Saturday, April 26, 2008

Corridor of stupidity?

I'm sure many of you (especially those in Delhi) have been reading about the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Corridor in Delhi. In short it is a dedicated lane in a normal city road which is to be used only by buses thereby allowing them to traverse faster, ergo providing faster public transport. It doesn't cost much to build a BRT simply because it basically involves existing roads, segregating a corridor for buses and in some cases re-routing or restricting the movement of other vehicles on that alignment.

On paper the theory sounds fantastic for a chronically congested city like Delhi with its lack of sufficient and efficient public transport system and consequential dependence of its residents on private transport - namely cars & two wheelers. For those of you who don't know the quantum of this problem, let me quote an oft quoted figure - Delhi has more vehicles on its streets than all the three other Metros (Bombay, Calcutta & Madras) combined !!

Many other cities in the world (specially from the third world) like Bogota in Colombia and Jakarta in Indonesia, have successfully implemented the BRT system. However, if the first few days have been any indicators, the BRT has been nothing short of a fiasco in Delhi. Not only has it led to acute congestion on the corridor itself, alternate routes have become choked too due to harried commuters switching over to them. So then one would ask, what went wrong in Delhi? Knowing whatever little that I do about Public Transport, here is my analysis which is open to dissection and ridicule by more learned readers.

Reason #1 is Delhi's mindset - As much as Delhi wallas depend on private vehicles for commuting due to lack of public transport, driving a car is a status symbol de riguer in this town. One car per house is mandatory and anything more is just to show off your greenbacks (or Gandhis if you prefer). I have been conducting a mini poll of my own and asked anybody I met (which includes people from all socio-economic strata) if they would like to switch from their cars / bikes to a faster, comfortable bus if given the option. The answer without a single exception was a resounding NO !! I asked them if it was an air-conditioned Metro (subway / tube / underground) train instead and almost 90% were ready to give up their personal vehicles. While it doesn't really prove a point - it just shows the lack of willingness on the part of the users to switch to this mode of transport.

Reason #2 is the downright stupid design of the entire corridor which perhaps contributes to the above. Would you believe that the bus lanes are actually in the centre of the road??? India is a left hand drive country, so by default all the buses and other slow moving vehicles are in the left-most lane and the bus stops are also on the left hand kerb, so technically one doesn't have to cross the road to reach a bus stop and board a bus, and neither does a bus have to move out of line to rejoin the traffic flow. While the latter issue is redundant in a dedicated corridor but the major issue which concerns those who want to board the bus is - how does one cross the road to get to the bus stop??

With buses out of their way, cars would supposedly move faster in a free flowing traffic situation, and since there are no foot over bridges or signal lights to control vehicle flow, bus passengers are left to fend for themselves as they are left to dodge oncoming traffic while crossing the road? While the able bodied may still manage to hop skip and jump to the bus stop, did anyone think of school kids and the elderly when they designed this corridor? And the physically challenged people didn't even cross their mind I'm sure.

Reason #3 and the most critical factor is the fact that the existing road has not been widened by much and instead one whole lane is now off limits to cars & two wheelers. Which basically means that private vehicles now have 30-50% less road to travel on, without any significant reduction in their numbers on the same roads. In simple English it means that the roads are narrower while the number of private vehicles has not decreased simply because a next to nothing percentage of commuters have given up their vehicles and switched to the bus. So if this is not a recipe for a traffic jam of Bangkokian proportions then what is?

You would wonder which pothead designed this whole thing? Well, the basic design was proposed by two eminent professors from IIT - Delhi, India's premier engineering institute. These two professors Dr. Dinesh Mohan & Dr. Geetam Tiwari head the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP) of Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and thereby seem to be eminently qualified for this sort of a thing.

I do not doubt their academic credentials and ability. In fact, I have personally met and interacted with Dr. Dinesh Mohan as well and was impressed with his understanding of issues. However, I doubt his motives - this gentleman is highly critical of the Metro trains such as the one Delhi has. Read one of his articles here to know what I mean. As much as he is critical of the metro in this article, he is also made his love for the BRT pretty much clear.

And then what is it that we hear? Tata and Volvo, India's biggest manufacturers of high capacity low-floor buses that will be used on the BRT are the chief patrons of the TRIPP, the department headed by these professors as well? While the papers put it as 'conflict of interest', and Delhi Transport Minister doesn't think too much of it... it smells of rotten fish to me.!! I mean, the BRT in its full stretch would mean a route length of more than 150km across Delhi. Calculate the number of buses needed to ply on this route and translate that into profits for these two companies and you would get what I mean. While I do not accuse anybody at TRIPP of any form of corruption, at the same time - it is not the ideal environment on the other hand as well.
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To get Delhi wallas off their vehicles and onto public transport in my opinion is not possible with the BRT. You would need a metro kind of a system which is faster from point to point and more comfortable. Agreed that it is way more expensive, but still it is a price worth paying. You would ask where would the funds come from... well look at the private sector. If the people building private airports like Delhi can come up with Rs 9000 cr (USD 2 billion) for the modernization, Rs 11,000 crore (USD 2.3 billion) which was the cost for DMRC's 62km first phase should not be too difficult.

To sum it up, I would say that the BRT in its present form would just mess up Delhi further. While its planners may have chosen successful models like those abroad to emulate, they have failed miserably when it came to execution. More importantly, they have been unable to adapt that model into the socio economical and cultural context of Delhi and therein lies its biggest flaw.

Looking forward to your views and corrections (especially if I have bungled up any facts)

10 comments:

Caiden said...

I do not know too much about buses but I do know they need to redesign 18 wheelers to more fuel efficient! I run a fleet of 18 wheelers and our monthly fuel costs are over 9,000.00 each. They sure put a lot of effort to revamp the buses all the time but who is putting forth the effort for the 18wheelers? you can visit our business @
http://www.car--transport.com Does any one know what the fuel efficientcy of the metro or larger buses ARE????? Great Post, Good luck and God Bless!!!

Sidhusaaheb said...

That the BRT was going to be a fiasco was well known, at least to the readers of The Times of India, as the newspaper had been publishing a series of articles on the subject much before the BRT project plan was fully implemented.

I suppose the learned professors from IIT-Delhi or the bureaucrats of the Delhi government either do not read that newspaper or chose to ignore the material that was published.

The reasons for the failure of the project, as you have clearly pointed out in this blog-post, are based on common-sense and not rocket-science.

Perhaps it is time for the companies that hire final year students and alumni from the IITs at higher salaries than engineers from other institutes to do a rethink or at least a reality check.

Ranganath Eunny said...

The BRTS seems to be working in Pune now. They are going with it there, observing the impact closely. Delhi is a nightmare for any rapid transit system...so is Chennai here. The problem is with urban planning...there has never been one. We Indians are used to living with the legacies. We built haphazard cities and then move out of them and build planned suburbs and are now urging millions of people to move to them.

I read that even Vizag is going for a BRTS. Same problem. Too much ambition and too less urban planning. But I guess they are keen on the Pune model of doing it sep by step.

Anonymous said...

BRTS = MESS..
This is true.. it just messes up with the traffic , the traffic flow and the roads as well.. It has already proven to be a outright stupid solution in PUNE

Vrij said...

Try having BRTS in Hyderabad.. its proposed though.. maybe they'd run the buses through graveyards and on footpaths (wherever they exist) ;)

The Rat said...

From what you've written it looks like a BRT in delhi would be more appropriate and implementable AFTER the Metro network was sucessfully and entirely laid down. It would have done its share of curbing the traffic, hopefully taking a little load off the buses as well.
As far as the delhiite mentality is concerned, what about , I go first-the world be damned, skip all red lights, and meaningless road-rages? While we may be skilful at the wheels, our attitude still remains similar to the cows that walk the road, heedless to its rules and decoram

Roop Rai said...

came to see from SS's blog who said that you write very well!! :) must say that i have to agree with him.

Abhijit said...

Reason 1
Agree about the mindset of Delhiwalas. But this is not peculiar to Delhi. Most cities have this mindset, Delhi may be numero uno in this.

What Delhi has is a half baked BRT. Just 5.5 km now. Most bus routes are 20 km or more. As such, they do not get any benefit in speed for the *entire* route. But, if you travel on the buses on the corridor (I did it yesterday), there is a definite improvement in speed.

Reason 2
The design is bad, but not for the reasons you mention (central bus lane). You mention that 'technically' a person does not have to cross the road to access the bus stop in a non BRT situation. What if his bus stop is on the other side of the road? Does he not cross the entire width of the road then? Draw a simple diagram showing the road in front of your home and the road in front of your office. For an up and down journey, how many lanes would you cross, irrespective of where the bus lane/ bus stop is located? How would you cross the road if the bus stop is on the other side? Zebra? FoB, subway? Or as we Indians tend to do, run across the street wherever we are! ;)

The problem with the design lies in the detailing (lots of problem). The problem lies in our own road discipline, or lack of it.

Reason 3
The average occupancy of a car in Delhi is 1.2 persons/ car. The average occupancy of a bus is 50. Ever thought of how much space 42 cars would take compared to one bus? What is the function of a road? To move vehicles or move people?

You forgot to mention one thing. One lane has also been reserved for cyclists and slow moving vehicles. Pedestrians have decent facilities now.

The problem is with the growth of cars in Delhi, not the BRT.

The problem with the Delhi BRT is that it has just not been made attractive enough for the switch.

I wouldn't call Geetam and Dinesh Mohan potheads. They are very passionate people who have pursued the BRT because they believe it is safer for pedestrians. ToI's coverage of the Delhi BRT has been extremely disappointing. Patrons of TRIPP? Telco is also a major car manufacturer in India and are coming out with a 1 lac car. Conflict of interest?

Have you thought about the price about getting the metro kind of system to every road in Delhi? 'A price worth paying' you say. How much should this price be? Any idea?

Shanx, do a survey of the bus commuters on that stretch. You might be surprised!

nomad said...

Abhijit
Many thanks for your comments - I was looking forward to them. Thanks first of all for correcting me at places, specially due to my ignorance.

I agree with you almost everywhere. Infact I never said that the BRT was bad - I'm just saying that the manner in which the whole thing has been implemented has proven beneficial to nobody, neither the bus commuter, nor the car commuter nor the pedestrian.

Also, if the bus is in the central lane, why aren't there enough foot over bridges for people to cross over? How will pedestrians be made safe without them?

Another thing - what is in it (yet) for the car user to switch over to the bus?

Metro may not be viable for other cities, but at least for the NCR I think it is the way to go. BRT can be implemented where ever the Metro isn't going.

Abhijit said...

I think we agree on most points here. The Delhi BRT has not been able to convey a positive image. The pedestrian crossing facilities are poor (but that also reflects on the behaviour of motorised vehicle users)

The metro is coming up in a big way in the NCR. It will need a very good feeder support system. It is time for some comprehensive planning. Instead of making it a metro vs BRT debate in Delhi, it is time for the policy makers to think about integrating the two to complement each other