The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor introduced in the nation’s capital on a pilot basis by the Delhi government and billed as an answer to the Capital’s traffic woes ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games has come in for sharp criticism from various quarters.
The 5.8km-long corridor—constructed on a pilot basis between Ambedkar Nagar and Moolchand in South Delhi and inaugurated a week ago—has caused huge traffic snarls, leading to public anger as commute times for people using private vehicles has increased to a minimum of 45 minutes.
The issue was raised in Parliament where members cutting across party lines criticized the project as “thoughtless”. The public outcry forced Delhi chief minister Shiela Dixit to concede that until the time the corridor becomes perfect, no expansion of the project will be undertaken and the six planned BRT corridors will be put on hold.
Even as the Delhi government grapples with the piquant situation, the urban development ministry which has sanctioned a similar 204km-long bus rapid transit system projects in eight cities—including Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Indore, Jaipur, Pune, Rajkot, Vizag and Vijayawada—at a cost of Rs2,883 crore under the government of India’s flagship programme Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) has decided to review the projects.
Like in Delhi, Pune’s initial experience with the BRT system has been bad. Pune has had more accidents after the BRT system was introduced in the city. Experiences in Delhi and Pune have made the Union ministry advise other cities to prepare review reports and spot possible shortcomings before going ahead with the projects.
The BRT project in Delhi has been designed to segregate traffic to provide a dedicated corridor to buses. As nearly 60% of the traffic volume in Delhi relies on public transport, the BRT authors considered this to be a great idea to increase the road space for public transport and to make road use more equitable. The idea was to ease congestion by promoting “modal shift of commuters from private vehicles to buses”.
The “modal shift” envisaged is a pipe dream as the condition of public transport in Delhi is so pathetic that you can hardly expect people who can afford private transport to switch to public transport.
More over, compared with cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore, the quality of roads and traffic flow in Delhi is much better. Building of a large number of flyovers and widening of roads over the past 10 years has considerably eased the movement of traffic in the nation’s capital.
Apart from the increase in incomes, better road infrastructure has in a strong measure contributed to increased vehicular ownership as people find private transport convenient, while the quality and availability of public transport has not kept pace with increase in traffic flows and passenger expectations.
Poor quality of public transport is a huge grievance of the users of public transport in Delhi. Particularly, they are annoyed with the functioning of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC).
Commuters say that the DTC buses (unlike the private killer buses) ply at odd timings, which are rarely adhered to and do not stop at mandatory bus stops and as a result, usually travel empty.
Given this, chief minister Shiela Dixit’s enthusiasm to allow only DTC buses to ply on the new BRT corridors and expecting people to switch to them from private transport will hardly have the desired impact.
Admittedly, the condition of road traffic in Mumbai and Bangalore—which I visit often—is much worse. The traffic flow is so slow and uncertain that you must start for the airport three hours before even if you are only 10km away from the respective airports.
Getting to work and back home is a nightmare and transport is a major source of stress among the workforce. Delhi residents now fear that the BRT project will make the traffic situation here no different from that of Mumbai and Bangalore.
Most of the new infrastructure projects are inaugurated without adequate preparation and planning leading to a lot of anger among people.
In Hyderabad, the new airport built at Shamshabad was inaugurated last month without having completed the construction of connecting roads from the city, leading to a lot of heartburn among air travellers. The Delhi-Gurgaon expressway on National Highway No. 8 (NH-8) was inaugurated without adequate planning leading to huge congestion at the toll gates. The BRT corridor in Delhi is the latest example of this in the last three months.
Delhi assembly elections are scheduled to be held in November this year. Nothing seems to be going right for the Shiela Dixit government. Last year, the high court and the Supreme Court-mandated demolition of unauthorized constructions and sealing of commercial establishments had brought the city-state to a virtual stand still.
The latest BRT mess—which is her government’s own initiative—has added to the Dixit government’s list of negatives. The unabated negative news coupled with galloping inflation has the potential to undo the uninterrupted reign of the Congress in Delhi for a decade in the ensuing assembly elections.
(G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of a Delhi-based research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org)