hours, even possibly entirely pedestrianizing certain lanes or charging entry fees on vehicles in the city.

More parking on the outskirts of Panaji, near the Kadamba bus terminus, is also being suggested, along with eco-friendly city buses.

"In other words, Panaji needs to be treated on the lines of a heritage city," says Gomes. Deshpande agrees, saying the public transport system should be made comfortable, clean and accessible.

He says: "One can look at systems like electric trams and a skybus though the metro will not be a feasible option because of the soil conditions."

Panaji is one of India's smallest state capitals, with a resident population of less than 60,000. It has a large floating population of government servants and tourists though.

Deshpande also feels that the licensing authority should pull up its socks and people involved in fatal and other accidents should be kept off the roads.

"The police have submitted more than 800 proposals of this type but till now no action has been taken," he says.