New Delhi’s Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) — a 5.8 km stretch of road design to provide a rapid lane for city buses — has been dubbed a failure. This is unfortunate, since a a well-designed BRTS can mitigate air and sound pollution and improve ride quality for the public. It is an essential element of any smart city.
BRTS is quite well spread in 186 cities of the world, covering about 4,757 km and used by nearly 31.7 million people daily. Latin America leads with BRTS in 60 cities.
The world’s first such system was introduced in 1974 in the city of Curitiba in Brazil, followed by Bogota (Colombia ) in 2000. The Bogota model formed the basis of Delhi’s BRTS, which is now defunct because of 70 accidents in the very first year of its operation, as also getting mired in several other problems.
What’s the problem? In India, BRTS is operational in five cities: Ahmedabad, Indore, Jaipur, Rajkot and Surat. It’s under construction in three more, namely, Bhopal, Mumbai and Vishakhapatnam. A further nine are under planning in Bengaluru, Bhuvaneshwar, Chennai, Coimbatore, Hobbali, Hyderabad, Dharwad, Kolkata and Lucknow.
Pune had a BRTS but it has become the victim of fluctuating decision-making by the city’s administration.
A study by the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy, New York, a body which has developed standards to evaluate and rate BRTS , found that most BRTS in the world are operating well, with Bogota rated as the second best after China’s GBRTS in Guangzhou. Why then did Delhi’s BRTSfail when Ahmedabad’s BRTS is a success story?
Clearly, the designers and planners have not complied with the main features of a true BRTS. To ensure successful BRTS operations, it is necessary that the buses operate for a significant part of their journey with a fully dedicated right of way to avoid traffic congestion.
Also, a true BRTS should have alignment in the centre of the road to avoid curbside delays, stations with off-board fare collection to reduce boarding and alighting delays related to paying the driver, station platforms level with bus floors to reduce boarding and alighting delays caused by steps and bus priority at intersections to avoid intersection signal delays.
What to do? Planners must take note of the report of the Central Road Research Institute of India on why Delhi’s BRTS failed. The bus-lane was in the middle of the road making it risky for pedestrians wading through traffic to get into the bus. Signals on the entire stretch were not coordinated, because of which private vehicles freely breached the bus-lane causing confusion and delays.
The absence of one single agency taking responsibility for operating and synchronising all aspects of the entire project was another problem.
It is worth examining whether the choice of location of Delhi’s BRTS’s corridor itself was flawed and therefore it was not possible to provide all the necessary features required.
In this connection, it should be noted that this corridor has a mixed type of traffic consisting of all types of slow and fast moving vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.
It is essential to correctly assess the intensity of traffic in any proposed corridor of BRTS at different points of the day so that necessary safeguards can be provided.
The BRTS should not be scrapped in Delhi, or anywhere else. It failed because of faulty planning and poor execution, not because the concept was unsound.
The writer is a former director of CSO