BRT in India – how great concepts can get ruined
The skeletons are tumbling out of the closet now that the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) has fallen flat on its face in Delhi and is creating massive traffic jams. The concept is a great one but it has been pushed through in a hurry and implemented badly. The culprits people experts behind BRT are from IIT Delhi. Read this:
What makes the decision of the city government to appoint Dinesh Mohan and Geetam Tiwari from IIT-D’s Transport Research and Injury Prevention Programme as independent experts for the project curious is that the department’s patrons include Volvo Education Research Foundations (VERF) and Ford Motor Company. The experts deny any conflict of interests.
And this about
…the “textbook” approach of the “cut and paste” consultants of the BRT project. The government had not involved any of its own engineers and had instead banked completely on “external” experts for engineering back-up. The project thus had been executed without keeping the ground realities in mind – something that senior officials including the chief secretary had pointed out time and again.
The Delhi government was impressed because they were shown “a list of 80-odd countries where BRT has succeeded.” Surely they should have known that imported ideas need to be tailored to India? Take the example of Bogota in Columbia where hordes of our ministers traveled to see the system work. An article in The Pioneer explains that BRT worked in Bogota because there are feeder services available (why go by bus if it drops you just half way to work as it is happening in Delhi?) and also because Bogota’s cool climate is good for walking. Not to mention the lower traffic density there.
And isn’t it basic that an idea is only as good as its implementation? Not so obvious to our government babus. Shockingly, they took traffic flows of 2003 into account while planning the BRT corridor in Delhi! You can read about the problems caused by BRT here and here and here.
Well, even though Delhi’s Chief Minister (Sheila Dixit) hasn’t agreed to scrap the BRT project (total cost when the entire stretch between Ambedkarnagar and Delhi Gate is completed: Rs 213 crore) she has decided to postpone the implementation of BRT on other corridors for the time being – until this one is fixed.
Will it get fixed??
If one sees whats happening in Pune, one can’t help but have doubts. The Pune BRT was also implemented hastily a couple of years ago, pushed ahead without “micro-planning or a “Detailed Project Report.” Worse, it started off with just 5 buses!! Even though more buses were introduced later, experts feel that what Pune has is not BRT, but just a “marginally modified bus service.” P G Patankar, a senior traffic transportation expert has already said that BRT cannot succeed in Pune as the roads are not wide enough and traffic far too heavy.
And yes, Delhi IIT experts are involved here too. But lets not forget our Maharashtra politicians. The Pune project was pushed through because of the political patronage of Member of Parliament Suresh Kalmadi who was keen that Pune become the first city in the country to have BRT. And he got Vilasrao Deshmukh the Chief Minister to help him push it through although traffic experts warned against its hurried implementation.
An article in The Pioneer (not available online) on 27th February 2008 regarding BRT quotes Urban Transport expert and President of Nagrik Chetna Manch Maj Gen (Retd) SCN Jatar as saying:
As per the BRTS planning guidelines, the typical planning period for any BRTS project is anywhere between 12 and 24 months during which feasibility studies are carried out to select corridors best suited for different types of mass transit systems, including BRTS, based on traffic demand and engineering requirements such as widths of roads, availability of space for bus stations, etc. In Pune’s case, no such planning was done nor was a DPR prepared for the BRTS pilot project.
Sujit Patwardhan of Parisar Urban Transport Group says in The Pioneer:
Although knowledgeable NGOs like ours had warned the PMC that a successful BRTS could start only after a thorough understanding of the concept, detailed engineering specifications for the roads and other structures like the bus stops, proper planning of administration and service facilities, public outreach, brand identity and marketing, the PMC treated the whole issue very casually and perhaps had little idea that BRT means much more than just creating exclusive bus lanes.
Both these social workers feel that the BRT system is not working properly as important features of the BRT are not present…which is why India has no real BRT. India’s BRT is simply a bus lane. What’s needed for the BRT to work efficiently is:
- Pedestrian footpaths
- Pedestrian subways at busy intersections
- Cycle tracks
- Service roads
- An “intelligent transport system” involving pre-board ticketing, automatic traffic signalling
- Digital information displays
- Bus monitoring
- Feeder lines
- Bus stations, not just bus stops
- Bus lanes to be on the side, not in the middle of the road
What this means is India has a long way to go before it can make the BRT work.
(The first picture of Delhi traffic is from IBN. The others (of Pune BRT) are by me and are copyrighted.)
Update 6th May 2008: In today’s Pioneer it says that “The Delhi Cabinet has decided to stop work on the bus corridor between Moolchand and Delhi Gate, but allowed the contractor to complete work on cycle tracks and footpaths.” That is good news because it appears that there is another thing that the BRT “experts” didn’t think of! What happens if a BRT bus breaks down? Well on paper these buses were to be towed away in 8 minutes but it took double the time! That isn’t surprising at all. Even a layman could have said that this will happen. In fact I think even 15 minutes that they took to tow away the bus is remarkable and I doubt whether this speed will be matched when BRT is off the media glare.