Sunday, April 27, 2008

BRTS in Mumbai? bus ho gaya

Delhi's controversial experiment with the Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) is a sad one. In all the media headlines and interviews with commuters, what will most likely get forgotten is that it was not the system that was at fault but the people executing it. (Read this BS Editorial for a saner look at the issue. Also read Paul Barter's post which has useful links on the success of BRTS in other cities in the world.)

The inherent risks in implementing a Bus Rapid Transport System in India are quite evident. Public apathy is only to be expected given the poor quality of public transport. Moreover, road discipline being what it is the prospect of a lane exclusively for buses is an open invitation for any driver.

But all this doesn't change the relevance of BRTS. For one, it's quicker and cheaper to implement than other options like metro rail. Then there's the principle of equity - i.e. shouldn't more road space be given to transport that carries more people? So, I'm not sure if it's a choice of whether we need BRTS. I think it's more a question of how it should be implemented.

And given the nature of BRTS (as against that of metro rail and local rail and buses) it's not surprising to see how easily it can be dumped. No one in the Government or even the contractors would take the time or effort to explain it's benefits and educate the public before launching the project.

Back home, Mumbai was toying around with the idea of BRTS some time back. The Chinese Kinglong buses bought for this purpose are already being used on Mumbai's roads and have received an enthusiastic response, even after a recent fire on the bus. Sudhir Badami makes a compelling case for BRTS in Mumbai (isn't the prospect of transporting close to 100,000 people every hour every day across both express highways good enough?).

So, will Mumbai ever see the BRTS? Given Delhi's recent experience it now seems highly unlikely because no politician would now want to touch it with a bargepole. If anything the prospect of public 'outrage' against a system that 'failed' in Delhi would be used as the predictable excuse.

But Delhi hasn't totally given up on the BRTS. If things go right, who knows, the BRTS might even see the light of day there. And if it does succeed, Delhi would be yet another example of not one but two excellent public transport systems, after the Metro. And for us in Mumbai, we'd have another thing to envy.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Time for batti bandh

During winter last year I'd posted about the impending power crisis for Mumbai during the peak summer days. As the chart below shows, we consume much, much more (3,100MW) than we generate (2,200MW).

(Source: today's TOI, e-paper link here which might not be active for long)

No wonder then that the spectre of load-shedding and power cuts looms large in the summer, which is almost here. Last year, eastern suburbs like Bhandup and Mulund suffered power cuts of close to 4 hours every day with neighbouring Dombivli and Ambarnath going through a nightmarish 7-8hours of power cut. Unfortunately, this year promises nothing different.

The notion of "24x7" power for Mumbai is a myth which, at best, is restricted to a few western suburbs and of course, the island city. And as compared to the treatment that all the other cities in Maharashtra get, Mumbai looks like a spoilt child.

So, how do our three power companies (Reliance Energy, Tata Power and BEST) meet this shortfall? By buying it from other states and the Central Government. The good news then is that all three companies have firmed up sourcing agreements for meeting this shortfall. Albeit not entirely. As the chart shows below, unmet requirement will reach 200MW in June which could imply power cuts for the city, unless the companies firm up this shortfall till then.

The bad news is that this extra power will come at a cost. And a very high cost.
BEST additional general manager S A Puranik said early planning and procurement deals ensured Mumbai would get adequate power to cope with the demand. “But we will be paying a high price of Rs 9 per unit for power purchased from outside. It is almost three times the cost of power generated by city utilities,’’ [Source]
So, if you thought that rising food and fuel prices were your only concerns, get set for a higher bill, and perhaps even power cuts this summer. Batti bandh now?