Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The BRT corridor and an arrogant Government

The Times of India is really playing this story to the hilt. Refer this article:

The BRT corridor has gone bust. Yes, that's the resounding message from two days of chaotic trials on the Ambedkar Nagar-Moolchand stretch. What else can explain the decision of a panicky government to let in taxis and autos into the corridor dedicated to buses! If the BRT architects are willing to jettison lane segregation, then the corridor - on which about Rs 100 crore has already been spent - is as good as dead.

When the Government of Delhi started thinking of becoming serious about the scheme to implement a dedicated corridor for buses, there were mixed opinions. The concept of creating a special corridor for buses so that they can move smoothly and carry a large number of passengers sounded good; after all, many countries have such corridors and they seem to have worked. Then the Government said that the corridor will go upto Old Delhi and there were some worries - anybody who has traveled to Old Delhi areas such as Daryanganj, Chandni Chowk and the Red Fort would wonder about where would they find space on the road to create a dedicated corridor. But this was supposed to be the second leg, and the first leg would be from the comparatively wider section from Ambedkar Nagar to Moolchand, a section of road that is an important road for that region and is somewhat wide.
Okay, maybe this should work. However, there are certain things that such a project should follow, and just copying a concept from somewhere else would not work:
1. Need to explain such a radical plan to the people affected, and get some buy-in
2. Proper execution of the project including step by step work to minimize inconvenience to people
3. Enforcement of discipline
4. Proper feedback and rectification of problems
None of these are outlandish demands, all valid points for any project execution. Now let us see how the Government went about these:
1. Explanations: It was explained as to what the plan is through some media reports. There was no attempt to hold some public explanations, question and answer sessions, or other issues. Education of people is NIL - so bus drivers drive as they normally do without caring to stop at the required places, cars and other vehicles do not know which lane to go into. It is easy to blame bad driving, but a project needs to cater to the current situation, and not try to blame people for not behaving ideally.
2. Proper execution ? Could not be more problematic. Sections of the road would be blocked off when there was no work ongoing, dividers and material would be lying here and there, and unfortunately, these resulted in accidents that killed motorists.
3. Enforcement of discipline. Drivers in Delhi are known for their rash driving and inability to follow traffic rules. Generally, the enforcement of traffic rules is lax, and the same seemed to happen over here. People ignore traffic marshals who have no power and no time to spend enforcing rules, and jump from one lane to another since the dividers allow them to do so, and there is no fear of any fines.
4. Feedback: The traffic police had already been against this proposal, but they were not listened to. The media and other such services have been criticizing the bad execution, lack of education and bad planning, and yet the only reaction has been to criticize the critics as elitists who move in cars and do not know about buses. Maybe this was a socialist campaign to get more people into public transport, but that happens through inducements, not through scaring car users so much that they move into the bus system.
So far, the trial run has been a disaster, and the pointed out culprits are bad drivers, Blueline buses, bad lane changers, improper discipline, lazy traffic policemen, and everybody else. It is not that the Delhi Government and the whole of babudom has been arrogant in trying to implement a solution picked from elsewhere without trying to customize it to local requirements, without ensuring that discipline is enforced and the users are all educated. One can only hope that the situation gets better, but currently the situation is likely to remain in panic mode.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 4:35 AM