The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) expressed “deep shock” at Delhi government’s decision to dismantle the bus corridor to take road space back from buses for the cars, calling it a capitulation in front of the ‘car lobby’.
The decision by Aam Aadmi Arvind Kejriwal led government has been taken as a priority step even before the government without putting in any alternative public transport system in place of the BRT.
BRT or bus rapid transport system refers to the setting apart of dedicated lanes into which no other vehicles are allowed to enter. Delhi is the only city in India where the system has been in place for several years. It was one of the schemes that former chief minister Sheila Dixit implemented and was very keen about.
“This is a regressive step and gives a wrong signal when the city is gasping for breathe and the lungs of every third child is impaired,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, CSE’s Executive Director.
Roy Chowdhury said the Delhi government has also made no effort to implement the local solutions crafted by Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (PLANNING and ENGINEERING) Centre (UTTIPEC) and Delhi Integrated Multi-modal Transit System Ltd. (DIMTS) to ease the stretch before a full network can be put in place.
Roy Chowdhury said CSE was concerned that in this pollution and climate-challenged world, the Delhi government had earned the dubious distinction of working against the solution for cleaner air and mobility strategies for the larger public good.
“This regressive decision has been pushed through even after the latest Economic Survey of Delhi has exposed a drop in bus transport ridership in Delhi. With each bus trip lost to personal vehicles, pollution and health costs will worsen. RITES forecasts that even after the full completion of the Metro rail project, Metro ridership will still be at 20 per cent of all trips in 2021. The bulk of the public transport services will have to be bus-based and BRT will help meet the bulk of public transport ridership,” she added.
Delhi today faces the challenge of moving 25 million travel trips a day. “How the people of the crowded city will choose to travel will determine the livability of Delhi and the state of our lungs.” She added.
CSE also said that the scrapping of the BRT corridor went against the basic principles of the National Urban Transport Policy, which advises planning of roads for people, not vehicles. Delhi has already built roads obsessively and put 21 per cent of its total area under roads – the highest in the country.
The city is still gridlocked and needs a good public transport system with BRT along with walking and cycling infrastructure. Public policy will have to prioritise clean modes – walk, cycle and bus, to take them out of congestion.
“Cars cause congestion. Investment in new bus fleet will remain sub-optimal if bus corridors are not implemented. Buses caught in traffic jam cannot draw new ridership,” said Roy Chowdhury.
She said immediately after introduction of this bus corridor in 2009 the average speed of buses increased from 11-12 km/hr to about 19 km/hr; and more than 50 per cent of the people traveling on the corridor used these buses. The corridor reduced average travel time for bus users by 35 per cent within the pilot corridor.
“But the city lost guts to carry this beyond the pilot phase as the car users pushed back. The 14 new BRT corridors planned as part of the integrated transport plan was not been taken forward,” said Roy Chowdhury.
RITES has already projected a frightening congestion grid of Delhi by 2021. With more cars on roads people carrying capacity of existing roads are steadily declining.
RITES data indicates that on prominent arterial roads such as Swaran Jayanti Marg in Dhaula Kuan, Rao Tula Ram Marg, Nelson Mandela Marg, Olfo Palame Marg and Outer Ring Road, 70 per cent traffic volume comprises cars which carry only 18 per cent of the total people transported on these roads.
The 10 per cent traffic volume on these roads consists of buses that transport about 60 per cent of the total people. But the city is not willing to give an inch to the buses. The city has to urgently reclaim space from cars on all key roads.
Dedicated bus lane meant for the aam admi is being taken away with no further plans to create bus corridor network when on all neighbourhood roads and sub arterials one lane from the carriage way along with footpaths are being muscled away for dedicated use of car parking for free.
Multi-crore investments in BRT corridor will be dismantled at even higher cost, but the government has no policy to recover the true cost of parking in public spaces and the cost of other environmental damages by cars, said Roy Chowdhury.
In this most polluted city of the world, where the rich have started to flee from the city, people’s right to clean air is seriously compromised by this decision, CSE alleged.
“In other parts of the world such as in Seoul, flyovers are being destroyed to create public spaces. The second generation measures for clean air need hard decisions to scale up walking, cycling and affordable public transport options.
“Instead of making dismantling of BRT the priority measure, the Delhi government should finalise the following to take steps towards the transformative changes needed for clean air and liveable city, it said, giving a list of measures to be taken.”
CSE wants the proper implementation and expansion of a BRT system “to achieve 80 per cent public transport ridership target by 2020.”
“Only BRT system can make buses the game changer,” it said.
It also sought effective implementation of parking and vehicle taxation policy to restrain car usage.
“Limit and enforce legal parking, penalize illegal parking, enhance high parking charges effectively in both residential and commercial areas, and link car purchase to proof of legal parking.”
It also asked Kejriwal government to enforce Central Motor Vehicle Rule that states motorist cannot enter pedestrian way. “They are liable to penalty. Delhi government must enforce this legal provision immediately as the priority measure.”