Bangalore 'sixth-most painful' in world for traffic congestion

Traffic jams across the southern Indian city and state capital are slowing a tech boom that has caused the population to jump about 50 per cent in a decade to 9.6 million.

Traffic queues along Residency Road in downtown Bangalore. The city is the world's sixth worst for traffic snarls, according to a new survey.
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BANGALORE // For visitors to the city, India's technology capital, the worst leg of their journey can begin after leaving the city's airport.

The 35-kilometre drive to the city centre from the gleaming terminal can take as long as two hours as motorists contend with congestion, wrong-lane driving, tractors and pedestrians on a road lined with shops and houses.

A US$119 million (Dh437m) upgrade is adding to the jam, with more than half of the six-lane link closed off in some sections for building work.

Jams across the southern Indian city and state capital are slowing a tech boom that has caused the population to jump about 50 per cent in a decade to 9.6 million.

Infosys Ltd has delayed a 22.5 billion rupee (Dh1.4m) development for two years partly because of congestion, while other technology companies have set up operations in Hyderabad and Chennai instead.

"Bangalore is possibly 15 years behind because we don't have proper planning," said T V Mohandas Pai, a former Infosys director who now heads a state initiative to boost the technology industry.

"You have to create infrastructure ahead of the need."

Work on the airport-road upgrade only started two years after the airport opened in May 2008 - reportedly due to a delay at local government level. The vote to start building was eventually held in 2010.

It will be completed at least five months after the planned November deadline, according to the National Highways Authority of India's website. Builder Navayuga Engineering Co did not respond to questions about the project.

"More than a lack of planning, a complete lack of local democracy and local institutions contributed to the current state of the city," said Vinod Vyasulu, a Bangalore-based research adviser at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, an education institution focused on urbanisation.

The city's traffic jams make it the sixth-most painful worldwide for commuters and second-worst for parking after New Delhi, according to a 2011 survey of 20 cities by International Business Machines Corp.

"If I could wish for one thing in Bangalore it would be that it was easier to get around during the day," said John Flannery, chief executive officer of General Electric Co's India unit.

The city is "clearly struggling to keep up with the level of demand".

The bottlenecks have caused Bangalore-based Infosys to delay a new facility that the state government said would create about 18,000 jobs. The software developer, which has 148 hectares of land for the project, is waiting for new roads to be built, said co-chairman S Gopalakrishnan.

"We are working ... and I'm hoping that it will happen," he said. "But I don't have a timeline."

Bangalore has 500,000 technology workers, about 20 per cent of India's total, according to the government. They mainly work in Whitefield, once a settlement for Britons - the country's former colonial rulers. The city's low wages and temperate climate have helped make it the world's fourth-largest technology cluster after Silicon Valley in the US, Boston and London, according to a study by Ernst & Young.

Back on the airport road, the planned improvements are designed to cut travel time to the city to about 30 minutes. They will include 3.5kms of elevated roads and Bangalore is also adding a metro network.

"It is obvious that there's a lot of work going on," said Lowell Paddock, India head for General Motors. "I'll be curious to see in 18 months whether the city delivers on the promise."

Backhoes and cranes are now parked in the middle of the airport road inside tin sheet enclosures, but there is little sign of activity.

Warning signs dotted along the route told drivers to go slow as they sat in barely moving jams.

Mr Paddock said local knowledge is key to avoiding the queues, after making it downtown from the airport in about an hour a couple of weeks ago.

"Things are a little chaotic," he said.

"I'm thankful the driver who I have knows all the back roads."