As Delhi awaits a judgment on whether its controversial Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system should be altered, extended or scrapped completely, experts in the transport and urban design sectors have raised questions about the city’s transport policy and its evolution over the years.
Some have even suggested that the hallmarks of a good public transport system — accessibility, affordability, reliability and last mile connectivity — are almost missing from what the city has on offer. An example of the Capital’s public transport being a letdown is the reluctance of a growing percentage to switch from private vehicles to public systems. Conservative estimates indicate that about 1,000 private vehicles are registered in Delhi every day.
The Delhi Government’s efforts to wean commuters off their private vehicles have not borne fruit. “The Government has rolled out too many good projects, but failed as far as their implementation is concerned. The BRT corridor is an example of a poorly executed project. There were no demonstrated, clear studies to indicate that the project will work in Delhi, yet the Government went ahead and created a BRT stretch. Bogotá BRT cannot be a template for Delhi. Similarly the Metro is a great mode of transport, but should have been underground; it has spoilt the city’s skyline wherever it has been constructed on the surface,” says senior architect Kuldip Singh.
Allowing competition between modes of public transport on the same routes instead of creating a synergy, not making efforts to improve modes of transport like buses that carry more people than other the modes, and not being able to strike a balance between cost and safety are symptomatic of a city’s poor and inefficient transport system, says Dunu Roy, director of non-government organisation Hazards Centre.
“Delhi has not been able to maximise the mode of transport that carries the most numbers, buses still carry about 60-65 per cent of people in the city. There are stretches where instead of ensuring integration, the Metro and buses are allowed to compete. The city’s transport policy like the BRT corridor experiment shows gaps between design and implementation phases,” says Mr. Roy.
Multiplicity of authority and replication of foreign models without trials and public participation have resulted in systems that have offered no incentives to the commuters to leave their private vehicles at home.
“Delhi needs an umbrella body with representatives from civic bodies, utilities and the urban planning agencies to draw up a transport policy that meets the criteria of a good, working plan,” says Nalin Sinha, Programme Director, Initiative of Transportation and Development Programme (ITDP, Delhi).
The Government’s focus on public transport, he adds, has been belated. “The attention was only on urban growth, housing and roads. In their hurry to catch up with the developed countries, they [administrators] should not forget that Delhi is a unique city, with multiple agencies, which add to its difficulties. The transport policy should have been integrated with the policy on land use and there should have been harmony in urban housing and transport systems. Also, there should have been incentives for using the public transport.”
While successive governments have been quick to pat themselves on the back for introducing the Metro, the bus clusters, the BRT and throwing the markets open for private players to run taxis services, little effort has been made to ensure that these multiple modes form a coherent unit and are individually and collectively a successful working model.
P. K. Sarkar, an eminent transport expert and urban planner and faculty at the School of Planning and Architecture, blames prolonged decision-making, absence of comprehensive studies and borrowed ideas for the city’s failed transport policy.
“Initiatives like the BRT are not the solution for a city like Delhi. These are piecemeal solutions. The corridor to work well needs a minimum earmarked space for the buses and the rest of the vehicles, you cannot arbitrarily shrink the space for cars,” he says.
If Delhi has to take lessons it should turn to cities with dense population and high traffic movement like Tokyo, Munich and Moscow, he said. “Tokyo has been able to decongest its roads by strengthening its Metro and improving the last mile connectivity. In Delhi even if there is a Metro there are no feeder services. The Metro itself has chosen alignments according to its own convenience. For example, from East of Kailash it turns towards Nehru Place and goes to Badarpur, leaving out congested areas like Kalkaji and Govindpuri. Ideally, it should have covered these places and then turned towards Badarpur. A transport policy with no vision, with no detailed plan of action like ours, is bound to fail,” Prof. Sarkar points out.