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  • Learning from Delhi – Gurgaon Expressway Fiasco.

    Learning from Delhi – Gurgaon Expressway Fiasco.

    I had already witnessed chaos, within half-an-hour of the Rao Tula Ram Road/ Palam flyover opening, to public. For me, trouble came in three that day, and within minutes.
    I was still smiling even as I clicked a picture of the traffic build-up, when my phone rang. It was my father calling to share that he had lost the house keys and was stuck outside. Then my driver, like thousands of others that were to make the same mistake in the coming days, took the wrong leaf – we were to go left for Airport/ Dwarka, he went right and we landed on the highway instead.
    However, nothing, could have prepared me for what I witnessed at the toll-gate on the 26th of January. There was a half-mile queue on ALL gates of the much touted, widest in Asia, terminal. This on a national holiday and I shuddered at the thought of Monday peak-time traffic trying to negotiate the point (People have since wasted between 30 minutes to 3 hours, one way, at this point) As I waited my turn that day, I wondered “what went wrong?”
    So, why am I wasting your time sharing this? Well, if this isn’t a public relations crisis, what is? And there are learnings and there may still be an opportunity – a CSR opportunity.
    However, while Delhi/ NCR population is battling the nightmare live, it is important for the sake of our readers who may be geographically distant to share some background.
    Those familiar with the situation may straight jump to the heading CRISIS :).
    Background
    New Delhi, the Capital City, bursting at seams is growing into the suburbs… and Gurgaon, with its attractive location on National Highway No 8, which connects Delhi – Ahmedabad – Mumbai, and (once) cheap agricultural land has become the favoured destination for residents and businesses alike. Integrated townships, malls have changed the landscape of this one-time sleepy town.
    Touted as a Singapore in the making, Gurgaon offices cater to a significant proportion of multi-national offices and BPO/ KPO (outsourcing) business in the country. Intra-city traffic is choking NH – 8, as teeming millions travel back and forth.
    Proposed Solution
    A world-class, 8 lane expressway (part of the ambitious golden quadrangle, project connecting the 4 largest metros is proposed). Work begins but the project, which was scheduled for completion in 2005, sees extensions, cost over-runs that result in a delay of over 2 years.
    Commuters, in absence of alternate routes (MG Road is further narrowed because of the Metro Project and Old Gurgaon – Delhi road was only fine when Gurgaon was still a village), spend anywhere between 1-2 hours, each way, to reach their destinations.
    The Build – Up
    Parts of expressway that opened to public over the last couple of years, see multiple casualties – pedestrians and motorists alike – in absence of adequate safety measures.
    The promised ‘grand-opening of the entire stretch’, scheduled for 31 December 2007 – now been 5 years in the making – is FURTHER delayed by a ‘couple of weeks’.
    Representatives of resident associations (read politicos in the making) mount pressure for immediate opening and claim delays are to gain photo-ops by politicos . Using PR machinery, they host mock inaugurations and create photo-ops for themselves instead.
    Competing newspapers join the fun, take radically opposing stands, dedicated tonnes of ink to the issue.
    23 of January, 2007 is the day when the entire-stretch is inaugurated:

    1. Pedestrians still don’t have cross-ways, and continue to endanger their lives and that of the motorists
    2. Chaos rules as crucial guidelines and signages are still missing.
    3. The toll-terminal is a disaster and the promised 7 minutes journey suddenly seems like a mirage, than reality

    The Crisis
    Where conventional wisdom tells us that communication should go into an overdrive during a crisis, what do we see from various stakeholders instead?
    The politicos, of course, disappear (no one is surprised); the wannabe politicos disappear too
    (where they could have in-fact made this an opportunity to do some real work); the National Highways Authority is silent; DS Constructions, the much maligned contractor (and operator) takes the brunt but doesn’t do much to salvage its already damaged reputation.

    1. No ‘visible’ senior management intervention.
    2. No advertisements or statements advising people about the situation and what’s being done to find a solution.
    3. No suggestions on better self-regulation.
    4. No requests on timings to avoid to avoid adding to the chaos.
    5. No training to ground staff on customer queries.
    6. No websites
    7. No outreach to local media, particularly FM channels, many of which have vibrant listener-reporter traffic updates
    8. Not even a call for support from the commuters themselves.
    9. Practically nothing
      Unless I have missed seeing it, then so have most others as the queues would tell us.
    1. Do they have a public relations agency? Someone guide them, please

    The Opportunity
    Or better still, there may in fact be a CSR opportunity in all this. My friends in public relations agencies – take this to your clients; my friends working with many corporates/ BPOs in Gurgaon – go and do it! :)
    I firmly believe that great Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has nothing to do with money, but with taking ownership. I also believe, any CSR initiative that can deliver business impact makes it naturally sustainable.
    We have in the past suggested to many prospects/ clients to take on the traffic problem by creating Traffic Brigades, where these people-rich organizations – the MNC/ BPO/ KPOs – some with tens of thousands of staff, can contribute as little an hour/ week to generate several man years worth of volunteer work. Aren’t some companies doing this already, in Bangalore?
    In fact the accruals from time saved on travel might just make good time spend on volunteer effort.
    The activity is likely to have a viral effect, with more organizations joining in when they see start the initiative.
    Some will hopefully find it rewarding and make this a part of their sustained community engagement programme.

    1. Not all have to man traffic, while that’s a key need at hand.
    2. Some can contribute through publishing collateral and literature.
    3. Still others can manage the pedestrian traffic – why even offer free rides to the nearest over-bridge/ underpass.

    You will agree that a willing CEO and team, donning their corporate colours (or a common Traffic Brigade Logo) touches more lives and contribute to the community in a meaningful manner than just a plain donation ever could.
    Would this someone care to actually do this? I sincerely hope that many do. In fact I hope that The Traffic Brigade doesn’t stop at just the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway or just the NCR for that matter.
    No one will grudge you that photo-op too…just in case ;).
    Touch lives and contribute to the community in a meaningful manner

    Disclaimer: Views of authors are personal and do not represent the views of Blogworks, or any of its clients.

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