Travel solutions for a smarter city

With an aim to solve Delhi’s persistent traffic and parking problems and to strengthen the public transportation system, the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) planned an Integrated Multi-Modal Network of Public Transport system consisting of a network Metro, Mono Rail, Light Rail and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). While metro construction was planned for the first time way back in 1984 and was started after years of planning in 1998, the BRT was incorporated into the multi model plan only in about 2006, and the first corridor was immediately started in April, 2008 without much planning. And within the first few months the project was deemed a failure, majorly owing to its faulty design.

A CKS case study probes into the deficiencies in planning the BRT, which prevented it from achieving the desired result. Review of the BRT planning model points out that first of all, there was a lack of adequate background research due to which the traffic demands and engineering requirements were not well mapped. Second, the planners did not focus much on the actual operation of the system – how the buses will move, how commuters would use the system, how other traffic would be affected, and so on. Third, there was an inequitable allocation of road space to all its constituents (pedestrians, cyclists, public transport, IPT and personal vehicles), which should have been emphasized.

Another major problem with the BRT project was that the Delhi Government did very little to promote the usage of the BRT’s as well as public transport. Even though, the Government did conduct outreach programs in schools, using a BRT mascot called “Travelogic”, but there remained a lack of awareness about the BRT for a large number of Delhites. Moreover, the media created a negative image of the BRT system, with claims that it added to the chaos rather than bringing order, focusing especially on how it has affected private commuters. This, coupled with lack of public awareness about BRT, gave rise to public mistrust in the system.

Analysis also reflected lots of complaints from the users end too. Dr.Shakti Kak, an Economics Professor at Jamia Millia Islamia University puts across these complaints aptly, “Travel on the stretch is extremely inconvenient because of several reasons. It has reduced the road space even though the specific lane for the buses is empty for long periods because we don’t have adequate number of buses. The waiting time at the BRT signals is very long that defeats the purpose of lesser fuel consumption. And if the government wants to bring some comfort to normal commuters on the stretch it should open the dedicated lanes to public service vehicles like the ones belonging to DJB and even the TSR autos.”

Finally, based on the problems faced in the first BRT model implemented in Delhi, the case study marks out the following steps which it would have followed in the planning of the BRT models, so as to ensure greater efficiency through a user centric design.

_Conducted ethnographic research with all the different types of commuters in the city: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, users of public transport, bus drivers, and more, which would have allowed for an understanding how they use the roads and the different modes of transport. It would have also helped identify, the deficiencies in the current system and helped ideate solutions that would specifically address those needs or lacks. CKS believes choosing the correct problem is one of the most crucial parts of the design process.

_Studied traffic flows and patterns in different parts of the city to determine the best possible route to construct the trial BRT corridor. This might have meant that the corridor would not have been constructed in the central median of the road, but on one side, for example.

_Consulted experts in urban planning, transportation, and other relevant fields to get the widest possible responses.

_Proposed several different models of the BRT corridor to different users, and conducted some trial runs, possibly using simulations of the different models. This would have helped narrow down the best and most user-friendly model, as well as help refine the one that most users preferred.

It has been four years since the Multi-Model Network of public transport began taking shape, but Delhi continues to face heavy commuter chaos and traffic problems. So, in this weeks ‘Sabha’, we re-visited this case study to discuss what modifications can be made to improve the transport network in general and the BRT in particular. Opinions this discussion suggested that a twin change is required, both in the traffic norms as well as the traffic behavior. Along with that there is need for strategic traffic management, so as to avoid heavy jams and allow for a smoother flow traffic especially during an emergency. Another opinion suggested that driving should be seen as a life skill and should be made a part of the school curriculum, along with traffic management. One of the major concerns was about making judicious use of public funds, because although projects like the BRT may be introduced in a jiffy and then scraped off, but a lot of public funds are wasted in this process.

The BRT can be a very efficient system to manage vehicular movement, provided it is well planned and designed in accordance with the city’s requirements, but the entire transport network needs to be improved and well integrated to tackle the city’s heavy commuter traffic.

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