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No public transport?

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May 31, 2008 | From the print edition

Cars are swamping roads at an unprecedented rate, outstripping the increase in road space. The results are congestion, reduced mobility and rising air pollution. Yet cars have not replaced buses, which carry the bulk of the population. sumana narayanan reports Indian cities desperately need to build a public transit system and also give it a right of way

Down to EarthOn April 21, a small stretch of road in a congested corner of south Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world, turned into an epicentre of chaos, confusion and downright indignation. The 5.6 km stretch was where the pilot phase of a public transport system that allows buses to operate on a right of way separated from other traffic, was opened. As vehicles strayed into wrong lanes and cars piled up in long queues for the first few days, the media unleashed relentless criticism, calling the project corridor of chaos, ill-conceived, a blunder and demanding that it be scrapped. Car users and residents welfare associations of colonies along the stretch also attacked the new systemBus Rapid Transit (brt)aimed at improving traffic flow. It did not ease traffic; instead it caused more traffic snarls, they said. People in cars and riding motorcycles felt road space had been stolen from them by creating a separate dedicated lane for buses.

In this great outcry fact was difficult to separate from fury. To cut through the noise and confusion, one needs to understand the concept of brt. Conventional road planning is geared towards motorized vehicles and caters to their needs by increasing road space and building flyovers and underpasses. But in Indian cities the majority of the people travel by public transport (mainly buses), bicycle or on foot. brt aims at ensuring an equitable sharing of road space and safety by segregating traffic into different lanes depending on their speed and function. Buses, for example, stop regularly for passengers while cars and motorcycles need to keep moving. So a bus that halts, blocks the left lane and causes the vehicles behind it to try and merge with the right lane, thus, slowing down traffic. Also, non-motorized traffic, which prefers to hug the left lane, blocks buses from pulling into the bus stops, so buses just stop in the middle of the road. And amid all this, bus passengers must negotiate traffic to board buses. The results underused or unused road space, slow traffic movement and increased risk for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles.

Moving buses into a separate lane prevents them from coming into conflict with other traffic, so they get a dedicated lane in the centre. Non-motorized vehicles are given a lane on the extreme left since they are vulnerable amid motorized vehicles and tend to slow down motorized vehicles. Further left, the pedestrians have a well-paved, low pavement.

Why BRT?
Delhi needs a dedicated bus lane because 60 per cent people in the city travel on buses. With Delhis population growing at the rate of 3.85 per year, only a robust public transport can ensure mobility. There is a limit to the number of cars roads can accommodate. Already 21 per cent of Delhis area is under roadsa high percentage compared to other cities worldwide.

brt is also a step towards cleaning Delhis air. According to the Economic Survey of Delhi, the city had 1.60 million cars and 3.34 million two-wheelers in 2006-07. The number of city buses was only 8,000. Every day, 1,000 vehicles are added to the citys roads. Where will it lead to? Due to the spurt in cars, Delhi has already squandered its gains from switching to cng. Air pollution levels that had dropped from 140 microgramme per cubic metre (g/cu m) in 2002 to 100 g/cu m in 2005 due to the introduction of cng, are again on the rise. In 2007, the pollution level was up at 155 g/cu m. With increasing traffic jams and rising pollution what choices does Delhi have? Personal vehicles are part of the problem, not solution.

It was to avoid this dead end that Delhi planned a network of brt, metro and monorail.

Down to Earth
Down to Earth
Down to Earth

The Committee on Sustainable Transport headed by the Delhi chief secretary has recommended building 14 brt corridors across the city by 2020. Designed and developed by the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (tripp) at iit Delhi, brt is based on the successful Bogota (Columbia) model, TransMilenio, the first to earn carbon credits. Adapting it in India is not uncomplicated. In Pune the first phase of brt became functional in 2006 but has been plagued by problems of enforcement and lane discipline. The situation is somewhat similar in Delhi, where a part of the 19 km brt corridorfrom Ambedkar Nagar to Delhi Gatehas become functional.

On the ground
Commuters say they are not comfortable crossing three lanes to get to the bus stop. This system is confusing. I find it difficult to cross so many lanes because I am not sure which side the buses and cars are coming from, says Rajesh Kumari, a pharmacist at Batra Hospital who daily takes the brt corridor for work. Rakhi Mallik, a domestic help, agrees that getting to the bus stop is a problem, though she says the bus trip is now faster. The bus stops were placed just before traffic lights because buses anyway have to stop for traffic lights (see box Left, right). This way they dont stop multiple times.

People have no lane discipline. Even as this reporter was talking to one of the marshals regulating traffic a man parked his scooter right in front of the marshal, Ajay Kumar Singh, to get some water. When the marshal admonished him, his answer, as he hurried away, was that it was just for a minute. The marshal shrugs, There is nothing I can do. The marshals have no power to book anyone. At times they get abused by people for enforcing lane discipline.

Motorcyclists and car users say brt has made traffic snarls longer. Some, however, feel it is good to move buses out of the regular traffic. Pradeep Kumar Yadav, who has been driving an autorickshaw for the past two years, says brt is a good idea. I dont agree jams have become worse. The traffic flow is better and it is nice not to have to deal with buses, he says. But sitting in her chauffeured, air-conditioned Innova, Vineet Bammi is irate. The idea is terrible. It takes forever to travel down this stretch of road, she says.

Those who commute by bus are happy that the ride down the brt stretch has become smooth and fastsome passengers cheekily wave at the cars as they pass bybut point out that it can do with some improvements. In the heat, they have to walk to the nearest traffic light to get to the bus stop. It is a furnace under the steel bus shelter and there are no seats in it, points out a commuter. The buses dont stop exactly in front of the break in the railings at the bus stop. So people have to squeeze themselves between the railings and the bus. It is dangerous, says a passenger as he boards a bus.

These problems will be fixed, promises the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (dimts), which is in charge of the project. S Sahai, managing director, dimts, says, We are aware of the problems. I agree the shelters are pathetic. We will change them.

Shopkeepers along the brt corridor are not excited either because parking is not allowed on the corridor. This, they think, will affect their business. Parking is a problem for my customers. They end up parking on the pavement, says Himanshu Bansal, a stationery shop owner.

People need time to learn the system, says Nathu Lal, a conductor with the Delhi Transport Corporation deputed to regulate buses and commuters at the Pushp Vihar bus stop. As he herds pedestrians towards the pavement leading to the bus stop he says, Look at these people. There is a perfectly good pavement but they insist on walking in the bus lane. He then moves away to scold a young man trying to slip between the bus and the railing. Alam, an engineer, both explains and demonstrates the problem. People dont follow the law. Bikes go on bus lanes, pedestrians cross at will. I think the brt concept is good but people need lane discipline, he says without a hint of consciousness, riding a motorcycle in the bicycle lane.
The Committee on Sustainable Transport headed by the Delhi chief secretary has recommended building 14 brt corridors across the city by 2020. Designed and developed by the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (tripp) at iit Delhi, brt is based on the successful Bogota (Columbia) model, TransMilenio, the first to earn carbon credits. Adapting it in India is not uncomplicated. In Pune the first phase of brt became functional in 2006 but has been plagued by problems of enforcement and lane discipline. The situation is somewhat similar in Delhi, where a part of the 19 km brt corridorfrom Ambedkar Nagar to Delhi Gatehas become functional.

On the ground
Commuters say they are not comfortable crossing three lanes to get to the bus stop. This system is confusing. I find it difficult to cross so many lanes because I am not sure which side the buses and cars are coming from, says Rajesh Kumari, a pharmacist at Batra Hospital who daily takes the brt corridor for work. Rakhi Mallik, a domestic help, agrees that getting to the bus stop is a problem, though she says the bus trip is now faster. The bus stops were placed just before traffic lights because buses anyway have to stop for traffic lights (see box Left, right). This way they dont stop multiple times.

People have no lane discipline. Even as this reporter was talking to one of the marshals regulating traffic a man parked his scooter right in front of the marshal, Ajay Kumar Singh, to get some water. When the marshal admonished him, his answer, as he hurried away, was that it was just for a minute. The marshal shrugs, There is nothing I can do. The marshals have no power to book anyone. At times they get abused by people for enforcing lane discipline.

Motorcyclists and car users say brt has made traffic snarls longer. Some, however, feel it is good to move buses out of the regular traffic. Pradeep Kumar Yadav, who has been driving an autorickshaw for the past two years, says brt is a good idea. I dont agree jams have become worse. The traffic flow is better and it is nice not to have to deal with buses, he says. But sitting in her chauffeured, air-conditioned Innova, Vineet Bammi is irate. The idea is terrible. It takes forever to travel down this stretch of road, she says.

Those who commute by bus are happy that the ride down the brt stretch has become smooth and fastsome passengers cheekily wave at the cars as they pass bybut point out that it can do with some improvements. In the heat, they have to walk to the nearest traffic light to get to the bus stop. It is a furnace under the steel bus shelter and there are no seats in it, points out a commuter. The buses dont stop exactly in front of the break in the railings at the bus stop. So people have to squeeze themselves between the railings and the bus. It is dangerous, says a passenger as he boards a bus.

These problems will be fixed, promises the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (dimts), which is in charge of the project. S Sahai, managing director, dimts, says, We are aware of the problems. I agree the shelters are pathetic. We will change them.

Shopkeepers along the brt corridor are not excited either because parking is not allowed on the corridor. This, they think, will affect their business. Parking is a problem for my customers. They end up parking on the pavement, says Himanshu Bansal, a stationery shop owner.

People need time to learn the system, says Nathu Lal, a conductor with the Delhi Transport Corporation deputed to regulate buses and commuters at the Pushp Vihar bus stop. As he herds pedestrians towards the pavement leading to the bus stop he says, Look at these people. There is a perfectly good pavement but they insist on walking in the bus lane. He then moves away to scold a young man trying to slip between the bus and the railing. Alam, an engineer, both explains and demonstrates the problem. People dont follow the law. Bikes go on bus lanes, pedestrians cross at will. I think the brt concept is good but people need lane discipline, he says without a hint of consciousness, riding a motorcycle in the bicycle lane.
The Committee on Sustainable Transport headed by the Delhi chief secretary has recommended building 14 brt corridors across the city by 2020. Designed and developed by the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (tripp) at iit Delhi, brt is based on the successful Bogota (Columbia) model, TransMilenio, the first to earn carbon credits. Adapting it in India is not uncomplicated. In Pune the first phase of brt became functional in 2006 but has been plagued by problems of enforcement and lane discipline. The situation is somewhat similar in Delhi, where a part of the 19 km brt corridorfrom Ambedkar Nagar to Delhi Gatehas become functional.

On the ground
Commuters say they are not comfortable crossing three lanes to get to the bus stop. This system is confusing. I find it difficult to cross so many lanes because I am not sure which side the buses and cars are coming from, says Rajesh Kumari, a pharmacist at Batra Hospital who daily takes the brt corridor for work. Rakhi Mallik, a domestic help, agrees that getting to the bus stop is a problem, though she says the bus trip is now faster. The bus stops were placed just before traffic lights because buses anyway have to stop for traffic lights (see box Left, right). This way they dont stop multiple times.

People have no lane discipline. Even as this reporter was talking to one of the marshals regulating traffic a man parked his scooter right in front of the marshal, Ajay Kumar Singh, to get some water. When the marshal admonished him, his answer, as he hurried away, was that it was just for a minute. The marshal shrugs, There is nothing I can do. The marshals have no power to book anyone. At times they get abused by people for enforcing lane discipline.

Motorcyclists and car users say brt has made traffic snarls longer. Some, however, feel it is good to move buses out of the regular traffic. Pradeep Kumar Yadav, who has been driving an autorickshaw for the past two years, says brt is a good idea. I dont agree jams have become worse. The traffic flow is better and it is nice not to have to deal with buses, he says. But sitting in her chauffeured, air-conditioned Innova, Vineet Bammi is irate. The idea is terrible. It takes forever to travel down this stretch of road, she says.

Those who commute by bus are happy that the ride down the brt stretch has become smooth and fastsome passengers cheekily wave at the cars as they pass bybut point out that it can do with some improvements. In the heat, they have to walk to the nearest traffic light to get to the bus stop. It is a furnace under the steel bus shelter and there are no seats in it, points out a commuter. The buses dont stop exactly in front of the break in the railings at the bus stop. So people have to squeeze themselves between the railings and the bus. It is dangerous, says a passenger as he boards a bus.

These problems will be fixed, promises the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (dimts), which is in charge of the project. S Sahai, managing director, dimts, says, We are aware of the problems. I agree the shelters are pathetic. We will change them.

Shopkeepers along the brt corridor are not excited either because parking is not allowed on the corridor. This, they think, will affect their business. Parking is a problem for my customers. They end up parking on the pavement, says Himanshu Bansal, a stationery shop owner.

People need time to learn the system, says Nathu Lal, a conductor with the Delhi Transport Corporation deputed to regulate buses and commuters at the Pushp Vihar bus stop. As he herds pedestrians towards the pavement leading to the bus stop he says, Look at these people. There is a perfectly good pavement but they insist on walking in the bus lane. He then moves away to scold a young man trying to slip between the bus and the railing. Alam, an engineer, both explains and demonstrates the problem. People dont follow the law. Bikes go on bus lanes, pedestrians cross at will. I think the brt concept is good but people need lane discipline, he says without a hint of consciousness, riding a motorcycle in the bicycle lane.

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