The increase in bus fares may have affected a number of lower-income families, but the case of 51-year-old K.Kutralingam is a peculiar one. Leaving his home in Ayapakkam at 6.30 a.m. every day, he cycles a distance of 17 km to reach his workplace in Anna Nagar by 8.30 a.m. He cycles the same distance back home too.
He has no other choice. “Since the fares have gone up, I'll have to spend Rs.50 each day just on transportation if I take a bus. With my salary as an office assistant, I can't afford it. If I don't cycle to work, my family will starve,” Mr.Kutralingam says.
Having made the hard choices that they should, many like him , who hit the road on a cycle owing to the bus fare hike, face a myriad of other challenges. Most roads have neither pedestrian footpaths nor a dedicated lane for cyclists and they end up struggling for space amidst fast-moving traffic.
An estimated 400 accidents involving cyclists occur each year. “I put my life on the line to get to work,” says Mr.Kutralingam. Former bus passengers who have now resorted to walking short distances are no better. Fatalities involving pedestrians and cyclists still account for over 40 per cent of all road accident deaths each month.
Raj Cherubal of Chennai City Connect, an NGO which works on traffic and transportation issues, says that the lack of infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians needs to be urgently addressed. “The simple fact is that even before the bus fare hike came into effect, lakhs of people were cycling to work. What are we going to do about their safety?”
Stressing that any good road needs to take into the account the interests of all its users, including cyclists, Mr.Cherubal said that the government's proposal to upgrade 100 km of city roads to ‘world class' standards must incorporate such suggestions. Sources in the government said that such measures are very much on the agenda and they are part of the ‘terms of reference' that is being prepared for the project.
“Providing easier access to cyclists will also increase the range of public transit,” Mr.Cherubal said. Bangalore has started introducing deluxe buses which have a provision to hang bicycles on either side of the vehicle.
Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Sanjay Arora said a lot of improvements are required to make the city's roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians. “Once proper infrastructure is provided, fatalities would come down. Segregating traffic will also make traffic management easier.”