Rethinking the BRT

A day late for the World Environment Day 2012 but as good a time as any to finally put pen to paper, so to speak, in this space.

Delhi’s BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) has been in the news again this past month.  Delhi got the first installment of her BRT corridor in 2008.  A mere 5.8km length of the 14.5km constructed in the first phase is operational as of now.  Even this small stretch has been plagued with problems from the outset.  Car-owners have been crying murder from day one as they negotiated the appallingly reduced space allocated to them.  The media, as usual, forgets its role of being a provider of information.  They just fan wherever there is fire.  They are not interested in creating an informed opinion.  Reporters just sit on the fence and have no intention of taking a stand especially if the issue is contentious.  Those who can shout the loudest, get heard.

The BRT got bad press right from the start: for slowing down traffic and for fatal accidents.  We are the accident capital of the world (there’s hope?!), but, for some reason, the BRT was expected to stay accident free.  If bikers and car-owners were driving at breakneck speeds in the dead of night, with no seat belts, and err, broke their necks (and totalled their fancy rides),  it was the BRT’s fault.  If it was taking carwallahs longer to reach their destination, it was the BRT’s fault.  Someone should have pointed out that that is precisely what a rapid transit system is designed to do – speed up public transport while making it safer for non-motorised transport (NMT) such as bicycles.  A BRT, by design, favours buses!

The outrage was more at buses and cycles (and pedestrians) getting more space than what had been left for cars.  What needs to be pointed out here is the blunt fact that a whopping 46% of Delhites still commute by some form of public transport (DIMMTS, 2011).

But carwallahs speak the loudest and the Supreme Court, on March 15, 2012,directed a review of the BRT.  Nyay Bhoomi, an NGO,  has put forth the ludicrous basis for this public interest litigation that a BRT is not practical in a city that has only 23,000 buses to 73 lakh other vehicles!  Maybe they do have a point.  We ought to have more buses for a city of 17 million!

The first attempt at BRT was clearly doomed to fail.  The reason is not so much the design of the corridor but the simple fact that a measly 5.8 km stretch in a citywide total road length of over 28 thousand kilometers is hardly a system!  The bus service needed improvement beforehand.  An improved bus service, with more buses on routes with high ridership should have been put in place first, so that people sensed a viable option to the car.  The present stretch connects nothing with anything – only a third of the corridor is operational!

Study after study, has tried to present the scenario of traffic and transport in our cities. A DIMMTS 2008 report states that 50% of Delhi’s households have no personal mode of transport.  Cars and scooters together transport a mere 20% of her people.  The initial gain of improved air quality on account of better technology and cleaner fuels for vehicles, has been lost to ever-increasing vehicle ownership and a fuel policy (subsidised diesel) that makes no sense in urbanised and polluted Delhi.  To ensure equitable use of space and a sustainable future we meed an intgrated multi-modal public transport system. The writing is on the wall: better public transport, and more of it.  Public transport should become the mode for the majority, not just those who have no other choice. If the present BRT is flawed, let’s try and fix it.  As a nation, we are afraid of failing.  This fear keeps us from sticking our necks out and thinking outside the box.  Should anyone be foolhardy enough to dare, and be unlucky to not have a solution that works in the first shot, they will be lynched by the system before long.

Let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Let us review the BRT, improve it, and integrate it with the other modes of public transport and non-motorised vehicles.  It is not too late for Delhi to grow up and face the new millenium.

Other links:

Tripti Lahiri: The big, Bad BRT(exactly my point, but she got hers in before I could finish mine it seems!)
Down to Earth: On foot and pedals
Delhi Greens’ Govind Singh: Who failed whom

One Response to “Rethinking the BRT”
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  1. […] Delhi, cars constitute the major share of this motorised traffic on the roads.  If we continue to refuse to take the bus (pun intended), we will choke in the exhaust of our cars.  Exposure to PM10 has been directly […]

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