Saturday, January 26, 2013

Will you help improve traffic in Pune?

We often say that people in Pune have no traffic sense. We do not follow even the most simple rules like stopping behind the white line at a traffic signal. But this is not entirely true. There are people trying to improve the situation. I have seen them stopping behind the white line, directing traffic at congested intersections, helping the traffic police. These people understand the advantage, benefit and the critical need of having a disciplined traffic. The problem is that they do not have any authority. They cannot effectively nudge others into becoming more sensible drivers. This policy aims at, among other things, enabling such people.

Remember, crowd behavior (which includes traffic)  is about critical mass. You do not need to convert everyone on the road. Most people will do what the guy next to them is doing. Currently this critical mass is tilted towards aggressiveness on the road. But if it sways towards more responsible behavior, that will quickly become the default and there will be a drastic improvement in the driving conditions in the city of Pune.

Background
The Pune Traffic Police facebook page has close to 30,000 subscribers. People used to report traffic violations and the Traffic Police would respond with the action taken. This received extremely enthusiastic response from the people initially. But the Traffic Police could not keep up with the reported violations and it eventually lost momentum.
The critical time for a new rule, is the 'breaking in' period. Some rules like P1/P2 parking, wearing seat belts, were monitored and violators fined effectively when they came into effect. Now they have become second nature to most people and do not receive a lot of oversight.

Policy Goals
It aims at making the general public a participating entity in the implementation of traffic laws, as opposed to be being just the affected party.
It aims at lessening the burden of commissioning and managing the non-capital aspects of traffic management by providing a mechanism to involve private players and volunteers in checking traffic violations.

How it works
This policy applies to traffic laws like, stopping at red light (behind the white line), not parking in no-parking zones, not going the wrong way, etc.
City will be divided into number of sectors (by clubbing together electoral wards or some order more sensible way).
Private agency (or private citizens) will have to collect photographic proof of vehicle breaking a law.
A central database (website) will be provided to upload the photographs and other details like Date, Time and Location. A Phone Application (Android/iPhone) can also be developed, which will make this whole process very fast and simple.
Chief responsibility of traffic police will be to recover the dues.
The dues will be adjusted according to number of violations in that sector. Higher dues for sectors with higher violations. (This will give an incentive for private agency to record more cases of violations, and for public to violate less.)
People will be given a chance to contest the fines in a special tribunal, comprising of Traffic Police, Corporators and NGOs. Basic verification of photographs is not very costly (softwares are available). The fixed cost of verification will be borne by the losing party.
Private agency will get an assured sum plus a commission on dues collected.
Contracts will be for a limited period (say 2 years) and bids will be called for each sector separately.

Benefits
Economic incentives will bring in a lot of manpower and resources into traffic management.
Adaptive pricing of fines will give people an incentive to follow the rules and urge other people to do the same.
As collection of dues is strictly out of private hands, there is no danger of misuse of power.
A basic fixed remuneration will ensure that private agencies can maintain operations even when violations are low.
Because there is a price for false appeals, appeals will be less hence process will be more efficient and fast.

Limitations
This policy does not help with immediate resolution of traffic jams, parking violations, etc.
If the values of fines and also the fixed benefit to private agencies is not proper, it can lead to non-profitability for private agencies or extortion for violators.
If the tendering process is not open and transparent, it can lead to cartelization and corruption.
Not effective for violations which are difficult to record (like honking, etc.)
If people feel animosity towards the private agencies, it might lead to clashes.

Sunset Clause
This can be implemented for a period of 6 years. It can be scrapped if the overall traffic sense and discipline has improved to a sustainable level.

In Conclusion
Though this is not the solution to all traffic problems, if implemented properly, this can lead to improvement of conditions for all the stakeholders.

(This was originally written as an assignment for the GCPP course.)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pune 52: A prank film

Someone told me this is a suspense thriller, so i have to be honest, i went in with the wrong expectations.

It starts off like a crime thriller, deserted road, heavy downpour, a figure in a black trench-coat moving silently between the shadows. But that was pretty much it as far as the suspense in the movie goes (by the way, that figure turns out to be the detective returning home from work).

The makers of this movie were all respectable people who have made great movies in the past. So I started watching full of concentration trying not to miss anything that is offered on the screen. We even shushed some people who were passing comments and having a merry time.

Me: Why is everything so slow? didn't the reviews say this is a fast paced thriller?
Myself: Be patient. They are building up the plot for a thrilling twist.
Me: Why are the dialogues so, common place? This is boring.
Myself: Shut-up. It takes real talent to show the commonplace. This is sublime movie making.
Me: Why is it so dark? Why are they focusing on irrelevant things? Why is the camera shaking continuously?
Myself: You are so un-intellectual. This is all part of new cinema. Just watch and be awed.
Me: This is so absurd that it has started becoming funny. Nice. The audience has started having fun too.
Myself: You guys are stupid idiots. Just see,  everything will spectacularly make sense at the end.
Me: I am sleepy again. Wait. What? That's the end??
Myself: ... Do you want ice-cream?

If you are a person, or know a person, who has seen this movie and liked it, please please comment. I would be very interested in knowing what's the deal here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pune International Film Festival

Are German films about war? Are Israeli films very smart? Are French movies about love? South Korea, oh they have films there?

We typecast when we don't have the time or inclination to really understand someone. Films are no exception. I used to typecast films shown in such festivals as - short, no songs, non-stupid, most likely having an abrupt vague ending. But that is also not accurate.

This year i chose almost at random. And that turned out to be not such a bad ploy. You see, when we choose too carefully, we see what we already like.

Epilogue (from Israel): People who are passionate in their youth, what do they look like when they are old? I have a feeling their old-age would be lot worse than average people. Passion without energy must be excruciatingly painful. An old couple, living alone, in a society which has changed since their days. They do not understand it nor are they relevant in it. A slow existence filled with memories of the past and none to share them with. Throughout the movie i tried to find someone to blame for this. The government, their kids, degradation of social values, something. But there is really no enemy here, no villain. Old age can be hard and painful and lonely. So, one especially sorrowful night, they decided to leave their old-age behind. I thought it was a happy ending.

Inspector Lavardin (from France): The theatre was almost empty. Generally people space out in such settings, but an elderly uncle came and settled right besides me. Perhaps he didn't like watching movies alone. I don't like that either, so i didn't mind. This turned out to be a murder mystery. Uncle had an habit of stating the obvious. "oh there is blood on his shirt - oh she has a knife - i think the bar-owner killed the priest - no maybe the nurse is the killer, she looks cold". We all play this game, in our minds of course. I, like many others, boost of my ability to crack the case before it is revealed. But time and again i have realized that i cannot do it with foreign films. I don't think the reason is that they are more clever or cunning than us. Perhaps the real clues are not in the plot or the logic of the movie, they are in the characters. Those subtle things that they do, or don't do, that strike you as odd for no apparent reason. But when you remove the cultural context, you are lost. Anyways, this film was delightfully fast, funny and simple. Loved it.

Rosa (from Poland): This was a harrowing tale. Even the few slightly happy moments had a ominous thumping music in the background. Extreme circumstances like war, show the real you. Some pillage and plunger and rape and loot. Some protect and build and love and forgive.

Home for the Weekend (from Germany): The elder son who cannot get out of his father's shadow. The father whose ego is linked with helping his son and perhaps keeping him forever grateful. The younger son who is always treated as a minor turning out to be the most mature of the lot. This is a family story. Beautiful acting and superb settings. Almost every family drama that i see has one core element at the root of it. Our inability to let go of the people close to us. Our expectations from loved ones are always a mix of what is good for them AND what is good for us. But we always glorify the former and deny the existence of the later. Such it goes.

Barbara (from Germany): It is not easy to be a good person. We expect a lot more from someone who delivers. A person who simply pretends to be good can only do it so far. A doctor can save a patient with accurate diagnosis, sit by her side till she recovers. But can she forgo her own freedom and a bright future for that of her patient? This film is about someone who could. Would you give up something that you truly desire, for someone else? I respect people who can do that without regret. But i will not think ill of someone who doesn't to that either. I believe we have a right, first and foremost, to better ourselves in which ever way we can. If some of us decides to put others ahead of themselves, that is a brave decision. There should be no morality associated with it.  But like films we need to typecast people too.

I am twenty (from India): This was a 'Films Division ki bhet' black and white documentary. They were asking twenty year olds what they thought about their country and their future in it. There were people who were very hopeful of the future of India some who thought that it would soon go to the dogs and most who did not care for either. There was a young farmhand from Punjab who had no clue who the President or Prime Minister of India were but knew who the District Collector was. Talk about the British legacy. There was a girl who when asked what comes to your mind when you think of India, she said, queues. Queues for bus, or ration, or admissions. Talk about the Licence-Quote-Permit Raj. Very few people have wider view of the world than their own immediate circumstances. Apparently this documentary was done on 15th August 1967. When India was twenty. 

Explorer (from India): Another documentary from the black and white era. It was a cacophony of images, none lasting for more than 3 seconds. I thought it was a prank film.

Partner (from India): Obviously this was not part of the Film Festival. Perhaps after the weirdness of parallel or tangent or whatever cinema they call it, i needed some time with Sallubhai and Govinda. We put it on as a background entertainment while we had a couple of drinks with friends. There were some funny dialogues sometimes. But i did not like it much.