Op-Ed: Say "Yes" to Improving Delhi's BRT
Chirag Delhi bus station. Flickr photo by Madhav Pai.

Chirag Delhi bus station. Flickr photo by Madhav Pai.

The bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor in Delhi is one of the most controversial projects in Indian urban transport. It encountered several problems during the first week of its implementation, stirring up a great media outcry. But the Delhi Government was able to recognize the positive impact of the project for pedestrians, bikers and bus commuters, and it decided not to scrap the pilot corridor.

The Delhi government elections in November largely ran on a platform that included going ahead with the busway expansions, but some media outlets and transport experts urged the city to ditch the project altogether. The Times of India, for example, reported that the Standing Committee in Parliament recently said plans for BRT system would be a “nightmare” for Delhi residents and should be abandoned.

But it looks like the media reports may not have been telling the whole story, says Sanjeev Lohia, director of the urban transport division for the Ministry of Urban Development.

According to his recent message posted on an online forum for the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities, Lohia said, “the media reports are unfortunately totally away from the real report of the parliamentary committee… Whatever has been quoted in the press is [a] portion of the verbatim statement of one of the expert’s views on Delhi BRT… These are not at all the views or recommendations of the parliamentary committee.”

To support his opinion, Lohia includes this excerpt of the parliamentary committee’s recommendations:

“Bus Rapid Transit Systems (BRTS):

BRTS which entails dedicated lanes for high capacity buses, is a crucial mode providing smooth and affordable transport facility to the public. Considering its low cost, case of implementation, wide area coverage, flexibility and overall sustainability, this system should be encouraged. However, the Committee have been informed by the expert that its merits notwithstanding, this concept should be cautiously and selectively applied in cities and that there are certain basic parameters and prerequisites necessary to make this system successful. In line with the advice of NUTP, the Committee would like to believe that factors such as the urban form, terrain, level of demand, direction and extent of sprawl, width of road available, extent of population density have been taken into consideration in BRTS projects. From the material furnished by the Ministry, the Committee understand that apart from Delhi, BRTS projects in 8 other cities have been approved. The Committee hope that before implementing these BRTS projects, a thorough scientific feasibility study of each respective city has been taken up in the light of the above-mentioned parameters with due incorporation of public opinion as well. In the backdrop of the criticism of BRTS project in Delhi, the Committee expect that utmost care would be taken in the implementation of these projects.

Lohia continues by writing, “As can be seen clearly from the above recommendations that the Committee has neither given any recommendations regarding scrapping of BRTS in Delhi nor have given any comments regarding BRTS being failure in Delhi. The Committee has only advised taking utmost care in the implementation of these projects in the backdrop of the criticism of BRTS project in Delhi. It may be worth noting that the first line of recommendation of the committee clearly identifies that BRTS is a crucial mode for providing smooth and affordable transport facility to the public and that this system should be encouraged.”

As the Senior Transport Engineer for EMBARQ, I agree with this statement. I have already indicated that the Delhi busway project goes in the right direction, but needs several improvements. Traffic problems, pedestrian accessibility and bus operation difficulties can be fixed by making some modifications to the busway and stations infrastructure, redefining the service plans, introducing controlled operations, educating all the users of the facilities (pedestrians, bikers, motor vehicle drivers, and bus commuters) and enforcing regulations. The current bus operations do not provide a comfortable alternative to private vehicle users, and current traffic intersection management results in very long queues and delays both for bus and car users.

The big claim by many opponents of bus rapid transit is to give back the space for cars, as a solution of congestion. This does not work. There is no way of solving traffic jams by providing infrastructure for individual motor vehicles. The option is to have high quality mass transit, though not necessarily rail.

Metro is a good option, but it comes at a very high cost, and there is no way to have Metro lines everywhere. Metro should be complemented with good quality bus service. Therefore, bus rapid transit should be an important component of the sustainable transport agenda in Indian cities.

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