Fixed bus lanes: Too late, too little

Fixed bus lanes: Too late, too little

Private personal transport remains the Bengalurean’s most favored commute mode. Recurring campaigns to push them to public transport have failed as their queries too remain unanswered: Are buses frequent, reliable, and fast enough? Is the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) a solution? 

Stuck in planning for years, a BRTS for this mega metropolis with a 56 lakh vehicular population is a tricky affair. When 60 per cent of the city roads are now too narrow to even accommodate smaller vehicles, is dedicating an entire lane for BMTC buses practical?

Why not a trial then? A less ambitious Bus Priority Lane between MG Road and Hope Farm via Whitefield is now in the design stage. Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) are meeting soon to finalise it. 

But, implementing this on the roads will be the city traffic police’s headache. Additional Commissioner of Police, Traffic, MA Saleem reasons that unless roads are widened, a full-scale BRTS with priority lanes is just not possible. “It would be very tough on two-lane roads, even if one bus breaks down.”

Tentatively, the Priority Lane route is designed to pass through old Airport Road, Domlur, Kundalahalli Gate, Marathahalli, Whitefield and Hope Farm. Currently, this route has no uniform width and at several stretches, fails to meet the minimum requirement of a 30-metre Right of Way (RoW) for BRTS.

BRTS along ORR
A long-term strategy could be to speed up the BRTS proposed along the Outer Ring Road. Planned six years ago, this system is designed to pass through the middle of ORR. Split flyovers were built along this radial road to ensure that the bus lanes are in the centre, as Saleem points out.

Split flyovers have come up in Iblur, Devarabeesanahalli, Kadubeesanahalli, Nagawara, Veerenpalya, Kammanahalli, Hennur and Horamavu.

But there is an issue. By design, BRTS mandates that pedestrians should not cross the motorways to get across. Pedestrian subways or skywalks are required at bus bays and at every point where the buses stop. This demands big investment, a key obstacle to implementation. One estimate puts it at Rs. 20 crore/ km.

Urban mobility experts feel it would be counter-productive to go ahead with BRTS without first addressing the crucial walkability factor. “Pedestrian safety is very important. Crossing the hi-speed motorways on either side of the bus lane would endanger their lives besides disrupting traffic flow,” notes traffic expert, MN Sreehari.

The ORR stretch from Silk Board Junction to Hebbal, where the BRTS is planned, is virtually signal-free but for the bottleneck at KR Puram. Vehicle speeds are generally high on this stretch. Unless designed, planned and executed with multiple focus on buses, traffic and pedestrians, the system could falter.

High bus frequency
High bus frequency, as Sreehari points out, is another critical requirement. “If there is only one bus in one hour, it won’t be practical. To justify a separate lane, there should be continuous flow of buses for people to give up their personal vehicles,” he reasons.  
Despite the many challenges, there are stakeholders who feel merit in pushing for a full-fledged BRTS. They cite this as a viable alternative to the long-delayed and expensive Namma Metro project.

But BRTS is just one of the many ideas floating around to boost public transport linked to BMTC. In urban infrastructure analyst, V Ravichandar’s view, four options are now being explored to improve efficiency of the bus network. The first option is to substantially increase the current BMTC fleet of about 6,000 buses. BRTS in select ORR stretches is another.

Frequent Bus Network
Bus Priority Lanes, now being proposed on the MG Road-Whitefield route is a third option. Another alternative suggested is the Frequent Bus Network, where individual routes along major roads are rationalised into a small number of very high frequency routes.

But each of these projects require big investment, even if not on a scale as the Namma Metro. However, as Saleem concludes in his research study on public mobility, any investment in a well-designed and executed public transport project has huge potential for results.

Here’s his observation, based on a clinical understanding of the city’s traffic and associated problems: “In Bengaluru city, the modal share of bus is 46.8%. If large investment is made to develop public transport, then, it may result in the modal share going up to 75%.” How fast the city’s governance mechanism can realise this potential will eventually determine the future of Bengaluru’s urban commute.

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