Let us get on the bus

The BRTS facilities should be replete with attractive features to wean car users away from their machines.

When a metropolis spreads out and gets ungainly, automobile poverty is a possibility. When this sprawling metropolis lacks an effective network of rapid transit systems, automobile poverty becomes a reality for many residents. They are forced to develop an unhealthy dependence on private transport, especially cars, and spend heavily on fuel and maintenance.

Carpooling is often suggested as a solution. As it offers the promise of shared costs of travel, it is an attractive option. However, in Chennai, carpooling is still in its nascent stage, and is often restricted to friends and colleagues. Flexible carpooling, a popular model in the West that enables strangers to connect and share their cars, requires the involvement of government agencies, creation of  designated boarding points and a government-regulated system of registration that would address security concerns.

Experts grappling with the question of urban travel point out that even when carpooling gets sophisticated in Chennai, it can only be a part of the solution. According to them, a complete solution comprises Bus Rapid Transit System lines that are integrated with the Metro and suburban lines and a state-regulated, technology-driven carpooling system.

“Car poolers may drive their cars fewer times. But they still spend the same amount of time on the road. They are still losing the time they could have spent with their family. And carpooling does not lead to substantial decrease in the number of vehicles on the road,” says Aswathy Dilip, senior associate, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

Unlike in the West, carpoolers here cannot expect to drive on fast, high-occupancy lanes, at least for now.

“Even if separate fast lanes are provided to car-poolers, I feel it is only a matter of time before these lanes are also full with cars moving at snail’s pace. For a more sustainable solution, Chennai needs a bus rapid transit system (BRTS) that would complement the Metro. When well-integrated with the Metro, a high quality BRTS can significantly expand the reach of mass rapid transit in the city. BRTS lines are quick and cheap to implement. Developing countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico primarily extended their mass rapid transit with Metro-quality BRTS,” she says.

The BRTS facilities should be replete with attractive features to wean car users away from their machines. “In these countries, these systems feature not only dedicated median lanes for buses to bypass congestion but also provide Metro-like conveniences such as high-quality stations and coaches, step-less boarding, off-board fare collection, and real-time passenger information to reduce delays and improve customer service,” adds Mrs. Dilip. Closer home, we have the example of Ahmedabad BRTS, which is the pride of that city, having garnered many awards for its efficiency.

Experts believe unhealthy usage of cars is inevitable when the development is car-oriented. Raj Cherubal, director (projects), Chennai City Connect, says the focus has to shift to transit-oriented development.

“By judicious introduction of Metro and BRTS lines along major corridors that are connected by radial roads, the reliance on cars can be minimised. By allowing higher building density in areas proximate to corridors that have mass rapid transit systems and lower building density in the areas that are further away from these corridors, optimal use of these systems can be encouraged. This model has been effectively employed in cities like Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong,” says Mr. Cherubal.

How close is Chennai to having its first BRTS line? A few years ago, there was much talk about a BRTS network for Chennai, and now the project seems almost forgotten. There have also been reports that it has been shelved. “The project is in the planning stage. It’s very much on,” says Christopher Kost, technical director, ITDP, which had carried out the feasibility study for the project.

Kost believes that on many developed corridors within the city, BRTS holds the key to solving the problem of traffic congestion.

These areas may not be appropriate for the Metro, but they are just right for the BRTS.

On the road

1. Chennai needs 410 km of mass rapid transit. Along with the existing and proposed services, an additional 230 km is required.

2. Bus rapid transit system (BRTS) can be easily implemented on wide corridors.

3. One bus on a BRTS line is more effective than 20 cars that carpool, assuming that each car carries four passengers.

4. Every future road should come with the provision for mass transit systems.

5. BRTS lines should be integrated with other mass transit systems in the city, including the suburban rail networks and the Metro.

6. Carpooling is an attractive option, but cannot entirely address the problem of automobile poverty.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 6:45:33 PM |

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