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Buzz About Buses

 [ SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2002  12:08:52 AM ]
uses can prove to be the best mode of public transportation with a little help from high capacity bus systems, says Dr Geetam Tiwari, traffic expert at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. She tells Mona Mehta that in urban cities, where a large number of people have to be moved daily, it makes sense to make buses people-friendly and the system bus-friendly:

What do you mean by ‘high capacity bus system’ (HCBS). Does it mean more than just bigger buses?

Yes. It is definitely more than a bigger bus or vehicle. It means creating a whole system which is specially designed to meet the requirements of buses, which increases their throughput, thus increasing the number of people who can travel in that corridor. The existing corridor capacity increases by at least 30 to 50 per cent by introducing the HCBS. It requires modifications in the physical infrastructure — roads and bus stops to reduce boarding and alighting time, and commuter-friendly vehicles. It also requires input of information technology which allows safe convoying of buses — buses moving like surface rails.

Since most big cities are turning to the metro system to solve their traffic problems, how useful will a high capacity bus system be?

Metro systems are extremely capital-intensive (Rs 450 crore per km in Delhi). Therefore, even Delhi has planned only about 200 km of metro network. A large area of the city remains uncovered by this network. The HCBS can be introduced on the existing road network along arterial roads, thus bringing a modern, comfortable public transport system close to people’s home. Therefore, in large cities, HCBS complements the metro system and provides extensive coverage by public transport which is not possible with metro systems alone.

Why go for buses at all in this day and age?

Buses provide a safe travel option, and consume less energy and space per person than any other mode of transport. A modern bus system can be made environment-friendly using less polluting fuels. Safety and reliability are also enhanced with the integration of information technology.

In the age of growing urbanisation and expanding cities, bus systems can be adapted and expanded to meet the city needs along the road network with little extra expenditure.

But when more and more people are opting for private vehicles, what is the need to do things differently?

The increasing use of private cars and scooters for daily commuting has put huge pressure on the road network, public land for parking and limited energy resources. Concerns from traffic congestion, environmental degradation and traffic accidents have caught the attention of all. Most cities have adopted a series of solutions such as expanding roads, construction of flyovers, and restriction on slow-moving vehicles. However, the international experience suggests that such measures encourage the use of private cars, increasing the pressure on city resources, and do not lead to intended mobility benefits.

The majority of commuters in Indian cities rely on non-motorised modes and public transport modes. Therefore, especially at a time when car ownership is increasing, infrastructure planning and investments in public transport systems are required to provide a comfortable and convenient option to city residents that can compete with the comforts provided by a private car. The image of unreliable, inconvenient and crowded buses needs to be broken.

How can you make people who use private transport go back to public transport?

Private cars are easily accessible, often parked outside the home and workplace, they are not crowded, and provide reliable and fast travel at the desired time. Public transport has to match these qualities. This implies that the public transport network has to be extensive and easily accessible to a potential user. The walk to a bus stop should be short, pleasant and safe. The bus stop should have reliable information about the arrival and routes of various buses. It should provide basic services needed by a commuter such as drinks, snacks, phone and other public conveniences at major interchanges. Buses should be available at most times when people want to travel, including off-peak hours. There should be direct services with minimum interchanges to most destinations. The vehicle itself should be convenient to board and provide a comfortable ride.

Clearly, major modifications are needed to create such a commuter-friendly system. Roads which provide safe access to buses. Bus stops designed to suit the convenience of commuters and buses. Arterial roads with exclusive bus lanes, and traffic signals with bus priority phase. Bus routing and information display system backed up with a team of technical experts.

One of the most important issues is to address the needs of pedestrians. Since every bus commuter is a pedestrian at the beginning and end of his trip, we should provide segregated lanes for non-motorised vehicles, specially near the bus stops, and design spaces for hawkers so that they continue to provide services to road users, and do not encroach upon the carriageway meant for bus movements. Institutional structures which enable continuous monitoring, evaluation and upgradation of the system are also needed.

Since road space in a city like Delhi is limited, what kind of changes need to be made to implement a high capacity bus system?

Delhi has an extensive road network, nearly 1,000 km of arterial roads. However, the present utilisation of road space and the traffic mix present on the road create congested conditions and unruly traffic behaviour. The basic changes required in the present road system in Delhi for HCBS include provision of a segregated lane for slow-moving vehicles (bicycles and rickshaws) in addition to service roads. Then, at least one lane can be reserved for the exclusive use of buses. And the other two for cars, scooters and other motorised vehicles. Bus stops have to be redesigned to allow spaces for hawkers so that they do not encroach upon the road, and the buses can stop at the designated bus lane.

At a later stage intersections would have to be redesigned to give priority to bus movement. As per international norms for urban roads, these modifications are possible on most major roads in Delhi.

How useful is this system for other Indian cities?

All the 40-odd cities in India with a million-plus population have mixed traffic. Most city governments are also working with limited financial resources. HCBS offers a viable and feasible transport option for these cities, which can be implemented in stages. It will also enable introduction of a modern, clean and safe transport system for growing cities.

Has this system been successfully implemented elsewhere in the world?

This system has been very successfully implemented in many Latin American, European and Asian cities. Curitiba in Brazil was the first to adopt it. It has also been introduced in Bogota in Columbia, Nagoya in Japan, Utrecht in Holland and Kunming in China. Bangalore will be the first city in India to adopt it.
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Buzz About Buses
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