Why India’s Bus Rapid Transit Projects don’t excite me?

 

The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as it is currently planned in India is suggested as the one-size-fit-all solution to our transport woes. Having travelled on Mumbai’s bus service (BEST) for thirty years & London’s public transport since 2001, I can’t share the optimism of those who believe BRT (as it is currently planned) is the way forward.  When senior citizens, children & disabled struggle to cross the roads safely, one would hope for a solution that improves all aspects of mobility. I wonder why a city like Pune would spend crores of rupees on BRT when 40% of its roads don’t have pavements (see state of Pune pavements here). That almost a third of Pune citizens commute by walking makes the question more poignant.

 

I have for some time now tried to find an answer to the question. My quest has led me to assess available information on the BRT projects implemented in India’s two cities. My understanding has grown but as have the questions. Our BRT planners unfortunately have overlooked many issues.

 

1.      One of the many issues I have had with prioritising BRT first in Pune has been due to the lack of respect for the difference between the demographics of Pune and Bogotá. 80% people did not have personal vehicles and 80% travel to their Central Business District. Unlike this, in Pune almost every house hold has a vehicle (when every household is considered to be a 4 member family as per available stats). BRT was successful in Bogotá because of decades of planning (unlike 2-3 years in India). Land use policies ensured growth along BRT routes. In Pune it’s above average for India per capita income generating population travels in all parts of the city. A number of experts point to the fact that South American cities at point of implementing BRTS were poorer than many Indian cities and hence there is no reason why Indian cities should not be able to execute BRTS successfully. This though a correct fact, actually adds to the complexity of the challenge in India. South American cities were lucky that their per capita incomes were low enough to not allow the masses to graduate to using personal vehicles, especially the two wheelers. In India the higher per capita and spending power in the absence of a credible public transport system has left masses no choice but to resort to use of personal vehicles, something which the population is unlikely to give up on easily.

 

This video shows the Bogotá before BRT -  note the number of buses vs. the private vehicles during pre-Bogotá times - all run by mafia - but the fact is that people were on buses already, the challenge of switching them / winning them over was never a part of the dynamic. The iconic images of Bogotá are also very popular, this video shows just how wide these BRT roads were (are) and hence begs a question how many of our roads can accommodate this design. Equally the elevated crossways and median bus stations (at least = 1.5 lanes) are no where near junctions. Amazingly the video points to missing side walks acting up as parking lots - very similar to Pune as we all know. Bogotá’s success is more due to social reconstruction and not so much the buses (which were in use anyway albeit in a disorganized way). The fact that they neglected roads but invested in creating Latin America’s longest pedestrian walkway and bicycle track says a lot about the difference in the vision Bogotá administration has compared with that of Pune or Delhi. 

 

CURITIBA too is very different demographically compared to Indian cities, one needs to acknowledge this fact before expecting BRT to succeed in Indian cities. The facts are - The buses run frequently, some as often as every 90 seconds. One may wonder why such astonishing frequency is needed. Further, around 70 percent of Curitiba’s commuters use transit daily to travel to work - wonder how? The answer is that decades of master planning and land use policies meant that by 1992 almost 40 percent of Curitiba’s population to be resided within three blocks of the major transit arteries. Our cities that spread in all directions are very unlike this.

 

2.      For a BRT to succeed there are pre-requisites, both Pune & Delhi fail in this regard. I make an example of Pune to elucidate this -

·         Historically, Pune’s bus service has been badly managed. Run down buses, lack of rationalised routes, poor frequencies, absence of a long term vision and business model has led to Pune citizens resort to use of private vehicles.

·         Pune does not have facilities to park / maintain new buses and pre-paid ticketing system is a distant dream.

·         For more details on how poor the Pune Municipal Transport’s basic facilities are, please read my detailed review ‘Pune Caught in a Whirlpool – can a modern public transport system rescue it’

 

3.      To make matters worse, the BRT plans and implementation has been sloppy, failing to take in to account numerous factors. In Delhi and Pune median segregated bus lanes were considered. A number of arguments are made in favour of this system, but there is little if any mention of counter-arguments or alternative models. I present their arguments of Delhi IIT (in italics and red) in favour of median dedicated lanes and my counter arguments below each 

 

·         The high volume of turning traffic interferes with the through movement of bus traffic if the bus uses the same curb-side lane as the turning vehicles.

 

It is a myth that central or median lanes are conflict free. In Delhi and Pune at every junction, they conflict with buses and mixed traffic turning right. In fact the problem with Delhi BRT is so grave that to speed up the stoppage time at traffic lights the authorities based on knee jerk advice from international experts banned right turns.

 

Unfortunately it is not acknowledged that there are clear advantages as well in using the positives of London's bus lane model –

 

Ř            Cheaper and quicker to implement

Ř            Can be used more widely, (on any 2 lane road, see example here) - across the city, we can end up with much better overall mobility. We all know many roads with 3 lanes (I know at least a dozen in Mumbai and Pune) which would never be considered for BRT due to lack of width to expand (but are ideal for London style bus priority).

Ř            Interruptions & conflicts with off-lanes can be minimised in many ways – introducing red routes (no stopping) and altering entry/exit points on parallel off-lanes (see page 4 of this document on principles of bus lanes). Please see appendix for other links pertaining to use of Bus Priority Principles in the UK. Essentially, if the BRT experts find it appropriate to ban right turns, there is no reason why left turns can’t be limited when implementing peripheral kerb side bus lanes.

Ř            Non-segregation offers fair and optimal use of road space. London bus lanes operate largely during peak time, are available for others during non-peak times and indeed for parking beyond parking restriction times. In many ways the strengths of current infrastructure is used as against damaging ecology by making efforts to widen roads by culling trees.

Ř            In the event of a failure of the scheme, nothing is lost – in contrast, if median segregated bus lanes fail; it will not be easy to reverse the damage (there will be huge costs). Thus I would argue, if you have to pilot, why not pilot the more cost-effective option.

 

People argue that non-segregated bus lanes are likely to be abused by two wheelers / 3 wheelers etc. The truth is that as we have seen, even the segregated lanes in middle of the road are being abused. This design has not made them immune from abuse as can be evidently seen from the massive number of police deployed to man these lanes. The problem thus is to do with the way we drive and general lack of discipline and respect for law. In fact a quick look at Google earth images will show that our junctions are perpetually clogged and chaotic, the road between junctions is almost empty!! To solve problems of congestion where the root of the problem lies deeply connected with driver behaviour, one would think the solution is better driver training, good road signage, synchronised signals, etc. Trying to solve the above problem with BRT is like treating malaria with anti-cancer drugs. It simply will not work.

 

As an author of a series of driver education videos, I can demonstrate amply how a respecting a zebra crossing automatically stems and regulates flow of vehicles by spacing them out evenly. It does not take hard to imagine the cost differential between painting the zebra’s correctly vs. implementing BRT, having said, it’s the former that will work far better than the latter in improving overall flow of traffic in the city.  

 

·         Buses using the kerb-side lane are forced to stop at every red signal with other vehicles reducing throughput, therefore central bus lanes are preferred.

 
If they had seen the Bus Priority Resource pack developed by DOT, UK they would have found an answer to this. UK has implemented the concept of pre-signals / smart signals which offer priority to buses and this could very easily be considered in India. I have created a summary document of the 250 page resource pack, click here for same.

 

·         Unless we have central lanes, at least 50% pedestrians will need to cross a total of 12 lanes to get to the bus stop on the other side of the road.

 
A simple solution for this is using a Pedestrian Refuge. In fact by using central bus stops 100% of people will need to cross the roads and at least 6 lanes on each side. Does the current design ensure safety of these pedestrians any better? All reports suggest otherwise.

 

·         Further they support the idea of central lane as it allows bus stops close to traffic light junctions

 
This is a money saving argument to get away from building crossways or an equally desperate attempt to build BRT on roads without adequate width for incorporating crossways / subways as their design needs wider footpaths (a mouth of a subway itself is typically 5-6 feet wide). In fact by virtue of making pedestrians mingle at the junction, all traffic lights have to incorporate this within the traffic lights cycle and hence reduce speed of travel - effectively taking away the R (Rapid) within the acronym BRT.

 

In 8 months of implementing BRT in Delhi and over 18 months in Pune, almost a dozen and half pedestrians have been killed. This primarily is due to the fact that pedestrians have been restricted to crossing at junctions almost half to one kilometre apart. School kids are noted to take as much as 30 additional minutes to cross over by being forced to get to a junction, crossing over and then walking all the way back. Disabled people and elderly remain affected by this as well.

 

In medical research and practice there is a concept of fidelity. If a treatment has to implemented one has to ensure that it is done to with truthfulness to the original treatment concepts core principles. Where fidelity standards are poor, treatment success rates are poor. Hence the western medical practice does not allow cutting corners, its protocol driven. If I as much as raise a dose from 10 to 20 instead of 15, the pharmacist calls me and asks for justification and if unsatisfied will not dispense the medication. Attached is an image of a typical BRT design, it’s a single carriage way design and it is 105meters wide. Bogotá designs if I remember correctly were 104m wide. Basically the reason why we cannot see the wide footpaths and safe crossways is that we do not have the additional 12 feet needed and we seem to be satisfied with the idea of 100 feet being sufficient. Some of you may have seen a best seller called copycat marketing. Its book giving examples of brands that spread world over copying their success script - the core principles are never messed with, the soft touches can be modified. When there has been evidence through out of a compromise in basic principles why not question it. If the planners had been questioned sufficiently and strongly we could have done much better.

 

1.      But there are other planning failures. Busways are warranted as per studies on routes 70-90% saturated. Bus lanes on non-saturated roads do not improve speeds as buses run fast without lanes (as road is not saturated). To best inform if a road is saturated one needs a basic bus-based PT available. Many Indian cities running after BRT have symbolic (rudimentary) bus services. People are thus in personal vehicles and producing a false impression of roads being saturated. A BRT can carry masses, in Bogotá up to 40,000 people are carried per hour. In Pune the total passenger trips across all routes proposed for BRT is 8170 / hour (in fact on some identified BRT routes in Pune the passenger trips per hour is as low as 2000 to 4000 only). By any standard this is a small number. Why then should we bother with a BRT? That 50% of these 8170 passengers are carried by Pune’s dilapidated buses suggests that improving the quality of buses, rationalising routes and frequencies will offer substantial gains. Equally, unlike most successful BRT projects the world over, Pune’s BRT roads are scattered all over, the average length of BRTS routes = 2.8 miles or 4.5 km. Without a good feeder service, how would one get to these BRT routes? BRTS will only add speed on these short stretches, but by how many minutes? If one travels 8km at 30 km per hour it takes 16 minutes or 8 minutes at 60km / hour. Simple maths suggests that for short distances speed never matters. Travelling for 4.5 km by buses at 60 and not 30 will save only 4 minutes. Further BRTS is implemented on wide roads which are far and few in between - this makes people walk significant distances or indeed spend additional time commuting on feeder buses / rickshaws. This and time spent at interchanges effectively may negate any speed gains hoped from such a system. Also, BRTS model may end up with bus stops that are more distant from each other (and hence fewer in numbers) - all to keep buses moving faster. While buses may move more rapidly on BRT routes, this does not guarantee that individual commuter travel times are reduced. A Transport for London document hints at this. I am elaborating this here with a concrete example - It takes 8 minutes to walk 500 meters at a speed of one meter long stride per second (16 if you double it to 1km). BRT and Metro rails are far and few in between and do not save on journey times as people walk several minutes to get to the embarking points. In contrast a London or Mumbai style traditional bus service oft has stops at doorsteps. Bus stops in close proximity to where people live and work save on time.  These buses may not go on dedicated median bus routes but drop you as close as possible to ones destination and in doing so keep overall travel time (by reducing time taken to walk) comparable to what BRT and Metro systems offer. 

 

2.      Sadly, our planners do not specify how BRT in it self will get people to switch from use of personal vehicles to buses? In Pune, it costs the same to travel in a two wheeler as it will to buy a bus ticket. Further an interested reader may compare the ticket/pass prices of Pune buses versus BEST. It becomes obvious that a hugely superior BEST is offering value for money while the more expensive PMT is offering dusty, rusted, broken buses with poorly trained staff and irrational routes at frequencies of a bus every 30-60 minutes of huge number of routes.  Unless this equation changes, as it has in London, where there is no petrol subsidy (it costs more than twice compared to India), no free parking and a stiff congestion charge, we may end up with a BRT system plying empty buses. By implementing tough measures London’s bus riders-ship increased over 30% and less than a fourth of commuters use personal vehicles inside city centre. For more details please read pages 8 to 13 of my article Pune Caught in Whirlpool. Curitba too had to force people in to buses. Downtown parking in Curitba has been either totally banned or made so expensive via municipal fees that it is effectively prohibited for most motorists – thus making the local bus and "BRT" system the only realistic alternative. Curitba has been able to take advantage of land-use controls forcing development to cluster around the transit arterials. Is there any assurance from our planners that we could emulate these tough measures? It is now evident from a number of articles (available here) that many Western countries where BRT was implemented passengers per hour figures are not as high as expected. Like the West, Indians have due to lack of choice been forced in to the habit of travelling in their personal vehicles. Thus any measures not affecting this dynamic directly or indirectly will most likely fail. 

 

When I make points in favour of London’s model, people have pointed out the difference between population densities of Delhi and London. Delhi’s density is twice that of London. But these very people have nothing to say when I point out that Mumbai’s density is 2.5 times that of Delhi!! The virtual neglect of trying to understand the success behind Mumbai’s BEST is appalling. Our cities have more in common with Mumbai & London where already built up areas need a bus service and road width makes BRT an illusory concept. One only needs to look at London's figures - 700 routes, 6500 buses and 5,400,000 passengers. And then compare them with Mumbai's figures which are almost half with regards all 3 parameters to see how the models fit well and also work well. I do feel that JNNURM funds are being wasted due to wrongful prioritisation of BRT over a basic bus service that would serve most of our cities very well. That such factors need looking in to first is obvious when one looks at the fact that the PMT runs too many routes, several dozens less than 10km!! This is where revamping and rationalisation of routes is vital (like the BEST routes which run length and breadth of Mumbai and overlap thus making huge choice and good frequencies a reality). Mumbai has 3391 buses, 350 routes covering 3 times the area and 4 million passengers per day (= to Pune's population), it is hard to understand why PMT has over 200 routes with just about 1000 buses? I have in recent times been pointed by some to also highlight how well the Chennai bus service runs. I have now checked up their website http://www.mtcbus.org/ and share some information. They like BEST carry 4 million passengers each day - up by half a million since 02/03, have a fleet of 3084 - up from 2773 in 02/03 with an average life of a bus ~ 4 years + (down from 6+). In contrast Bangalore has 5K buses but badly managed. Here is food for thought - wonder why people in Mumbai and Chennai are not shouting for BRT? 

We need a comprehensive plan with clearly identified priorities, I suggest one below.

 

Ř      Reform the basic bus service provision (rationalise bus routes, frequencies, adequate number travel worthy buses, garages and depots with possible workforce optimisation to reduce overheads) and ensure the city has footpaths. Below I present links to elucidate this further -  

·         Bus Public Transport Algorithm / Flow Chart

·         A document detailing the pathology and flaws in which the Pune Municipal bus transport routes and planned. Despite having a over 1000 buses, the average frequency of the buses is – one bus every 57 minutes.

·         The solution to the above pathology and how route and frequency rationalisation is vital in providing comprehensive bus service in a city.

 

Ř      Mobility on roads can be improved through better traffic discipline (needs education, change in licensing procedures) and synchronising signals. We can do a lot by considering use of bus only ways and one-way options along parallel roads (we use these strategies sub-optimally). The zebra as described already is immensely effective too in evenly spacing the traffic and improving traffic flow.

Ř      Use simpler alternatives – bus only routes (South Mumbai’s Girgaum road for over 3 decades has one section open to buses in one direction. This clever ploy allows private vehicles to get in to any of the off-lanes but only after a detour (as mixed flow is allowed from other direction).

Ř      Use non-segregated bus lanes where possible, but not before point 1

Ř      Use segregated bus lanes where possible but not before point 1. For reasons mentioned, peripheral segregated lanes need considering.

Ř      Bus transport needs enhancing by having smart cards, single fare strategy, wide double doors for quick entry/exits. London uses all principles of BRT except segregated lanes.

Ř      Implement ways of getting people to switch to buses. Educate people; we need campaigns the size of Pulse polio. Public Consultation during the planning phase it self offers this opportunity. Talk to the real experts, the ones who live on the streets of the given project or who travel on it (in contrast 3 public workshops were done in Pune, each attended by same group of people / citizens / NGOs – majority with their own biased views on the matter).

Ř      Manage demand and capacity – this is a vital piece of jigsaw neglected by PMC planners. To consider offering increased FSI and expand geographical limits of a city is not the solution conducive with sustained long term growth. If anything lack of simultaneous increase in public transport facilities, affordable healthcare, affordable quality education, sanitation, water and electricity makes such increase in demand unexplainable and unjustified. When we have a city where footpaths remain occupied by garbage skips, pigsties and public lavatories, there can be no reason to raise FSI. The city needs a whole systems approach as demonstrated in this document.

 

Bad planning and implementation often means waste of money on useless projects. Pune has spent 50 crores on a pilot BRT route when the money should have been spent on getting the basics correct. This is a well known principle of ‘opportunity costs’. This basic principle has also been neglected by our BRT planners.

 

Instead of looking elsewhere (Western models) Pune and Delhi should look at BEST for inspiration. In addition, not exploring non-BRT bus priority measures as used in UK has also been a cause of systemic failure. It is time to hit the pause button and take stock. We need to go back to the drawing board and ensure we get the simple basics correct, only then can we hope to achieve success in improving mobility in our cities.

 

Dr Adhiraj Joglekar

www.driving-india.blogspot.com

 

As people in Mumbai have queried about what may help Mumbai, a separate note is offered below

 

I have written to the AGM Amdekar (BEST) about this in past, there is much to gain from following London’s footsteps, more so because historically the models are very similar. In fact even today the statistics show resemblance –

 

One only needs to look at London's figures - 700 routes, 6500 buses and 5,400,000 passengers. And then compare them with Mumbai's figures which are almost half with regards all 3 parameters to see how the models fit well and also work well.

 

It is hence obvious that Mumbai can make huge progress in offering a better BEST in the 21st century by following simple and relatively non-expensive bus priority measures listed below –

 

1.      BEST needs to expand on its smart ticketing quickly

2.      Introduce more and eventually replace old buses with low floor buses with automated double doors for fast entry / exit (this speeds up travel significantly). The low floor buses used currently are again used sub-optimally as the rear double doors are not always in use.

3.      The ACT governing BEST requires conductors on board, this adds to huge overheads for any organisation, affecting improvements to the service. By going the smart tickets route, the conductors would not be needed. Using London buses i-bus system can also pave way for on board automated announcements. Someone had pointed out the need for a friendly conductor to tell you where to get off – in a crowded bus how many can speak to a conductor at the other end of the bus? And don’t we see passengers ask each other for guidance? Such archaic reasons are not good enough to retain conductors on board. Money spent on their salaries will be better spent on making other improvements.

4.      Mr Mehta has in past suggested that conductors offer security - but do they really? It did not stop a bus getting blown outside Century Bazar in 1992, there are no conductors in Mumbai Locals (12 coaches packed with people) and if anything arguments (including fist fights) between passengers - conductor over small change is the commonest form of aggression on Mumbai buses.

5.      By above I do not suggest redundancies or job losses. In fact to use humans as ticket vendors in 21st century is the worst insult possible. Its time these conductors are re-trained for driving more buses, doing customer satisfaction surveys, manning help lines, etc (this offers better value for money spent on their salaries than the way they are currently deployed). 

6.      Mumbai will have to take tough measures –

 

Ř      Implement peripheral peak time non-segregated bus lanes

Ř      The best routes to start such lanes are on roads such as Marine Drive, Haji-Ali, Marine Lines, Caddle road, Western/Eastern highways – these are good initial considerations because very few if any left turns in to off lanes conflict with bus lanes on these routes.

Ř      Implement congestion charging

Ř      Implement strict paid parking policies

Ř      Single ticketing across the city

Ř      Change the public image regarding buses – public campaigns are a must, click here to excerpts from London buses free magazine

 

An appendix with links to all referenced documents is given below

 

I clearly favour non-segregated peripheral bus lanes used only during non-peak time. The documents listed below connect with correct implementation of this strategy. People argue that because law enforcement is poor in India non-segregated lanes will not work. But we have seen the reality – to ensure the segregated lanes in Delhi and Pune, huge numbers of police have had to deployed, thus such arguments don’t hold any sway logically.

 

1.      My document principles of bus lanes show two things – page 3 shows how a badly planned peripheral bus lane can go wrong (an actual real life case example is explained). Importantly page 4 shows how conflict with off lanes can be reduced.

2.      Another real life case example of peripheral bus lanes, smart signals, land use policies from London. Please download this document by clicking here.

3.      Land use policies are vital for prioritising buses. In UK nobody can open a supermarket / shopping mall without allowing space for buses to stop / terminate outside the shopping malls. Here is an example of land use policies prioritising buses.

4.      I am also offering a link comparing different bus transport models in London/Mumbai and Pune. Click here to read this comparison.  

5.      Change the public image regarding buses – public campaigns are a must, click here to excerpts from London buses free magazine

6.      London could have implemented BRT; instead, they chose to retain the natural assets of its city roads & culture. Further the authorities by way of congestion charging earned money to enhance public transport (very different from our model of spending money on BRT projects that are not feasible for out cities). Here is a link to a collage celebrating the assets of The Mall, a road between Buckingham Palace and Strand.

7.      Case example of land use policy – a road converted in to a thriving space for pedestrians. 

8.      I have made reference to improving traffic flow and mobility. The Pune Municipal Corporation is in receipt from me several documents that may help them achieve this, these are listed below

 

  1. Link 1 is Road Marking Guide used in UK. Because all rules and similar, we can use the principles on our roads as well.

 

  1. Link 2 is Traffic Signs Manual used in UK - gives exact details of where and how to place the signs.

 

  1. Link 3 is related to above but focuses on warning signs.

 

  1. I have also compiled a document showing how correct placement of signals can help stop people stopping beyond the stop line. Please note that in UK they have a crossing area of a different shade / colour at signals (not zebra). I think this is a good policy because it takes away confusion. The Delhi and Chandigarh Traffic Police websites clearly state all vehicles should stop at zebra (not controlled by lights) and give way to pedestrians. Now where there are traffic lights, vehicles and pedestrians should follow the lights, but where there is no traffic light but only zebra pedestrians have right of the way. Thus in UK by removing the zebra at traffic lights they have made it easier to follow rules. The only reason why we may not follow this policy in India is because many times signals are not working (power supply problems). In short when traffic lights are not working, automatically pedestrians should have right of way on the zebra.

 

  1. A link to proposed pavement, parking and licensed hawkers scheme – click here

 

  1. Pavements are important for ensuring mobility; this compilation shows how a footpath should never lose its identity.

 

  1. Promoting cycling – an image comparing parking lot outside Cambridge Train Station in 2007 against Pune Train Station in the same year. While Pune lost its cycling culture, Cambridge has preserved it – Here is a video show casing Cambridge cycling culture.

 

 

 

Dr Adhiraj Joglekar

www.driving-india.blogspot.com

 

Last Updated 23 Sept 2008

 

PS:

A note on: How one defines success of BRTS?

One may find number of pictures of crowded BRT buses in Delhi.

 

This link http://flickr.com/photos/8754860@N02 with a number of pics was sent to me by someone hoping to excite me about Delhi BRT. But how is one to define success of such ventures? Were the buses not crowded before the BRT on this stretch? The success to me should be defined by how many switch to buses - The question asked should, have the number of personal vehicles in use gone down? When one sees the pictures (in the above link) of Delhi BRT - it is sad to see the narrow width of footpaths (in fact pedestrians are being forced on to cycle paths) and an absolute lack of well designed pedestrian refuges. One will hope that if the vision is to succeed with the BRT and get people out of their personal vehicles, thus expecting even larger numbers of people on foot, the walkways would have been double the size one finds currently. It seems the compromise has been to pave way for Win-Win-Lose solution and all effort has been made to not hamper personal vehicles - the ultimate winners thus are a showcase BRT and the personal motorised vehicles lobby while the pedestrians are as usual the loser’s.