Delhi's bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor is controversy's favourite child. It invited a lot of publicity when the first and the city's only such corridor was opened for traffic in April 2008. Four years hence, the debate on BRT's suitability for a car-crazy city still rages.
While the government and transport experts lobby for multi-modal transit systems to decongest Delhi roads and promote BRT, there has been a stiff resistance from people who prefer their own vehicles.
There's no denying that BRT is one of the cheapest and the most effective modes of transport systems. And more than 140 cities — London, Paris, and Amsterdam in Europe; New York and Los Angeles in the US; Beijing, Istanbul and Seoul in Asia; and Bogota, Curitiba and Mexico City in Latin America included — have successfully implemented it.
It was in 2005 that the apex court mandated the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) to implement the high-capacity bus system (HCBS) in Delhi. The HCBS later became BRT.
Experts, however, believe poor implementation and government's flip-flop attitude resulted in the failure. This includes taking one lane off the vehicles' corridor for buses without enhancing capacity, poor selection of location, not extending it further and the failure to take people living in proximity into confidence.
"I must have exhausted hundreds of litres of fuel, waiting for the signal to turn green here," said Shriram Awasthi of Sainik Farms. Bus users, however, are happy. "When car owners see buses moving fast, they get unhappy," said Shyam Lal, a resident of Madangir.
Though it moves almost 45-55% of the total commuters, the buses on BRT corridor comprise just 2-3% of the traffic. With almost 90% vehicles moving in two available lanes and bus lanes near empty, motorists started raising their voice. The corridor also cuts through posh localities where influential people live. So, the campaign against it only gained momentum.
Transport experts also see basic flaws with the corridor. "The traffic cycles are way too long," said Gerard Menckhoff, consultant, World Bank.
"The bus corridor has not been implemented as a full BRT system. It included exclusive bus lanes, but did not have adequate stations, vehicles, information systems, and lacked the centralised management," said Dario Hidalgo, Director of Research and Practice, EMBARQ.
But they agree that this can be easily set right. "The bus corridor can be improved, but not scrapped," added Hidalgo.