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Capital chaos: BRT, road to nowhere | Metro mess

The trial runs of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor, a 5.6-km long corridor that segments roads in the Capital and gives high-capacity buses a dedicated lane to travel on, has seen confusion, chaos, traffic pile-ups and a long wait.

Officials implementing the project agree there are snags, but voices against the BRT are already demanding the project be scrapped.

On Face the Nation, CNN-IBN discussed whether urban India has run out of options to control traffic.

The show was moderated by Anubha Bhonsle and had on the panel Rajya Sabha MP and Editor-in-Chief of The Pioneer Chandan Mitra; Director, Centre for Science and Environment Sunita Narain; Advisor to Government of Karnataka on traffic-related matters Prof MN Sreehari; and DCP Traffic, Mumbai Harish Baijal.

Sunita, who has been monitoring that BRT project, started the debate by stressing on how the ever-growing traffic of the city can only be managed by implementing out-of-the-box solutions.

“Delhi adds a thousand vehicles a day on its roads and there is just not enough space,” she said.

Sunita likened the initial resistance towards the BRT corridor to the implementation of CNG years ago, as both were out-out-the-box plans, and had not been tried anywhere else at the scale at which they have been implemented in Delhi.

She, however, conceded that there clearly were glitches in Delhi’s BRT corridor.

“We,” she said, “never anticipated the huge amount of traffic on one particular stretch of the road, simply because we are allowing huge amount of malls coming up without any planning.”

“Undoubtedly there has been a mess up over there (BRT). Undoubtedly, we will have to clean up,” she added.

Road to Perdition

Chandan Mitra, who opposed the BRT project in Parliament, said the project to segment the road was a “mad and hare-brained scheme.”

“To have buses occupy so much space and to push cars into small little lanes of 3.3 metres on either side, and given the kind of conditions we have in Delhi, how do you expect the cars to be accommodated?” Mitra questioned.

He argued that having buses stop in the middle of the road, with people trying to cross the road from all the directions, only leads to traffic chaos. “Also,” he added,” the old and the infirm can’t get to a bus and the waiting time at the signals at every point is now 5-6 minutes longer.

Not Just Delhi

Sixty per cent of Bangalore roads are so narrow a BRT project is not likely to come up in the city, which today remains a driver’s nightmare.

Describing the traffic scenario of Bangalore as entirely different, Prof MN Sreehari suggested, “We have to have a multi-modelled approach in the city. We don’t have a good mass-effective transport system. So we have to depend more on commuter rail system. We are utilising the existing railway track so as to reduce the pressure on the road.”

Sreehari also highlighted the need to up the number of buses in the city.

“Sixty per cent of Bangalore roads are narrow, which means that mass transport can move only on 40 per cent of the roads. We, too, are looking at a special, exclusive corridor for Bus Rapid Transit,” he said
BRT: Built on a weak foundation?

Many oppose the very idea of segmenting the road lanes for public transport. Critics say no one is going to come into a corridor and travel in a bus simply because you have a corridor in the absence of a public transport which is in a complete mess – buses don’t come on time, the system isn’t efficient etc. Till all of that is sorted out, how can you a BRT corridor be a success?

“It all has to happen together,” Sunita replied.

Seconding Sreehari’s argument, Sunita said that what a city needs today is a major public transport transition, but buses will need space to move.

“Sixty per cent of Delhi, which is one of the richest cities of the country, moves on buses. Car transports less than eight per cent of Delhi’s population, but it occupies 70 per cent of road space,” she reasoned.

Number Vs Need

People who use private modes of transport are obviously unhappy with the corridor. But a majority of Delhi, or perhaps any other city, uses public transport.

Chandan Mitra opposed the argument arguing that people who use cars are also human beings.

Dismissing Sunita’s argument, he said, “Today car owners and two-wheeler owners account for much more than what Sunita Narain is claiming. They are being made to suffer as if they are some kind of criminals, while on the other hand, the buses are packed with people hanging out of them. Solution probably lies in a true urban transit system, namely the metro, which has already worked wonders.”

From Other Side of the Divide

If there is actually a dedicated corridor where only a particular kind of transport is to go on, do you believe citizens in India have that civic sense to allow that?

Harish Baijal replied that mindset of the people is the biggest problem when it comes to managing traffic.

“Pedestrians want to cross the road even when the signal is green. They are unmindful of whether a car is coming or not, and they’ll talking on the mobile with careless abandon. Even the motorists can’t resist honking when the signal is green. This mindset has to change. We have to respect the right of way for other users too,” Baijal said.

Final results of the SMS/Web poll
Has urban India run out of options to control traffic?
87 per cent
No: 13 per cent