Tuesday, April 29, 2008

BRT is good

Transmilenio. That is the name of a success story told daily by 1.4 million people in Colombia's capital Bogota. These people are the commuters of the bus rapid transit (BRT) system there, which has 850 buses covering 85 km. It has reduced the travel time by 32 per cent, accidents by 90 per cent and gas emissions by 40 per cent.

India's first ever tryst with what has been found so effective in Latin American countries, some American countries and even Bangladesh and Pakistan, has turned out to be a nightmare for some on Delhi roads. The main victims have been the private vehicle users, including school buses.

The errors in planning are now being blamed on the BRT system itself, which segregates road space for buses to enable quick transport for all vehicles.

If the city planners decide to fold up the initiative, alarmed by media headlines and the traffic mess, then it would be like throwing the baby out with the bath water. The system could have been started when schools were closed or in places where traffic was less.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says that while a few hundred buses are added to the transport system annually, at least 400 cars are bought daily in Delhi. And in spite of this increase in private vehicles, buses cater to 60 per cent of the traffic in Delhi alone, says Sunita Narain of CSE. "This is why we need a system that can efficiently move the bulk of the city passengers and even provide options for the rest to move towards bus transport. The BRT provides us this option. Out of the roughly 16 million passenger trips in the city, buses cater to roughly 9 million passenger trips," she says.

The original success story of BRT was from Curitiba in Brazil, which gives 90 per cent approval rating for its BRT system introduced in the 1950s and 1960s. Why did the people of Curitiba approve of the BRT? Not because they don't have fancy cars. In fact, the city has the second highest per capita car ownership in Brazil (one car for every three people). But Curitiba's gasoline usage per capita is 30 per cent below that of eight comparable Brazilian cities.

The Delhi Integrated Multi-modal Transit System (DIMTS) is doing its inaugural run in a stretch of 5.6 km, while Ahmedabad is to have its first BRT stretch ready next year. It is happening and no one can stop it. What needs to be stopped is the madness of having 100 cars at the red light of a junction in peak hours, when three buses can carry the same number of people.

Bhure Lal, chairperson of the Supreme Court appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, raised his hand of approval for the BRT this week amidst protests from car users.

Private vehicle users have to make a choice. Do they want clean air and speed or are they happy treadmilling their way to nowhere early in the morning in endless traffic snarls?


Adhiraj Joglekar said...

Thank you for compiling this information. But I would have thought the message of getting other priorities in place before considering BRT should be louder and clearer. Equally, I find the lack of acknowledgement of how well BEST serves Mumbai in most transport related articles (by Mohan, Tewari and CSE) rather amusing. When we have a successful model to copy, why look elsewhere. Sadly it is good enough for politicians wanting to show the masses they are doing something significant (prior to elections).

Pune is a classic example. The news of Pune being the first to get BRT was all over the news. Sadly Pune BRT could not have happened at a worse time. The reasons being that a city that actually has no travel worthy bus service was piloting BRT. More on this below -

I do feel that JNNURM funds are being wasted due to wrongful prioritisation of BRT over a basic bus service that Pune Municipal Transport (PMT) should offer. JNNURM funds are offered conditionally, the fundamental prerequisite is modernising reforms of the given Organisation. This means optimisation of workforce, resources and changes in work culture and ethos. None of this is in focus currently. But there are bigger issues.

An enormmous amount of money is being spent on BRTS when simpler solutions may not only serve the city well, but also are a bigger priority than mega projects such as BRTS. I say this on basis of my analysis of the CIRT report of the BRTS project in Pune.

Some drawbacks of the BRTS as it is planned now -
It is tragic that the average total passenger trips across all these different routes (proposed for BRTS) is just 8170 / hour. By many standards this is a rather small number.

Peak hour is not defined any where. It is vital to know this, as it may differ for different routes.

Average length of BRTS routes = 2.8miles or 4.5 km.

Still worse is the fact that Passenger Trips on Buses / total passenger trips for several BRTS roads is above 50% already!!

Bibwewadi Road = 69.75
Saswad Road = 68.46
Satara Road = 66.78
Ahmednagar Road = 66.31
Sangamwadi to Kharadi IT Park = 66.31
Yerawada to Bhairoba Nala = 61.63
Paud Road = 60.83
Solapur Road = 57
Old Mumbai Road = 56.88

The above data suggests that existing service of PMT (however poor it may be) is doing a reasonable job. BRTS will only add speed on these short stretches, but by how many minutes? If one travels 8km at 30 km per hour it takes 16 minutes or 8 minutes at 60km / hour. Simple maths suggests that for short distances speed never matters. So for 4.5 km by buses travelling at 60 and not 30 we will save 4 minutes.

I completely agree with the idea of BRTS buses having doors on the left, only then can they integrate with non-BRTS routes. But in such an event why was there a need to build stops in the centre of the road? The dedicated routes could well have been on the periphery - making it easier and more cost-effective instead of having to build pedestrian pathways to the stops. In the absence of safe paved pathways to central bus stops many people are unable to use BRTS right now.

Without investing in PMT which serve the feeder routes, investing in BRTS makes little sense - will people be expected to travel in rickshaws / personal vehicles to get to BRTS routes?

Instead there is a strong case made by above for -

Rationalising and improving PMT services: anyone who cares to read the JNNURM's protocols will become aware that there is no rule that they fund only BRTS like projects. PMT/PMC should be asking for funding to improve the quality and quantity of PMT buses. At least 1500 buses are the need of the hour. Also, PMT runs too many routes, several dozens less than 10km. This is where revamping and rationalisation of routes is vital (like the BEST routes which run length and breadth of Mumbai and overlap thus making huge choice and frequencies a reality). Mumbai has 350 routes covering 3 times the area and 4 million passengers per day (= to Pune's population), it is hard to understand why PMT has over 200 routes with just about 1000 buses?

The idea is to plan routes such that most roads (especially main ones) are served by several buses at a time by implementing overlapping routes.

An example is as under -

You can have two routes each from Pashan, Baner and Aundh going to Karve road. But each route will be either via SB Marg or University road. Thus for people on SB Marg and University Road, there are 3 buses that could do the trick (with possible wait of just 5 minutes before next bus) of getting towards Karve road destinations. And they could all have minor variations - the 3 buses on SB Marg could go via LC road (one cutting through Prabhat Rd).

Indeed there should be buses from Baner and Aundh going to Karve road via Pashan road, Bawdha and paud road - but it is a matter of thinking through longer overlapping routes unlike the current situation where huge proportion of routes are less than 10km long.

When I lived in Bombay at Haji-Ali or Girgaum - If I wanted to go to Dadar, there were as many as 6 buses doing that as this stretch of road was common to several South Bombay buses going in different ways to the subsrbs beyond Dadar. I loved BEST as it grew its fleet in 80/90s - There were routes connecting all public hospitals, tourist places and some that took you from Colaba to Vashi.

We need a reformed PMT, in adequate number of travel worthy buses (to be honest 850 buses could do the trick). This in my opinion (for what its worth) is a prerequisite for BRT to be successful (it cannot work the other way round). We also need a single ticketing structure (allow pass holders to board on-off unlimited numbers of times). Do this and Bus Patronage may be much higher.

A bus service without a comprehensive business model is useless. If there is hope to reduce use of 2 wheelers one has to beat them at the cost-effectiveness they offer. Investing wrongly in BRT is only going to affect ticketing and make bus travel costlier - how would one then win over people in favour of public transport? A comprehensive package is needed and I suggest you have a look at the article - Pune caught in a whirlpool, can we rescue it to look at bold measures that need consideration (only after getting a basic good quality travel worthy bus service in place).

Other measures:

Improving bus priority with simpler methods such as bus lane enforcement (rather than widening roads for dedicated lanes) during peak hours only. For more details on how in UK roads smaller than SB Marg have bus lanes on either side, read my summary of the Bus Priority - a Resource pack acquired from Dept. of Transport, UK by clicking here. PTTF and Dr Kareer were provided entire CD ROM of this resource pack. A summary of the contents of the CD on Bus Priority is available as a download.

Unfortunately the reports from PMC, Delhi IIT and CIRT - all focus on BRTS. Not one of them compares potential benefits and disadvantages of BRTS against other forms of Bus based public transport with improved priority (BEST model or the UK model). The terms of refrence to any review should have been wider to avoid overwhelming bias in favour of BRTS.

I doubt if any builder wishing to build a 5 story building will start with 5th floor first. The foundation will have to come first. Similarly, the focus of any improvment in Public transport should be PMT first, then BRT (I am not against it, but it should not be our priority) and not other way round.

It will be fair to say that the only city whichis ready to consider use of BRT is Mumbai given a fully functional BEST service.

I end by requesting you and other bodies / experts to emphasise that getting the basics right is vital and without it spending on BRT was a criminal waste of tax payers money.

Dr Joglekar

Visit www.driving-india.blogspot.com to view my 17 driver education videos covering all aspects of defensive driving in India and join me in changing the way India drives.

Dhanu said...

I am not sure about Pune project. I agree with you that the priorities are important. For me, Delhi BRT project raised objections in the first few days because;

1. i dont call it BRT system. it is only a conversion of an ordinary track to fast track. that cannot be called BRT system

2. A proper BRT system gives utmost care to feeder system. that has not been reported in Delhi.

3. There are international standards to follow while building the vehicles. Unfortunately, usual buses are frequented by the passengers that do not have the qualifications to be called as BRT.

4. BRT need not be on the ground. it can be modified as per the requirement.

5. the stretch that was designed, i am not sure would produce any good results as BRTs are known for long routes and that is why it is economical in nature.

Anonymous said...

BRT as a system of mass transit is a success and that needs not to be proved, there are ample examples world wide in various traffic and road combinations and conditions. What saddens me is that when politicians want to hijack the project for fast popularity and forces wrong and short term decicions to be taken e.g. route selection keeping vote banks in mind . No wonder, the moment there were problems they were quick to distance themselves from it and passed the buck on to the system .