From Busway to BRT
Delhi Busway

A Delhi Busways station. Photo by Madhav Pai.

By Dario Hidalgo and Madhav Pai. Originally published on IndiaTogether.com
Compared to other bus corridors world-wide, the Delhi effort is a very limited one. The current design is only a busway, and the government must push forward to build a full-fledged Bus Rapid Transit system, say Dario Hidalgo and Madhav Pai.

Policies that give priority to public transport, people-powered vehicles and pedestrians are always very positive. The Delhi Busway pilot project – which is generally referred to as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – does all of the above, and hence it should be recognised as a progressive undertaking.

Conceptually, it has a profound sense of equity, as most of the road users in Delhi are walking, biking or riding public transportation vehicles, while the minority – who are rich but influential – are in private motor vehicles. According to data compiled for the Urban Age project, Delhi has less than 5 per cent of its population moving around in cars, 15 per cent in motorbikes and other vehicles, 39 per cent walking and biking and 42 per cent in buses. These statistics alone make a case that the constrained space of urban roads should be allocated in a way that benefits the majority of users.

Beyond equity considerations, space allocation to the most efficient modes of transport also has important sustainability impacts. The resulting financial burden to society as a whole is much lower, and expensive energy sources are used less. Also, emissions into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide as well as toxic substances are lowered, with benefits on the public health front, as well as in the fight against global warming. And overall, less time is consumed in transportation.

These real benefits possibly explain why, in spite of the problematic launch of the busway, and the extremely negative media coverage of it immediately thereafter, the majority of the public still favours the project. Independent commuter surveys conducted by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and NDTV found that bus commuters overwhelmingly support the Delhi Busway. For some, the result may be surprising given the operational glitches and the media blitz declaring the bus corridor a disaster. While there are several things about the pilot project that should be improved, it would be both a strategic and political mistake to scrap it. The outpouring of public support for the new bus corridor by the majority of its users should be heeded. Lessons from the various difficulties encountered so far, and also from the experience of other similar projects elsewhere in the world should be considered and implemented.

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  • Dario Hidalgo

    Thanks for your comments.
    I agree with you that the first think needed in Indian cities is organized public transport. Also that better planning and implementation is required.
    I think that London is the best example of what it takes to organize buses in a citywide scale. Bus priority schemes in London are great, and depend a lot on the discipline of drivers and pedestrians, and a lot of enforcement (including cameras on the buses that take pictures of the license plates of the vehicles invading the bus only sections). They are also coupled with an extraordinary rail system, congestion charging, bike routes, pedestrian walkways, and many other features.
    Regarding median lanes, they have proven the best option for bus priority in arterials after 30 years of trial and error in diverse conditions, specially in South America. I strongly think they can work in India with proper design, education and enforcement. If the road is not fully for buses, the friction in the kerbside lanes reduces the operational speeds by 5-7 km per hour.
    As you (with the London, Singapore and other UK), we suggest solutions that have worked in other places, adapted to the Indian context.
    The idea is moving transit forward in India.
    Now the operational problems in Delhi are mostly of poorly designed and operated intersections, not of the bus priority scheme in the median.
    Thanks a lot for your input.

    DARIO HIDALGO

  • Dr Joglekar

    I read with interest your article in India Together. As someone who has campaigned for a better public Transport in Pune, I can understand your push for moving from a busway to BRT. Frankly though, bus transport in Indian cities is so pathetic that thinking of a ‘busway’ (leave aside a full fledged BRT) is premature. While I cannot claim expertise on happenings in Delhi, I certainly can with regards to Pune. I will not rumble on here, instead I will point you in the direction of articles I have compiled on the matter -

    http://better.pune.googlepages.com/WhyBRTinIndiadoesnotexciteme.htm – demonstrates why solutions other than BRT may be more improtant in cities like Pune – where from width of the roads to actual passengers per hour figures defy the logic. Instead I make a case for bus priority which can be implemented more widely.

    To further my case of how illogical and badly planned the Pune Transport is I present two compilations on the strange and hap-hazard route planning in Pune.

    http://better.pune.googlepages.com/Rationalising_bus_routes_in_Pune.pdf

    http://better.pune.googlepages.com/Rationalising_PMT_bus_routes_case_ex.pdf

    The second link actually shows the pathos by way of schematic representation of 30 of 209 bus routes in Pune followed by a reformed route map – Pune and other cities have no clue with regards the very basics of bus transport, to think of BRT is like dreaming of life on Mars (18 months on Pune’s BRT pilot routes have missing footpaths / no crossways / no cycle lanes).

    India has had too many consultants from abroad or reotely cut off from cities they advise on, includes Delhi IIT telling Pune what to do – its a armchair theoritical advise of no significance especially when the widest of Pune roads (a Freeway / Motorway connecting two cities of Pune-Satara) struggles to cope with features of a BRT.

    Not one expert seems to point the direction taken by London, Singapore, many UK cities, NY, Paris, etc where bus lanes are at the periphery – essentially because road width and layouts (as well as costs) of median busways is impractical.

    Its good to dream of utopian systems but ground reality is that we live in a imperfect world with differing demographics which need respecting.

    Dr Joglekar