In February, the Chinese city of Guangzhou inaugurated a dedicated bus lane on a 20-km stretch of road. Today, the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) — which allows buses to travel faster, with fewer stops — is used by more commuters than most of China's metro lines.
Compare that to what happened in Mumbai. The BRTS was first mooted in 2003. Seven years later, there is no sign of the bus lanes.
Over the next five years, Maharashtra plans to spend over Rs 10,000 crore on bridges that will serve two lakh vehicle owners. However, the BRTS, that would benefit 45 lakh bus commuters every day and cost only 1,300 crore, is on the backburner.
While the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the nodal agency for most major infrastructure projects in Mumbai, said it was up to the civic body to implement the project, the civic bus service said it was for the government to decide.The state government, meanwhile, said it still hasn't determined whether a BRTS will work in Mumbai in the first place.
"Indian cities have had varied experiences with BRTS. We still have to evaluate its feasibility in Mumbai," Chief Minister Ashok Chavan told Hindustan Times.
There is little debate over whether Mumbai needs an efficient, passenger-friendly transport system. Gridlock on the roads is common and suburban trains are jam-packed — over 5,000 passengers squeeze into trains meant for 1,700. Over 17.15 lakh vehicles clog the 1,930-km road network.
The 3,400-bus fleet of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) has improved but the slow speed at which they travel on the congested roads leads commuters to prefer cars or taxis. Dedicated bus lanes would solve this problem.
The BRTS would be a bargain compared to other systems too — it is at least 10 times less expensive than a Metro.
MMRDA appointed Consulting Engineering Services (CES) India Pvt Ltd to plan, design and implement the BRTS in 2007. It said dedicated bus lanes could be set up between Bandra and Dahisar along the Western Express Highway and between Sion and Cadbury Junction along the Eastern Express Highway.
CES proposed a 25-km corridor on each highway with dedicated bus lanes on either side of the median at a cost of Rs 1,312 crore.
After receiving the report, MMRDA washed its hand of it, declaring that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and BEST should implement the project.
"We are a regional planning body; urban transport projects should be with local agencies. We are, however, committed to giving funds for the project," said MRDA chief Ratnakar Gaikwad.
Experts accused officials of neglecting commuters.
"Bureaucrats are running after big-ticket projects and shelling out crores on sea links and bridges. The BRTS, which will help lakhs at a fraction of the cost, is being neglected," said transport expert Ashok Datar.