Proponents of the BRTS say it is a much cheaper option than the Metro. But it needs a dedicated pathway and standardised infrastructure for optimal results. It must be given a chance to perform 

After the success of the Delhi Metro Rail Project, the Delhi government asked IIT-Delhi and RITES in 2004 to design and implement the first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor in Delhi along a 5.8-km stretch from Ambedkar Nagar to Mool Chand. From the day it opened in 2008, though, it has faced protests, particularly from private vehicle users, because their travel time increased.

Some media groups launched campaigns against the system, and with politicians joining the chorus, the government put on hold 14 similar projects.

Things did not end there. Some citizens took the matter to the Delhi High Court. The Central Road Research Institute conducted a study at the instance of the court and noted: “No BRT option yields better benefits for this corridor with the given traffic conditions.”

After experimental trials in May, it also said “allowing of other vehicles to ply on the earmarked lane for buses yielded better benefits for all the road-users [ than the] BRT solution.”

Based on the CRRI report, the court directed in mid-July that all categories of vehicles be allowed to ply on the dedicated bus lanes. The government vowed to move the Supreme Court against the order, with which it did not comply. It has been issued a contempt notice, and has to reply by August 8.

Government counsel K.T.S. Tulsi says: “The CRRI report is full of contradictions. In fact, it supports the continuation of BRT with its conclusion that 70 per cent of its users were moving faster and there was a 32 per cent increase in bus ridership.” Car owners, he adds, are the major protesting group.

Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has said BRT is “for the common man,” but it faces hurdles from “vested interests.” A big question mark now hangs over the present project, while uncertainty persists on the continuation of the system as a whole.

S.N. Sahai, Managing Director and CEO of Delhi Multi-Modal Integrated Transit System (DIMTS) Limited, which manages the system, insists that BRT is important because it is impossible for road space to increase at the rate at which vehicles are being added. “Nearly 25 per cent of Delhi’s area is already covered with roads. In London and other cities, that area is about 15 per cent.”

“The main advantage of BRT can be seen during rush hour as it gives preference to buses, which, on average, carry around 40 people, instead of cars or other private vehicles. A bus occupies the space of just about two cars and carries about 10 times as many people,” Mr. Sahai explains.

DIMTS officials point out that BRT is a low-cost option, compared to the Metro. One km of BRT costs Rs. 15-20 crore, about 20 times less than Metro which costs around Rs. 300-400 crore a km. In Delhi, BRT carries around 12,400 passengers per hour per direction as against about 25,000 for Delhi Metro. But car owners see a vacant lane for buses and wonder why they cannot use it.

There are other factors too. Planners earmarked a 4.5-metre space for pedestrians and cyclists, which is seen as underused, while providing motorised vehicle users 7.5 metres and bus lanes 3.3 metres on each carriageway.

Learning from experience, DIMTS has proposed several modifications in six new BRT projects. “Fewer junctions to reduce stoppage and waiting time, grade separators to eliminate junctions and a special purpose vehicle to run dedicated buses at high frequency.