Our cities can learn from Delhi’s rationalisation of bus operations
While quantity matters when it comes to measuring success of public transportation systems, optimal use of existing fleet of buses can help improve the quality of service.Updated: Feb 27, 2019 13:00 IST
Bus systems are flexible. This is an enviable advantage that bus systems have over Metro rail systems. Once a Metro line is built, it is a permanent fixture in the city, unless demolished. However, if there is a change in demand, a bus route can easily be changed. Let’s say if a new shopping mall or a commercial area comes up bringing in more critical mass, existing bus routes can be modified, or a new route can be created quickly. This is one of the reasons why bus-based systems are preferred in geographies that are rapidly changing, especially in developing countries like India.
Last Saturday, the Delhi Government launched the first phase of rationalising the bus routes through the Connect Delhi scheme. The project aims to provide bus service to everyone within 500 metres of walking distance. As part of the project, trunk routes will connect all zonal hubs in Delhi with a frequency of 5 to 10 minutes. The trunk routes will be fed by primary routes running at a frequency of 10 to 20 minutes. These in turn will be connected via village connectivity or feeder services, running at a frequency of 20 to 45 minutes. This three-tier routing pattern will be superimposed by CBD circulator routes, which will connect the major commercial hubs in Delhi. The idea is that by optimising the existing bus fleet, a better quality of service can be provided to customers.
Let me highlight three benefits of rationalising bus routes and why it is important to learn from the Delhi government’s experiment.
When a bus system is introduced in a city, buses from everywhere ply to everywhere. This is called a destination-based system. This basically means that one can take the bus from any part of the city to any other part. This system works when a city is small, but it tends to make the system and operations complicated when city grows. This also causes buses to ‘bunch’. The result is that the first few buses may run on crush load, whereas the last few would run almost empty. The problem can be managed with rationalizing bus routes and shifting towards a ‘direction-based’ system. In this type of system, a high frequency trunk operates on main the arterial roads, while feeder buses are provided to access the inner neighbourhoods.
If a government wants its citizens to like and use the bus system, it must focus on increasing the service quality. Frequency and reliability are two key components of service quality. Frequency is the time difference between two buses and reliability is basically adherence to the frequency: Will the bus stick to its timetable and show up for the passengers waiting at the bus stop? At present, the arrival of the next bus at any given bus stop is highly unpredictable. This is because of the presence of a large number of routes and limited number of buses for these routes. Therefore, some stops may have buses at every 5 minutes, some at every 30 minutes or more. Therefore, the overall system becomes unreliable. In a trunk and feeder-based system, the trunk corridor, which has the maximum number of buses, gets highly reliable service as buses are not stuck in neighbourhood traffic. Thus, the waiting period for the next bus is far lower and the service is much more predictable, leading to a more reliable service.
Overcomes the transfer barrier
As a thumb of rule, bus systems should strive for seamless services for commuters. Anecdotally speaking, people don’t like to change buses, but they don’t mind changing the Metro. Why? Well there are many reasons. The main complaint against transfers is that people are not sure when the next bus will come. Waiting periods are often long. Secondly, people perceive transfers to be more expensive, and buying new tickets to be an added burden. The third reason is the discomfort people have to face while waiting at bus stops that exposes them to heat, rain and wind. Therefore, increasing the reliability and frequency will remove the apprehension of long waiting periods. In the case of Delhi, the government is bringing common mobility cards for integrating fares so that commuters find it easy to pay. Lastly, creating better infrastructure on locations of transfers will address the issue around physical comfort. In fact, this is what Delhi Metro does and people are not averse to transfer.
Delhi’s bus system has received criticism for the shortages in public bus fleet. Agreed that quantity matters, however, we also need to make the optimal use of the existing fleet and augment the quality of the services. Delhi government’s effort to rationalise bus operations is a promising step. If implemented successfully, it will surely improve the quality of service. And if the quantity of buses also goes up, then we will truly set up a bench mark for public transportation in the country.
(Amit Bhatt is the director- integrated transport, WRI India)
First Published: Feb 27, 2019 13:00 IST