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A Fresh Perspective on BRT in India


Tathagata Chatterji, an architect and urban planner from Delhi, had a few interesting things to say today about Bus Rapid Transit in India. A few exerts follow:

The context:

The experimental Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Delhi, which reserves a portion of the road space to facilitate fast movement of high capacity buses and prioritises public transport over private, has been facing a barrage of vitriolic media criticism ever since its inception.

Stepping back for a little perspective:

But before we apply permanent brakes — under political and media pressure — on a system which has succeeded in several big cities across the world, we need to pause, reflect and learn the appropriate lessons.

It doesn’t make sense to prioritize street space for cars:

Cars occupy 75 per cent of road space but are used by less than 15 per cent of the populace even in the most affluent Indian cities. In contrast, buses occupy a mere 8 per cent of the road area but are used by almost 20 to 60 per cent of the people. Pedestrians and cyclists constitute an overwhelming 40 to 75 per cent of commuters but are completely marginalised in our planning system as a major part of budget allocations is consumed for road widening or flyover building, which primarily benefit cars and two wheelers.

Build for pedestrians:

Pedestrians, who should normally have first claim on the road in any mature city, have become the missing dimension in our transportation policy. Be it the BRT or any of the newly opened flyovers which criss-cross our cities today, the case is the same: Desperate women trying to jump over the medians or old men running through the maze of traffic to cross the road are sights common enough in India.

In conclusion:

To become successful, the BRT or any other transit system needs to grow beyond mere traffic engineering. Socio-cultural parameters need to be built in, right from the conceptualisation stage. The issues of equity and social justice in the urban physical realm are seldom explored. We need to make our urban transportation policies more inclusive, equitable and sustainable. But the crux of the challenge lies in co-ordinated policy implementation. Failing this, the future of mobility in urban India will forever remain stuck in a jam.

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  • Despite the initial operational problems it is important to recognize the benefits of the Delhi busway. As a concept is a great improvement over the previous conditions for the majority of people using the corridor: the bus riders.
    This starts to be recognized in comments and surveys: see (a poll showing the great Delhi divide, great benefits to bus users and drivers, negative impacts to the minority of car users)

    Now “Transport officials satisfied with BRT progress so far”

    The bus corridor can and should be improved, hopefully through the introduction of BRT concepts not considered in the pilot implementation: controlled operation of the buses, level access, pre-payment, improved user information systems.

    It is too early to call the pilot corridor a failure. Most implementations in developing countries have problems at the beginning, and all have resolved the issues over time. See

  • Mac Koteshwar

    Running the buses in the center, given the lack of respect vehicle owners have for pedestrians, will prove counter productive. I believe this kind of a system will never be able to reach its full utilization.

  • Sudhir Badami

    30 Cars at a traffic light in three lanes pile up to 10 deep and in two lanes, it becomes 15 deep. 30 cars may carry on an average 50 passengers. One bus with standees carries 70 to 80 passengers in crowded condition. In BRTS, buses with higher capacities are also expected to ply. So, about 270 passengers in a biarticulated bus get carried. If the frequency of BRT buses is as little as 30 seconds and signal cycle is 90 seconds, the bus through put could be 240 to 800 per cycle! This needs to be understood.

  • I am hopeful that Ahmedabad’s closed BRT system (now under construction) may help give BRT a better name in India after this setback. It is also good to see a variety of viewpoints on the Delhi system emerging. I am looking forward to seeing some real numbers about how it is really doing rather than relying on the media anecdotes. My guess is that the Delhi pilot may be performing much better than most media coverage suggests.

  • sre

    brt seems perfectly reasonable to me

  • The idea was not bad, however, deep study was required and with infrastructure you cannot take chances. I hope the nation learns from this.