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On the street, on the Net

The Delhi Traffic Police has taken to social networking. It can inform the public about road conditions, and the public is happy to find a forum for complaints

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Sir, Traffic System is totally Collapsed in front of Seelampur metro station... at peak hours.” This was a post made yesterday on Delhi Traffic Police’s page by a citizen. Within a few minutes, replied, “Thanks, the area traffic office has been informed.” Whether the traffic was cleared or not is a different story but this exchange shows that Delhi’s traffic police force is using social media actively.

If the number of “likes” is anything to go by, the exchange is effective. The Facebook page shows 121,000 “likes” — impressive, given how few road users usually wax enthusiastic about the traffic police. The Twitter page, updated several times a day, has more than 7,000 followers.

That’s not all. The launched by the Delhi police has more than 1 lakh subscribers. The idea of using social media came up around the 2010 Commonwealth Games. “It was done as a pilot project then, and we got a great response,” says joint commissioner of police Satyendra Garg. It was Garg’s idea to activate social media in order to get better feedback from citizens.

Facebook’s popularity has been put to good use. Citizens armed with their smartphones are quick to update pictures of traffic rules being violated. Be it faulty registration number plates on other vehicles they see, two-wheeler riders not wearing helmets, or an accident that has just happened, users can post photographs and make wall posts notifying the police.

The most common type of image uploaded is of a number plate that appears to break the design rules. Another common type of photograph shows a fellow driver using their mobile phone while driving. “Action is taken in most of the cases with faulty number plates. It has been a very handy tool for us,” says Garg. He reveals that a Facebook user once posted a picture of a policeman not wearing a helmet while riding his bike, and the violator was made to pay a fine of Rs 2,100. Garg himself replies to queries and posts on the page.

If traffic is backed up in any area, residents are quick to put the fact on Facebook and Twitter. The traffic police do the same. If there is VIP movement somewhere, or route diversions for whatever reason, the police posts this information. For instance, a recent post by the traffic police advised road users to avoid one area. Within 10 minutes a private user had posted that the area was now clear. “People’s co-operation in managing traffic is extremely essential — and so far people have been very cooperative,” says Garg.

Not everyone is quite happy with the service. Facebook users often see their complaints or updates go unnoticed. “It is a great initiative for a city like Delhi, but sometimes the traffic police does turn a blind eye,” says Rajesh Srivatsa, a mechanical engineer and resident of south Delhi. It’s not feasible to reply to every post, says Garg, who qualifies that a majority of the posts are attended to and action taken. Last month, he says, he posted on the Facebook page stating that “I admire the pains taken by Facebook friend [sic] to record the violation by a traffic official of basic rules. Action to first identify the violator and then duly punish him for traffic violation and bringing to defame name of traffic police [sic] has been initiated. Wait for update. Thanks to a conscious citizen who took pains to first note and then upload the information.” Most posters urge Garg to take action against the violators or offenders.

On average, about 30-35 posts are made by private users on the traffic police’s page every day. The number of tweets by the traffic police on its Twitter feed, however, is in the single figures. Garg isn’t sure how many members are added every day, but he says that in January 2012 the number was about 92,000. In the last six months, therefore, the Facebook page has seen about 5,000 new members, on average, every month. Young people and Facebook users, Garg feels, are always connected and on the move.

The SMS facility has been used as a support to the obscene calls helpline, though this service has had people complaining about action not taken. “No one cares to answer the phone at times and mostly the SMSes aren’t replied to,” says a 19-year-old college-going student. Still, the traffic police has understood the power of social media and is trying to make good use of it. Its record is imperfect, but encouraging.

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