Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Delhi's BRT and adverse public opinion

Delhi has faced traffic problems for quite some time. At some point, the Government, no doubt impressed by the discipline of multi-lane traffic that it sees in some cities around the world, decided to adopt the idea proposed by some IIT professors, and announced a grand plan to split roads so that a dedicated bus corridor could be built. For people who are familiar with this route, the proposal was to create a corridor through one of the most heavy traffic routes, from Ambedkar Nagar to the Red Fort. This was a plan that was, after some hesitation, accepted by the Delhi Government of Sheila Dixit, no doubt enthused by the prospect of creating a revolutionary new traffic scheme in Delhi.
For such a radical scheme, one would expect that the Traffic Police would have been very enthusiastic, however, the Traffic Police have always been against this entire proposal. What the planners were trying to create was to separate the traffic into 3 lanes, one dedicated for buses, one cycle and slow moving lane, and one lane for normal traffic (cars, etc). Ignoring the fact that the road gets narrow in parts, and that the amount of traffic would over-whelm such narrow lanes, the Government has faced intense criticism, and yet had turned a closed ear to all such criticism.
The whole construction phase had been marred by shoddy project management; with improper markings, constructions material left here and there, no staff to warn users, etc. People have been killed on this stretch due to material left on the road.
And yet the Government wanted to enhance the plan to make 6 new corridors, and after initially announcing that there would be a wait to see the experience of the first corridor, the Government announced that it would no longer wait, and start work instead. It is only now that there is a level of worry setting in as to how this new corridor would work, and an inquiry by a Parliamentary panel is bound to increase the worry:

With a stubborn government going ahead with the Bus Rapid Transport system, disregarding growing unrest against the project, a parliamentary panel has stepped in to put tough questions to patrons of the controversial plan.
This acquires significance because the BRT-obsessed planners cannot shrug off the Marxist MP's comment as elitist and pro-rich, their standard refrain in response to calls for a fresh scrutiny of the project which has wreaked havoc on busy south Delhi arteries. Yechury also refused to buy the line of BRT managers and the Delhi government that the huge inconvenience to people because of traffic disruptions was the price the city had to pay for a better public transport system.
The BRT advocates have, invoking the class warfare narrative of the 60s, made light of the problems facing users of private vehicles on the BRT corridor, saying these could, in fact, help decongest city roads by prodding people to switch to public transport.

The BRT corridor project has showed how arrogant the Government can be, totally disregarding a large amount of expert opinion, and inflicting immense hardship on the city's commuters. Users have in the past, as for the metro project, taken such hardships in their stride, but not for the BRT project. The Government has not been able to convince the traveling public of the utility of this project, and one feels, not even tried.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:03 AM