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From Busway to BRT
Delhi Busway

A Delhi Busways station. Photo by Madhav Pai.

By Dario Hidalgo and Madhav Pai. Originally published on
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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