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BRT in India – how great concepts can get ruined

April 28, 2008

Traffic Delhi BRTThe 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??

BRT SignIf 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:

Walking BRT

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.

motorcycle BRT

(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.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2008 8:47 am

    well , india has a long way to become a developed country thats what i cna say ..
    i was unaware of this thing until i read this post. ..
    i am sure of corruption in this project too😛

  2. April 28, 2008 9:30 am

    In Pune, we use “only for BRT” roads to skip the traffic!!😛
    And you are right, its just Modified Bus service (with AC and TV and better suspension) nothing more.

    Bus lanes to be on the side, not in the middle of the road

    Is this the condition everywhere? I thought it was just Pune.

  3. April 28, 2008 10:53 am

    Its not easy to fix it. This corridor is headline for so many days now. Unfortunately, it is on my way to work, causes unwanted delays everyday or other.

  4. April 28, 2008 11:06 am

    its been a long time since i went in a PTC bus here…but they have introduced A/C buses and they have these huge bus depots…and well bus drivers can drive pretty well in the traffic..

  5. April 28, 2008 11:29 am

    Dont know much about BRT. But, Hey… you havent written anything about your trip! Hope you had fun!

  6. April 28, 2008 11:41 am

    Arvind, I too suspect that money has been exchanged. I wonder who Volvo paid though. The government functionaries or the experts? Something tells me the former. The latter got the funds officially for official use!🙂

    Suda, I hope that wasn’t you on the motorbike!😀 About your question, as far as I know it has to be convinient for passengers to get on and off which they can’t do if the lane is in the middle, unless there is some way they can do it with pedestrian crossings at the exact spot where they have the stops.

    Poonam, sorry to hear that you have to use the BRT experimental corridor. Hopefully they scrap it soon and re-do the whole thing after widening of the roads.

    Vishesh, yeah I think the old system is best…for now.

    Nova, thanks. I had loads and loads of fun! And a post on my trip is coming this week. Maybe day after tomorrow as I have a lot of photos to wade through.

  7. April 28, 2008 12:51 pm

    Golden Quadrilateral project now currently going on to link Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata is having most of the facilities what you have listed for BRT. But we misuse the facilities. Footpaths and Subways become shopping area. Slums come up around bus stations. Digital information displays are broken during strikes and bandhs. Against all these odds we have to progress.

  8. April 28, 2008 1:57 pm

    ofcourse the govt functionaries..and yes experts must have had their commision too ..🙂

  9. April 28, 2008 3:36 pm

    BRT should be in middle of the road, pedestrians would have reached there through subways etc, that were also being made and HCBs(High Capacity Buses) would have taken a U at terminals without entering the roads.

    Problem for congestion is that, they didn’t widen up the roads before constructing BRTs they either did it during the construction leading to more congestion or they did not do it,unlike metros they did not make any alternate easy routes, for traffic to ease.

    Also, One thing that people are not aware of it is that bus corridor was meant to handle on HCBs only, other buses would still have stayed on road. However, there number could have reduced and also the accidents caused by them.

    It also led to much awaited two wheeler corridor for cycles and bikes. However, due to congestion its now also used by SUVs,Rikshaws etc, leading to more Jams.

    It was also supposed to cover long stretches on internal roads in delhi where there is/will be no metro. Making transportation easy by Metro/BRT combinations.

    Everything else, like electronic ticketing system etc, would eventually get deployed anyway, if the system gets operational.

    I found it pretty practical, though it did create some traffic bottle necks for the time being, and few/many accidents coz. of lacks of warning signs, but, theres nothing in it to be scrapped, may be it just requires some minor changes.

  10. April 28, 2008 4:23 pm

    Old Sailor, the Golden Quadrilateral roads despite their problems are helping. Thats the difference.

    Anshul, you are saying “minor changes” need to be done. Well, I don’t think widening of the roads is a minor change and nor are subways and pedestrian paths at BRT stops. Its a huge chnage and at present there is no allocation of land even! Yes electronic displays are a minor thing and can be added later but the electronic ticketing system is not minor. Why has it not been added later to the metro rail? It hasn’t because electronic ticketing is part and parcel of the metro, which is supposed to be fast transport. BRT too is Rapid Transport and the idea is that the commuter should prefer this mode of transport to private transport because its convenient and faster.
    Another very major change required is feeder routes otherwise BRT won’t work…it will not entice people away from private vehicles.Well, this can happen slowly but there is not indication that this is happening at all. Overall a sad situation.
    The changes required are major

  11. April 28, 2008 7:05 pm

    nita – nicely analysed
    BRT is best suited for Mumbai where both the Bus drivers of BEST and the normal public are a lot more law abiding and buses are relatively frequent It would be a boon here

    But one trip i had made to Delhi and the chaos i saw
    i fully agree with u – wrong place wrong time
    ps i doubt if full and proper brts can be implemented here🙂
    read my latest post

    Techntrek

  12. April 28, 2008 7:30 pm

    Although, I shouldn’t have said “minor”, my point is that their work is going quite slow. Otherwise, I have seen them installing pedestrian over bridges overnight*, they have expanded some roads but again work is slow.

    *Overnight, means at much faster pace.

    I don’t know, why there is not electronic ticketing system in metro too, though I feel that its deployment is very easy, I can’t say anything about its sole implementation(without humans). However, it can be put well in combi with Manual ticketing systems.

    And at most of the places, Jams(not heavy) are caused at redlights,coz. almost all main roads(outer ring road,ring road etc) have flyovers on crossroads, so even if there is one red light somewhere, entire fast traffic coming from all directions gets choked, which is further aggravated by BRT(less effect) and people entering multiple lanes(Two wheeler lane,service roads,Main roads) to stay ahead on traffic lights, and then vehicle on extreme left has to go to extreme right, zig-zag, bam-boom, vrrooom vrooom, Honk-Honk, you this-that(abusing), (I can’t explain, you can imagine) & everyone gets entangled in each other’s vehicles putting entire traffic to halt(heavy traffic Jam). :))

    I am almost daily using these roads with HCBS.

    Anshul you misunderstood and i think I was not clear about the electronic ticketing system in Metro. I meant there is electronic ticketing system in the metro and was trying to say that it was introduced because it was considered necessary. It was not postponed like in the BRT. Sorry for the confusion.. About your other points, I see what you mean – Nita.

  13. April 28, 2008 9:20 pm

    Nita,

    BRTS is a brilliant concept as it gives priority to public transport over private ones.But it is not possible to implement BRTS in all cities.

    I don’t know about other cities,but my city is simply not suited for BRTS.Only three arterial roads(and a few feeder roads) are capable of having exclusive bus lanes.But implementing BRTS on even those roads would be a failure since there are so many intersections,signals and round-abouts on those roads.

    What is required for Chennai is a unified electronic ticketing system for all public transport-the local and suburban trains,the Mass Rapid Transit System and the Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses(and the planned metro).What we also need is buses and mini-buses to link all the above modes of transport.Flyovers are necessary but they are only a short-term solution.The only long-term solution for the heavy traffic congestion on the roads of Chennai is a seamless,hassle-free and unified public transport system.I guess it is the same for many other Indian cities.

  14. April 28, 2008 9:28 pm

    @Nita: oh..k, I thought you were talking of Kiosks. My trip to airport that used to take 1hr15mins now takes 2hrs(if I go by same BRT route), but somehow, I think BRT delays it only by 15 mins, rest is all people’s driving habits. Just an opinion.🙂

  15. Ravi permalink
    April 28, 2008 11:34 pm

    Why dont we just adapt the US road system at least in metros. To me it is the best and the easiest system to follow. I doubt the very concept of BRT and is solely designed in politicians vested interests.

  16. April 29, 2008 7:22 am

    good post..
    sometimes ideas cut and pasted from elsewhere, fall flat on their face..

  17. Anil permalink
    April 29, 2008 4:15 pm

    you cannot expect BRT to work when there is no sense of traffic discipline. Will a rickshaw driver keep a whole lane to his right vacant while he is stuck in a jam. Really! Our politician need to get a reality check and work with ideas that are grounded in the dirt and reality of our streets and work through the minds of the average man on the street.

  18. April 29, 2008 5:46 pm

    Ravi, I don’t know what the US system is like so can’t comment on that!

    Harini, thanks.

    Anil, I agree with you entirely. We have it ingrained in us to break traffic rules. If hundreds do it at one time there is no way that traffic cops can control them, there will be riots! I think these academicians should have taken the Indian mindset into account before starting BRT. Lets give at least secondary school education to our drivers (don’t forget also genuine licenses!) and then start implementing fancy concepts.

  19. Sudhir Jatar permalink
    April 30, 2008 9:38 pm

    The latest news about BRT is:
    a. There has been a death on BRT route when a mini-bus ran over a pedestrian on 28 Apr. 08,
    b. The toes of a commuter trying to get down from the BRT bus in Delhi on 29 Apr. 08 were amputated because the bus hit the sides while trying to save a pedestrian on BRT route,
    c. Sheila Dixit, CM of Delhi has accepted that BRT in Delhi is deficient both in conception and implementation, and
    d. Rajasthan govt is now sending a team to Delhi to take cognizance on how not to repeat the mistakes of the Sheela Dixit government in the implementation of BRTS in Jaipur.

  20. vivek mittal permalink
    May 2, 2008 2:19 pm

    Delhi really needs BRTS, only metro can’t do ..becoz No of cars in Delhi=Mumbai+chennai+kolkata

  21. May 4, 2008 3:04 pm

    Thanks all of you for your views.As one of the BRTS Traffic Signal designer , All of your view are extremely useful & contribute to overcome the bottlenecks that may come in other cities.Keep posting,

    Uday

  22. Dr Joglekar permalink
    June 18, 2008 5:40 pm

    Unfortunately a number of factors are being over looked in these discussions. Concepts such as cost effectiveness and opportunity costs remain forgotten. Equally to run after a dream called BRT without having basic pre-requisites in place is nothing but foolish. For more details on my views with 15 embedded links please read http://better.pune.googlepages.com/WhyBRTinIndiadoesnotexciteme.htm

  23. Pune Resident permalink
    August 5, 2008 4:17 pm

    The implementation of BRT on Pune roads just displays the intelligence level of our politicians. I am surprised when these politicians still support what they have done when they can see the great mess that they have managed to create by introducing the BRT. I pray to god to give them some brain (Atleast some…….)

  24. Bhushan permalink
    November 27, 2009 10:09 pm

    BRT is the need of today’s era, because it is necessary to shift the people from there private mode to public mode otherwise there will be increase in Accidents, pollution, and many problembs.

    though we are habitual with our private vehicles due to home to home service but for better future it is necessary that we should transfer to public modes.

    I am also transport planner. I think government should carry out detailed study before construction of work, also some advertisments are also needed.

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