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It's the right choice, baby!

Rahul Kamat

Even as big cities including Mumbai and Banglore plan to go for the metro rail, Union Minister for Urban Development, Jaipal Reddy, has urged cities to consider alternative technologies, especially the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) to ease the growing traffic congestion. Taking their cue from the minister, most people from transport fraternity have agreed that transport is a state subject and it should not waste public funds on MRTS. Therefore, it is practical to adopt a cost-effective system like BRTS for public transport.
BRTS stands for an efficient, economical, modern urban bus transport arrangement that makes it possible to move a large number of commuters reliably and swiftly by bus. The system need not necessarily have a large fleet of buses. But it should have dedicated bus lanes, platforms only as high as bus floors, smooth bus movement, computer controlled traffic signals, use of smart cards and a rapid ticketing systems.
The system generally uses existing arterial roads, and it can reach all parts of the city. The main difference between BRTS and MRTS is that the former is a flexible system operating on roads, whereas the latter becomes a fixed system that must be well below or above the surface, requiring passengers to use steps, escalators and lifts.
Dr. Walter Hook, Executive Director, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, states, "Priority should be given to a high capacity bus system, and urban planners should improve facilities for cyclists and pedestrians. The concerned departments and authorities should take measures to control the use of private vehicles. All these efforts will lead to less congestion, less fuel consumption and environment-friendly roads."
Speaking to Projectmonitor, renowned transport expert and coordinator of Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme, IIT Delhi, Dr. Dinesh Mohan, came out in strong favour for BRTS. He mentioned that all transport systems that require elevated or underground travel are extremely expensive. However, whenever a BRTS is implemented, the whole road has to be rebuilt, giving the city a new look. Surprisingly, much of the BRTS cost goes in improving roads for pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. He also pointed out that in the process of rebuilding roads for including dedicated bus lanes, all street furniture also gets renovated.
On the other hand it seems that people like Rajendra Mehta, Transportation and Planning Group, Mumbai, cannot say which system is better -- BRTS or MRTS. He clarifies that it depends upon urban development pattern, corridor travel demand, affordability of commuters and traffic congestion. It is possible to have both the systems on specific corridors.
BRTS is cheaper and more flexible than MRTS. However, MRTS technology is a proven system which has been implemented in metro cities in the West. But BRTS, with exclusive right of way, priority at traffic signals, advanced information display system and efficient planning of bus stops and passenger safety; does have a potential in metro cities.
As regards the Sky Bus project, it failed to impress the Central authority on the safety issue. Ultimately the Rane government in Goa scrapped the project. The lesson from this episode is that the same fate should not fall on BRTS or MRTS projects.
Dr. Dinesh Mohan amplified, "Technically, grade separated systems are designed to be safe, but because they operate in tunnels or on elevated tracks, they need a huge security force to prevent sabotage, which is an additional cost for government." However, the construction of MRTS, monorail or light rail does not reduce accidents on roads. For instance, the Delhi experience shows that road accidents have not decreased in the capital since the construction of the first phase of the MRTS project.
On the safety issue Balkrishnan comments, "With regards to safety, BRTS is a surface system, and in any accident help is available for passengers without any difficulty. MRTS may be partly underground, but the risks apply here also." However, since BRTS requires a segregated bus way, the risk of collision with other vehicles is minimal.
"The bus rapid transit system is the only proven method for shifting passengers from private cars to public transport. BRTS usually involves changing and upgrading buses in the existing fleet to induce modern and cleaner buses," remarked Dr. Hook.

[01 May 2006]



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