BRT a corridor of controversy

BRT a corridor of controversy

RAPID TRANSIT: BUS COMMUTERS LIKE IT, CAR OWNERS DO NOT. BALANCE IS THE KEY

With the Delhi High Court ordering a fresh study on the effectiveness of the only Bus Rapid Transit corridor operational in the Capital, the court’s decision has once again ignited the debate over relevance and feasibility of having a BRT system in the city.

With stakeholders – officials, town planners, media and NGOs – already expressing extreme views on the issue, the court order of allowing movement of other vehicles on the dedicated bus lanes on the 5.8-km-long Ambedkar Nagar-Moolchand BRT corridor on an experimental basis, has only added fuel to fire.

The court was hearing a petition by NGO Nyay Bhoomi. The petitioner pointed out that there are over 73 lakh vehicles on Delhi’s roads, while the number of buses is 32,000. The petitioner demanded that for smooth traffic flow on the BRT corridor, the government should not restrain private vehicles from plying on the bus lanes.

Major criticisms of the BRT corridor include heavy congestion in the private vehicle lane, which was squeezed to just two lanes. Even signal cycles have gone for a toss with long waiting time at intersections, and bus shelters located at crossings add to the chaos. 

Moreover, facilities for commuters to cross the road after deboarding at bus stops has also come under criticism.

While the government has been directed by court to file the expert body’s feasibility report by May 16, experts have questioned the pilot project in terms of feasibility, and planning and design of the corridor.

“The choice of stretch for the pilot project itself shows that it was planned in a bad manner,” said P K Sarkar, head of School of Planning and Architecture. 

“The road was already clogged with heavy traffic. Adding to the chaos, a good seven metre of the road was weaned away for the bus lane. Nowhere in the world bus lanes are created at the cost of cars and other vehicles,” said Sarkar.

Sarkar said the ideal width of ‘right of way’ on a BRT corridor — including lanes for non-motorised vehicles and pedestrians — should be at least 60 metres.  

The ‘right of way’ on the Ambedkar Nagar-Moolchand BRT corridor varies between 28 and 51.5 metres. It was on the report by Sarkar that the Parliamentary Committee had recommended stopping the BRT project in the Capital.

Sarkar has questioned the very idea of creating a BRT system in Delhi. 

“The future lies with metro. In New York and Toronto, public transport has been promoted by providing a strong feeder service to the metro network,” said Sarkar.

“The network is spread in such a way that the nearest metro station in all parts of the city is just a five-minute walk. Even in Delhi, many people have shifted to metro from using private cars,” added Sarkar. 
Interests of car users not supreme

But these views are countered by others on the grounds that metro has its own limitations in terms of reach, affordability and financing.

“First of all, several pockets of the city will still be out of reach of the metro network, so we need an alternative mass rapid public transport system,” said an official of Delhi Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS), the agency that was awarded six BRT corridor projects for execution.“Secondly, metro incurs huge cost. No international agency, such as the World Bank, is funding metro systems. Every infrastructure agency is encouraging BRT systems,” said the official.

“Thirdly, the feasibility of the BRT system must not be judged just by the interests of car users. While cars dominate city roads, their carrying capacity is less,” added the official.

A survey on the carrying capacity of cars in the Capital conducted by consultancy firm RITES, substantiates such claims. 

For example, while cars constitute nearly half of all vehicles moving near Yusuf Sarai on Aurobindo Marg, they carry only 17 per cent of commuters.

The DIMTS official said a large population of the city still travels by bus because they cannot afford metro. 

“Just because they cannot afford travelling by metro, they do not forfeit the right to have accesss to a comfortable mass rapid transport,” said the official.

“There also exists a large section of the population that uses two-wheelers. They can shift to buses once a network of good bus rapid transit network is laid out,” added the official. One must not forget the large number of people who use non-motorised vehicles, apart from pedestrians. 

“Almost 30 per cent of the ‘right of way’ is used for providing separate cycle and pedestrian lanes on BRT,” the official said.

While Delhi holds the dubious distinction of recording the highest number of fatal accidents, pedestrians contribute the maximum to the list. 

According to a research by the Centre for Science and Environment, facilities for non-motorised vehicles and pedestrians were found to be best on the operational BRT corridor, compared with such facilities in other parts of the city.

While BRT is a dreaded word in the Capital, the urban transport concept has become popular in Ahmedabad. 

“In Ahmedabad, the BRT corridor is being piloted at an area which, unlike congested south Delhi, is still being developed by the government. Moreover, traffic volume there is one-third of Delhi,” said Sarkar. 

The Ahmedabad BRT is a closed system, wherein buses do not go out and other buses are not allowed in. 

The central island bus stops are located 200 metres before intersections and have platform screen doors operated by sensors to prevent people from getting hit by buses.

The doors open when a bus arrives, and all buses stop in perfect alignment with the shelters.According to a DIMTS official, there are different systems of BRT and each city has to use the one that is best suited to it. 

“Delhi cannot have a closed system like Ahmedabad as it has to accommodate several other bus routes and bus types as well. Buses in the city are operating on 650 routes. Moreover, in order to have island platform bus stops instead of staggered ones, one would have to replace the entire fleet of buses in the capital with buses having two-side openings, as in Ahmedabad,” a DIMTS official said.