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.