Friday, February 15, 2019

A new mobile fantasy


I don't know what made me think of pedal-boats. Perhaps it was the whiplash of January rain. Perhaps it was the feeling of being cramped and under-exercised. Recently, I began to think of how much fun it would be if cars could run on a pedal principle, the way boats can.

It would also a good way to hold onto an old motor vehicle, especially one whose body is more or less fine but which isn't going to fetch significant money in the used car market. What if the body was retained, the tyres re-aligned and fixed up to connect to peddles that the driver would use?

When I said this out loud, I was politely informed that it was an impractical idea. One would have to do a whole lot of furious peddling to get anywhere, and even if one did have the muscular stretch to push the car a few kilometers, one would hold up the rest of the traffic.

I personally think it is a sensible idea. Certainly, it is more practical than burning up gallons of fossil fuels, bankrupting the planet, causing the air of all our cities to become toxic, and making little kids sick.

A car-cycle wouldn't hold up traffic just as bicycles don't. Fossil fuelled motors could be given one dedicated lane. If cities can conceive of bicycle or bus lanes, we can also conceive of car-cycle lanes. It would cut down fossil fuel use. It might even help cultivate a culture of sticking to dedicated lanes if vehicles that look like regular cars and just as big were to occupy a wider pedal lane.

I looked up the idea online and found people were thinking along similar lines. In North Carolina, USA, there exists a hybrid vehicle called ELF (Electric, Light, Fun). It's a tiny three-wheeler, a bit like our battery rickshaws, except the tyres are more like bicycle tyres and it is pedalled by the driver. News reports suggest it can do 20 miles an hour. It is also fitted with a solar panel that powers an electric motor, which can push speeds upto 35 miles an hour.

Cars are re-purposed in strange ways, like cutting them up into halves, pulling out seats and turning them into furniture that's unlikely to appeal to anyone except motor fanatics. If we could instead use car bodies to make pedal mobiles, it would solve many problems. People may like to bicycle around cities, but must sometimes take along older people or children. A car-cycle would be good for them. There could be a dual pedal system too, as in boats, so the physical work can be shared.

It would be useful for bad weather. A bicycle, or even an auto-rickshaw, exposes you to rain and cold winds. India's summer sun makes bicycling an unpopular idea. A car-cycle would protect you from sunburn and keep you fit. You would no longer need to pay for gym memberships, nor would you have the excuse that long commutes interfere with workouts. The car would be the gym!

It is worth attempting, especially on campuses and in industrial parks where car use should be limited in any case. I, for one, would be up for a test drive.


First published here: https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/how-about-upgrading-our-pedal-power-endeavours-to-the-level-of-cars/article26183637.ece?fbclid=IwAR0y-BMfIrMgZIP8Vy5ZHxeu8XqSI0iXkndQ0AxyxKwpj_El8lQUrIoVT2w

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Will she, won't she? Maybe?


It had begun at Rajiv Gandhi’s funeral, when pictures of the grieving family were published in every newspaper and magazine across the country. Through the shock of his assassination, there was an urgent need for a transfer of leadership that would minimize conflict. Drawing room conversations veered towards the next generation. Young Priyanka drew a great deal of attention, with her striking resemblance to Indira Gandhi. Ever since, the question has hung in the air: Would she? Could she?

Over the next three decades, the country, particularly north India, has waited to see if she would step forward, particularly since her brother also took his time settling into his role as leader of the Congress party. In Rahul Gandhi, his tentativeness was seen as a weakness. In politics, not making a grab for power at the first given opportunity, to think of consequences, to reflect upon one’s capacity for conflict and relentless scrutiny, is viewed with suspicion.

In Priyanka, however, her reluctance has helped solidify the anticipation around the role she would eventually play. People hold women to different standards of responsibility. That she is married and has children explained her decision to absent herself from overwhelming political duties, and it may have won her additional approval from the conservative corner...

Read the full article here: 

Saturday, February 09, 2019

A mobile fantasy


I don't know what made me think of pedal-boats. Perhaps it was the whiplash of January rain. Perhaps it was the feeling of being cramped and under-exercised. Recently, I began to think of how much fun it would be if cars could run on a pedal principle, the way boats can.

It would also a good way to hold onto an old motor vehicle, especially one whose body is more or less fine but which isn't going to fetch significant money in the used car market. What if the body was retained, the tyres re-aligned and fixed up to connect to peddles that the driver would use?

When I said this out loud, I was politely informed that it was an impractical idea. One would have to do a whole lot of furious peddling to get anywhere, and even if one did have the muscular stretch to push the car a few kilometers, one would hold up the rest of the traffic.

I personally think it is a sensible idea. Certainly, it is more practical than burning up gallons of fossil fuels, bankrupting the planet, causing the air of all our cities to become toxic, and making little kids sick.

A car-cycle wouldn't hold up traffic just as bicycles don't. Fossil fueled motors could be given one dedicated lane. If cities can conceive of bicycle or bus lanes, we can also conceive of car-cycle lanes. It would cut down fossil fuel use. It might even help cultivate a culture of sticking to dedicated lanes if vehicles that look like regular cars and just as big were to occupy a wider pedal lane.

I looked up the idea online and found people were thinking along similar lines. In North Carolina, USA, there exists a hybrid vehicle called ELF (Electric, Light, Fun). It's a tiny three-wheeler, a bit like our battery rickshaws, except the tyres are more like bicycle tyres and it is pedaled by the driver. News reports suggest it can do 20 miles an hour. It is also fitted with a solar panel that powers an electric motor, which can push speeds upto 35 miles an hour.

Cars are re-purposed in strange ways, like cutting them up into halves, pulling out seats and turning them into furniture that's unlikely to appeal to anyone except motor fanatics. If we could instead use car bodies to make pedal mobiles, it would solve many problems. People may like to bicycle around cities, but must sometimes take along older people or children. A car-cycle would be good for them. There could be a dual pedal system too, as in boats, so the physical work can be shared.

It would be useful for bad weather. A bicycle, or even an auto-rickshaw, exposes you to rain and cold winds. India's summer sun makes bicycling an unpopular idea. A car-cycle would protect you from sunburn and keep you fit. You would no longer need to pay for gym memberships, nor would you have the excuse that long commutes interfere with workouts. The car would be the gym!

It is worth attempting, especially on campuses and in industrial parks where car use should be limited in any case. I, for one, would be up for a test drive.


Published here: https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/how-about-upgrading-our-pedal-power-endeavours-to-the-level-of-cars/article26183637.ece

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Park at your own risk


There is a rumour afoot that the authorities – in Delhi at least – might do something about parking norms, like insisting that people park only on their own property. If enforced strictly, this could bring welcome relief. Doubled parked streets are starting to be the norm in most cities and I see cars and private buses parked on public property as a theft of valuable space.

This does not, however, solve the problem of parking once you leave your property to go somewhere else, which is the whole point of having a motor vehicle. If you're going to a commercial spot, hopefully, there is a parking lot nearby. It is much more troubling when you go visiting people. Many highrise residential societies put up notices saying: “Visitor Parking Not Allowed”.

This is so much the norm, particularly in Mumbai, that we no longer think to challenge it. I didn't even know that, according to existing norms, at least 25 percent of the parking space in housing complexes was reserved for visitors. The notices forbidding visitor parking, then, were not quite legal. However, societies often have little choice because many builders diverge from the blueprint and sell off the space meant for visitor parking.

I found out about the rule only in recent months, after it was reported that the Maharashta government is altering it. The 25 percent allocation was no longer seen as practical and is being slashed to five percent. Whether even five percent will turn out to be practical is anybody's guess.

Not all the problems associated with parking are about space though. They are also about an attitude of entitlement once you acquire a vehicle.

In April last year, there was a bloodbath: it started out as a family feud, turned into a parking squabble, and ended with two men and one woman dead. Jaspal Singh and Gurjeet Singh were reportedly quite well off. They lived in a large bungalow but obviously, there are only so many cars that can be parked outside a house. Between them, the two brothers owned as many as nine cars. One night, the brothers got into an argument about who was going to park where. According to news reports, brother smashed the other's car, who then attacked him with a kirpan (dagger). Other family members got involved, as did the gun-toting personal security officers accompanying one of the men. The latter opened fire.

This might appear to be a typically Delhi story: too many fancy cars, too much money at stake, too much aggression, fragile egos. But it could happen even to those who do not have as much money, and don't even have cars. Earlier this year, a 19-year-old was reportedly beaten to death as a result of a parking dispute in Delhi's Sultanpuri area. This one was about a scooter. In Mumbai too, last year, there was more than one ugly fight that ended with calamity across various suburbs – Chembur, Powai, Amboli. In one case, a security guard assaulted a biker. In another, a couple beat The year before that, another death had been reported, this time that of a retired army Major. Another report was from Thiruvananthpuram.

Based on the details mentioned newspaper reports, a lot of these fights seem to start the same way. Someone's vehicle is blocking someone else's way, either on purpose or inadvertently. An apology and a little patience would suffice to avert bloodshed. What we need, perhaps, are kiosks selling apologies and patience at all petrol pumps.

Published here: https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/what-can-be-solved-with-a-little-patience-or-a-few-words-of-apology-sometimes-snowballs-into-blood-spilling-brawls/article26059461.ece

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