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This might not come as good news for the 55 lakh commuters who use Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) buses every day, but a pilot project to implement a dedicated bus lane on a three-km stretch from Koyambedu to Padi might never see the light of day.

The stretch was supposed to have a dedicated bus lane with four bus bays en route on either side of the road. The buses were supposed to get priority at intersections. With the Metro Rail coming up, the proposal has been put on hold.

While the Metro Rail is being looked at as the big-ticket project to solve Chennai's transportation woes, the worry is that other equally essential solutions might be overlooked.

“Cities must focus on public transport which is all over the city, not a few Taj Mahals,” said Dinesh Mohan, Transportation Professor at IIT-Delhi and vocal opponent of the Delhi Metro project. Using a simple cost analysis, he said Bus Rapid Transit Systems (BRTS) could be as effective as a Metro for a tenth of the cost.

The average cost of construction per kilometre of the first phase of the Delhi Metro was Rs.162.63 crore. Based on projections, the cost per kilometre for the Chennai Metro would be Rs.178 crore. In contrast, a BRTS systems costs about Rs.10 crore per km.

Mr. Mohan said that while the traffic projections on the 64-km phase-I of the Delhi Metro was 29 lakh commuters per day, the 112-km line in operational use now serves only about 11 lakh commuters per day. “The projections are grossly exaggerated. The half-completed 7-km Delhi BRT carries as many passengers as the Metro during rush hour. Cities must concentrate on improving bus transport which benefits everyone,” he said.

A former Managing Director of MTC, R.Balasubramanian, who is now director of the Pune-based Central Institute of Road Transport, said that a dedicated bus lane was proposed on Rajiv Gandhi Salai four years ago.

According to him, the project could still be implemented by linking it with the inter-modal Metro station at Guindy and creating a network up to Siruseri. “If bus transit is not prioritised, it will never be an attractive option,” he said.

Pointing out that a Metro project is as much about the aspirational need of a city as it is about traffic demand, Raj Cherubal of Chennai City Connect said, “Simply putting tracks for buses won't work. A well-connected transport network in the city is more important than the debate between bus and train. The best solution is to have a BRTS which fills the gap in the Metro network. In some places, it can even be run by the Metro to ensure quality and comfort.”

The recently inaugurated 22.5-km Guangzhou BRTS in China adopts this model. It is the first BRT to directly connect to a metro system and serves 8 lakh commuters per day.

A senior Metro Rail official said that “such integration with a bus system is very much possible.” After consultations, Metro Rail might undertake a traffic study to ascertain viability. “If approved, it will be taken up as a ‘special initiatives' project,” the official added.