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Smita Deshmukh, Bombay Times/ Times News Network (21 Jul 2004)

MUMBAI, INDIA: London, Paris, Singapore levy a congestion tax on their vehicles. Should Mumbai go down that road?

  • UK plans to levy on its 30 million cars a congestion tax of 90p (approx Rs 65) per km. The scheme is expected to raise more than £ 10 billion.
  • France will impose a green tax on big cars like SUVs and trucks, while providing rebates on small, fuel-efficient cars. The tax is as high as $ 4,000 on big cars, which are found to "pollute, occupy space and are dangerous to pedestrians."
  • Singapore already has a congestion tax, ranging from one to three local dollars for all cars entering the central business district (CBD).
  • Karachi boasts of smart, air-conditioned buses, which have point-to-point connectivity and are extremely popular.

While major metros across the world are creating laws to curb the proliferation of cars, the big question is, can Mumbai join the league? The city's traffic statistics are alarming -- there are over 11 million vehicles, with a road length of 1,800 sq km and over 200 new cars registered every day.

Imposition of a congestion tax will not be without protests. "It's unfair to tax car owners since they are already reeling under taxes -- 45 to 55 per cent of the car cost goes in paying taxes (octroi, sales and excise). Add to this the high parking charges and fuel costs," says Sunil Merchant, President, Western India Automobile Association, a body which has 45,000 members owning 2.5 lakh cars. Instead, Merchant advocates heavy investment in upgrading public transport. "Water-ways look like a reality."

Also, experts like urban planner Jagdeep Desai question the practicality of restricting cars in our CBDs. "The business districts of Mumbai are spread out -- from Fort to Ballard Pier, Nariman Point, Parel, Bandra Kurla Complex and Andheri," he says. He suggests imposing premium parking charges and more air-conditioned buses on these routes as solutions. With the suburban rail network showing an annual 4 per cent rise in passenger load, Mumbai's feeling the heat. But, as Kisan Mehta, of the Save Bombay Committee, says, "The government is seeking assistance of over Rs 10,000 crore from the Centre to build sealinks and transharbour links, which will be accessed only by motorists. This policy needs to be questioned."

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