Time is money

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Time is money


Nilanjana Bhowmick writes.

People in the West often think being late in India is ‘spiritual’. But there is in this a serious transport and infrastructure problem.

IST stands for Indian Standard Time. But Indians’ lateness is so infamous that people often joke that it stands for Indian Stretchable Time.

I saw this kind of IST for the first time in 2003. I travelled the 50 kilometres from central Delhi to Noida for an interview at 10 am. I arrived 15 minutes early and started to prepare for the meeting. It wasn’t necessary. My interviewer arrived five hours later.

I judged him for years after that. But recently when I was held up in traffic, I arrived at a meeting two hours late. I felt terrible and embarrassed when I entered the conference room. I noticed the only other people there had offices in the same building. And so I saw IST not as a culture with a different idea of time but as a form of helplessness.

Out of the hour and a quarter that I drive to work every day, at least 30 minutes are lost in traffic. I could take the metro, but the station near my home does not go directly to the main line into the city. And there are no connections between the two stations. If I rushed between them, I would add another 35 minutes to my travel time. This means lost productivity or working later. People in the West sometimes think this wasted time is spiritual. The website Exactly What Is Time? says: ‘It is not unusual for trains in India to be hours, or a day, late, without any stress. Such cultures, with thousands of years of history, have such a long idea of time that minutes or hours are not important. But these ideas are not useful any more. They are not useful for a country which wants to be one of the top three economies by 2030, but also for a country that people expect to have a $100-billion deficit in the next tax year.

We understand that time is a fixed idea. The old idea of the Indian who is always late is just a stereotype. We do not like being late. We do not like arriving late for meetings or missing important appointments. But our infrastructure, which is not user-friendly and not designed for easy travel, doesn’t allow us to be on time. The 2019-20 budget gives over $20 billion for road and rail infrastructure, and money for this is rising. But this billion dollar infrastructure fails us every day.

The Boston Consulting Group says that commuters in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata spend 1.5 hours more travelling each day than in other Asian cities during peak hours. And the number of vehicles on our roads is rising, leading to more congestion and productivity losses.

The economic cost is very big. Traffic congestion is costing us over $22 billion annually in major cities and there is the waste of fuel when cars are waiting to move. Being late in today’s world wastes billions of dollars. Can we afford that?



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