In August a prospective home buyer asked for my feedback on a project ‘The Address’ located in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai. It’s a project I know well and is amongst the better ones in that vicinity. It appeared then that the prospective home buyer had narrowed down on it for a purchase. Last week he pulled out for a reason that frankly cannot be held against any developer and project: Traffic.
Now slow traffic in Mumbai is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, it is a phenomenon in most cities of the developing world — although it is yet worth highlighting that Indian cities are leaders. The TomTom Traffic Index that measures urban congestion puts Bangalore at 1st and Mumbai at 4th among the 416 cities it tracked.
QUANTITY OF TRAFFIC VS QUALITY OF TRAFFIC
There is however a difference even within traffic. There is quantity of traffic and there is quality of traffic. In Mumbai it is the quality of traffic that has seen sharp deterioration in recent years. From being the slow, organised and reasonably disciplined traffic that was prevalent earlier —it has now degenerated into a traffic that is slow, chaotic and indisciplined. Sadly, for the location of the ‘The Address’ — traffic in that neighbourhood today is on par with the kinds seen in Lagos or Dhaka.
The reason I highlight this example is to explore one of the most under —mentioned but emerging challenges for Mumbai real estate —deterioration in the traffic culture of the commercial capital.
No one knows the exact date when the decline began but by 2017-2018 it had become pervasive with the arrival of food delivery apps like Zomato and Swiggy. As incentives rose with regards to timely delivery — every rule on the road was abandoned. Accidents, reported and unreported, surged. This recklessness coincided with a progressive move by the administration. That move was the utiliSation of technology and cameras to capture offenders based on their number plate. Unfortunately — it backfired. Traffic cops thereafter started abdicating their responsibility (what are the cameras for) while motorists didn’t take it seriously as there was no immediate fine or payment to be made. Witnessing these brazen violations go unpunished, others joined in the gravy train. Today it is undeniable that traffic cops are treated with ignorance at best and disdain at worst.
QUALITY OF TRAFFIC MATTERS FOR REAL ESTATE — EVEN IN NIGERIA
There is enough empirical evidence on the inverse correlation between the quantity of traffic and home prices in major cities of the world. There is even adequate research between traffic standards and mental well-being of individuals. There is unfortunately not much research on the relationship between the quality of traffic and home prices. To however understand the importance of traffic quality — there is a fine example from a city that is remarkably similar to Mumbai: Lagos. The Nigerian city is overpopulated, has terrible infrastructure, is a beacon of shoddy governance and has expensive real estate. The government initially permitted the flourishing of motorcycle taxis (Okada) that acted as a useful travel option to penetrate the narrow lanes amidst heavy traffic. In February 2020, however, the government had had enough and banned its usage in key routes of Lagos.
The Okadas had made road transportation a dangerous and lawless proposition with traffic violations and accidents rising at an alarming rate.
While the stated reason was to curb the disorderly motorbike taxis, the choice of routes out of reach for okadas made it clear that there was more to it. The majority of routes were in premium business and residential locations where real-estate was of prime importance. Motorcycle taxis were making those areas chaotic and unruly — hurting housing demand and prices.
WILL TRAFFIC POLICE RETRIEVE LOST GROUND IN MUMBAI?
Mumbai has never permitted motorcycle taxis. But the damage has been done without it. With the trajectory of violations, chaos and accidents, its impact is already being felt. A poll by the popular RoadsofMumbai Twitter handle reveals that 82% of prospective home buyers now keep quality of traffic as a factor in deciding the location for a home purchase in Mumbai.
Personally, I am not surprised with the findings. With my frequent interactions with prospective customers, it is a parameter that is easily the fastest emerging factor in a home buying decision. Good projects in locations that have surrendered any pretense of discipline on streets are getting impacted. That is a shame. The real-estate sector in Mumbai has enough challenges of its own. The administration should not add another.
Fortunately, there is a new traffic police chief in Mumbai — Yashashvi Yadav who has begun well. But he has a lot of ground to retrieve due to the callousness of his predecessors. Mumbai real estate will be watching.
When not busy with his newstoon platform Snapnews, Vishal Bhargava is a real estate enthusiast who views and reviews new projects. The views are personal.