Dario Hidalgo is a transport expert and consultant. As Director, Integrated Transport, he guides the EMBARQ Network’s international team of transport engineers, urban planning specialists and environmental scientists. Excerpts from an interview:
What were the reasons behind the failure of Delhi’s BRT corridor?
The project was not a complete BRT. A complete BRT goes beyond bus lanes and bus stops; it is a systematic approach for improving multiple aspects of the passenger experience and bus operations. It includes enclosed stations, centralised management of the bus fleet, adequate access facilities, and continued maintenance and improvement. However, it is important to note that despite the corridor being incomplete, the majority of the users of the road benefited: speed was much higher for bus commuters and there is a facility for bicyclists unique in Delhi. But the minority of users of the general traffic lanes felt the congestion increased, and this was caused by badly operated intersections. The time cycles were excessively long, and there were too many phases to accommodate turning movements. As a result, there were very long delays and queues that affected cars, two and three-wheelers. The corridor was also too short to impact bus travel.
Do you think it’s a wise decision to dismantle it or it could have been salvaged with design and IT intervention?
In a study in 2009, jointly with CSE, we recommended to upgrade the corridor and improve the management of the intersections. Rather than dismantling, we suggested modifications in infrastructure, management and operations. We were not the only ones suggesting to improve instead of scrapping it. We were concerned, for instance, with the lack of pedestrian crossings in long stretches, so people needing to cross were jumping the barriers. It was also suggested to manage the operations (dispatch, frequency) and modify the way traffic lights were programmed. There are many successful BRTs around the world (Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Guangzhou, Istanbul) and even in India (Ahmedabad, Surat, Indore, Bhopal). Their conditions can be adapted to the local needs in Delhi.
The lobby that opposes BRT in Delhi argues that traffic in Indian cities is completely different from the rest of the world. Trucks and buses, cars, and motor-cycles jostle for space with slow moving and non-motorised vehicles. Hence a “foreign concept” like BRT can never be successful.
All cities of the world claim to being unique, but the prevailing way of improving traffic is always the same — expand roads and build flyovers for cars. This supply sided approach has not worked anywhere in the world. Expanding roads creates more traffic. It is true that Delhi has very heavy traffic conditions and adequate solutions for Delhi include more compact urban planning (to avoid long trips), improved facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists, better public transport — inclusive but not limited to Metro and BRT, and introduction of traffic demand management measures. It is also true that the mix of vehicles is very diverse; but the design so far has concentrated in automobiles. Delhi can learn and adapt good practices from around the world, and the principle to prioritise people over cars is universal. I feel that Metro, highways and flyovers are also ‘foreign concepts’ to Delhi. BRT is no different in that sense.
How can we learn from the failed experience of Delhi? What changes would you like to see in the new BRT in Delhi in terms of the choice of the corridor, road design, technology and the implementation?
Delhi will not solve its mobility issues with a single approach. Delhi and other cities in India need to combine several measures. Well-designed and operated BRT needs to be part of the public transport mix. The growth of Metro has been amazing, and the positive impacts it has had for Delhi people (despite the relatively high user fare). But Metro will not reach every corner of Delhi, and will not serve all type of trips. People need to walk long distance to the stations and make multiple transfers. Combining Metro with BRT, local buses and even rickshaws and bicycles for the last mile connectivity is a sensible approach. Many corridors in Delhi can improve with BRT and the overall travel experience would be much better than today. But comprehensive implementation and adequate operations need to be part of BRT planning.