Tuesday, April 7, 2015

6 reasons why BRT (bus rapid transit) is better than Metro

Much ink has been spilt debating the minutae of the current 5.8 km
corridor, its pros and cons. But this misses the point. One shoddily implemented
short stretch cannot be the reason for scrapping BRT as a solution for mobility in
Delhi, indeed in other Indian cities. It is like saying if a man wearing a blue shirt
committed a crime then all men wearing blue shirts are criminals!

[from a PDF shared.. and with a few lines removed in order to bring the focus on the issue at hand, avoid the everybody-loves-to-hate-____ audience]

While the BRT corridor is under attack by car owning critics, the expensive, shiny toy
that is the Delhi Metro can do no wrong (the DMRC website dubs it as "swanky and
modern"). In fact, every city worth its salt from Kochi to Jaipur has one or wants one.
It makes us feel modern much like Nehru's 'temples of modern India' in the socialist
era. So whether we ride the Metro or not (and most car owners do not) we feel
proud to have it. It matters little whether it addresses urban mobility in a cost
effective manner or not. The Metro has been effectively packaged and sold to the
country as a successful engineering project, delivered on time and within budget. It
showcases the can-do attitude of a resurgent India, something we can wow the
world with. But wait a minute, this is about moving people not a feel good factor
where India could build a white elephant quickly and competently with Japanese
largesse. A "swanky and modern" BRT too can be sexy. But then who cares!

#1. Don't bark up the wrong tree
If it had to choose, Delhi needs many more buses and a better managed bus system
than Metro. Buses provide flexibility of routes and last mile connectivity unlike the
Metro. New bus routes can be deployed quickly to respond to the fast changing
geography of a rapidly expanding city. Described as a "surface subway" by
Wikipedia, a well designed and managed BRT combines the capacity and speed
of light rail or metro with the flexibility, lower cost and simplicity of a bus system.
Urban mobility solutions for Delhi need not be zero sum, that is, either BRT or Metro.
But at present the focus is only on (i) moving private vehicles faster (read cars and
faster moving cars) by creating signal free corridors, flyovers and elevated roads,
and (ii) expanding the Metro. Buses, especially an extensive and efficient BRT
system are not in the picture. This is short sighted (see homily #2) and wastefully
expensive (see homily #3).

#2. Do not believe in mythology
An earlier article at this site debunked five myths of Delhi traffic. Myth #2 was "more
roads and flyovers will ease congestion." Myth #4 was "Delhi Metro will solve all
(public transport) problems." But these myths persist in the minds of our netas and
babus and have led to abandoning the BRT as a crucial piece of the urban mobility
puzzle. It is easy to see why Delhi's car owning elite and middle classes love the
Metro—it does not compete with them for road space either being underground or
elevated! The shoddily implemented 5.8 kms of the current BRT corridor on the
other hand, goes through tony parts of South Delhi where it crowds out private car
owners. But history is not destiny. Cars and BRT can co-exist. They do in other
cities of the world (see homily #6). And they certainly can in Delhi. After all, the city
has one of the world's highest proportions of road area – a fifth of its total area is
paved over.

#3. Money saved is money earned
A kilometre of elevated Metro costs about Rs. 100-150 crores, about ten times that
of BRT. Each kilometre of underground Metro costs about thirty times as much. But
Delhites do not care. After all, much of their beloved Metro has been financed with
Japanese largesse and to a lesser extent with that of the central government (read a
gift from the rest of India to Delhites)—of the total project cost of Rs. 70,433 crores
($11.4 billion) for Phases I, II and III, the Government of the NCT of Delhi has
contributed a princely sum of Rs. 8,683 crores ($1.4 billion) or 12.3%! The problem
is there is not enough money in donors coffers or in the central government kitty to
replicate this for all Indian cities big and small.

#4. Those who speak loudest are not always right
The pen is mightier than the sword, especially if the pen is wielded by those who can
emote in English print media and on television. They are the ones who drive the
cars and the SUVs and feel the pinch of the current corridor as buses with sweaty
masses whiz past (at least on that short stretch). So they complain the loudest.
They argue the masses have been given a shiny toy to ride in. When we could not
give them bread we gave them cake. So BRT be damned. But the whiners are
wrong. The solution they offer to the masses is not financially sustainable (see
homily #3) and will not address the problem (see Myth#4 in the earlier article).

#5. One swallow does not a summer make
5.8 kms of a poorly implemented BRT corridor cannot be used against the concept to
seal its fate. The corridor became political football between an incompetent
implementing agency, namely, Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System Limited
(DIMTS) and Delhi government's Public Works Department (PWD). In any other
system where accountability mattered, heads would have rolled. Instead the babus
at DIMTS who gave BRT a bad name went on to plum postings. For want of a shoe
nail a kingdom was lost.

#6. Don't be an ostrich
India and Indians especially our babus are known to be knowledge proof. The
refrain always is "it can work in city X or Y but it cannot work here" "we are too
different" (see Myth#6 in the earlier article). Yes, no two cities are alike as no two
persons are. But world over, cities have shown how well a BRT can work. Closer
home, Ahmedabad's BRT Jan Marg has received international and national
accolades. The ostrich buries its head in the sand thinking if it cannot see its
enemies they cannot either. We know what happens in that case.

Shreekant Gupta is with the Delhi School of Economics and LKY School of Public
Policy, Singapore. He was former Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs, New
Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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