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Monday, March 24, 2008

a critique on BRTS

The following is the full text of the comments under 'guest column' on page 2 of TOI today.

Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) when operated with high capacity buses gets to be called High Capacity Bus System (HCBS).

Curitiba in Brazil supposedly pioneered this model, following the 'success' of which quite a few other cities across the world have adopted it. In India, a team of technocrats from IIT, Delhi have been advocating this model from long, and as a result, the city of New Delhi has just about launched this scheme along one route, with a few more set to follow soon. The Delhi experiment has been receiving a lot of flak in the local media, which the supporters of the model would like to label as the propaganda by METRO/ MONO - rail, and automobile lobbies.

Now, whether BRTS or HCBS, both call for dedicated lanes in the centre of a given road. Allowing for 20 + 20 ft for the dedicated lanes on either side of a 10 ft wide median to accommodate the bus stops, it will leave just 50 ft for everything else on a 100 ft (between the outer edges of the drains on either side) road, like the one in Indiranagar. Thus, after providing for 20 ft lanes on either side for the general traffic, which by themselves are going to be terribly crammed, you will be left with a balance of 5 ft on either edges for drains, foot-paths, utility lines, etc. Plainly, that will mean the end of the majestic trees along this road.

The question further is how many roads do you have of this width in Bangalore?

Now, going by plain logic, supposing in any given route direction, BMTC is operating at a frequency of a bus every 3 minutes, and the buses are moving at an average speed of 10 kmph, there will be a gap of 500 M between any two buses. As such, if a lane is dedicated exclusively for the buses, it will then push out 100 other vehicles from this 500 M stretch (making for 200 vehicles per km), assuming an average vehicle length of 5M, and near bumper-to-bumper traffic conditions. This is total under utilisation of high demand city road space. If the cost of this much of land is factored into the project costing, particularly in cities like Bangalore, then the differential between the METRO-rail and the HCBS will narrow considerably.

The above apart, the access structures to the bus stops on the central median, can be fairly complicated and costly, particularly if you are following the Curitiba model. Also, while getting the traffic to move smoothly along straight road stretches is generally not a serious issue, the challenge is in getting them to negotiate the junctions smoothly. In this, the BRTS, for all its engineering, fails to provide satisfactory solutions.

There is a telling picture of a stretch of road in some city, which has adopted the model, showing an empty stretch of over 100M behind a bus on a dedicated lane, even as the adjoining lane (in the same direction) is totally cluttered with vehicles of all kinds, particularly two-wheelers. Very clearly, even with having introduced the HCBS on dedicated lanes, it has not caused citizens to switch from the use of their two-wheelers, leading to the problems aggravating even further.

Thus, while dedicated lanes may be OK on stretches leading to and from bus depots, or on stretches where the frequency is higher than say a bus every 15 seconds, on regular roads, they are totally ill-advised. Rather than dedicated lanes, total ban on private vehicles (meaning - vehicles other than buses, taxi's and auto's) on select stretches, during peak hours, would any day be preferable.

All these apart, BRT schemes are invariably envisaged as operations by Companies promoted by Municipalities, with 'artificial monopoly' (as different from natural monopoly situations, like in the case of power distribution) franchises being tendered out for different districts/ routes. In the case of the Indore city set up, for example (a presentation on which was made in Bangalore recently), the Company takes all decisions with regard to routes, fares, types of buses, schedules, etc, with hardly any discretion being left to the service providers. While the revenue generation out of cash sales comes straight into the hands of the individual operators, out of the earnings from sale of monthly passes (which are managed by the Company), a fixed sum of the order of Rs 22,000/- per bus per month is made over to them. If the targets are not achieved, which could very well happen considering the various kinds of forces at play, it will eventually lead to a subsidy regime.

Also, with far too many controls and restrictions still in place, I expect, TATA's, TVS's would still want to keep a safe distance, leaving the field to the local mafia chieftains to play ball with the Company authorities, more or less like the PWD operations in most states.

All in all, BRTS is not exactly a satisfactory model. In the case of Bangalore, the Bangalore Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA) has been instituted. There is a proposal to strengthen and broad-base it. Once that is in done, what Bangalore needs to do is to facilitate the entry of players of the stature of TATA's and TVS's to provide the services in open competition with the BMTC, on a level playing field, with the minimum of restrictions. Public bus transport services today is too vital an infrastructure area not to have the competent services of such players.


  • Before you buy this argument about the "efficient use of road space" please see this video

    By Blogger Ranjit Gadgil, at 12:06 AM  

  • Dear Ranjit

    I am very much for according primacy to movement of public transport vehicles, particularly buses. My blog can be accessed from the face page of my master blog), is all about that, and more! Please read the very first posting made in Sept '06. I have listed out a policy framework, which envisages entry of corporates like TATAs and TVS (My first exposure to the name TVS was as the public bus transport service povider in the city of Madurai, way back in the 60's) into the field. If that can be implemented, BRT with all its deficiencies, will become redundant.

    During the interaction session, following his talk at the Centre for Policy Planning, IIM, Bangalore, even Dr Madhav Badami, a public transportion expert and normally a proponent of BRT, had readily conceded that BRT is best suited to wide long corridors. Most Indian cities do not have enough of them. Apart from that are the problems related to their operations, with too much of government controls, about which I have already elaborated earlier.

    By Blogger murali772, at 11:30 PM  

  • My response to the CSE press release outlines why the BRT should not be priority.

    To, CSE

    I have seen your press release dated 25 April 08 as well as the presentation.

    Thank you for compiling it. But I would have thought the message of getting other priorities in place before considering BRT should have been louder and clearer. Instead the eye-catching blue coloured bood text at the start mis-informs the readers and BRT lovers that BRT is one utopian tool which will solve all the problems. Equally, I find the lack of acknowledgement of how well BEST serves Mumbai in most transport related articles rather amusing. When we have a successful model to copy, why look elsewhere. Sadly it is good enough for politicians wanting to show the masses they are doing something significant (prior to elections).

    Pune is a classic example. The news of Pune being the first to get BRT was all over the news. Sadly Pune BRT could not have happened at a worse time. The reasons being that a city that actually has no travel worthy bus service was piloting BRT. More on this below -

    I do feel that JNNURM funds are being wasted due to wrongful prioritisation of BRT over a basic bus service that Pune Municipal Transport (PMT) should offer. JNNURM funds are offered conditionally, the fundamental prerequisite is modernising reforms of the given Organisation. This means optimisation of workforce, resources and changes in work culture and ethos. None of this is in focus currently. But there are bigger issues.

    An enormmous amount of money is being spent on BRTS when simpler solutions may not only serve the city well, but also are a bigger priority than mega projects such as BRTS. I say this on basis of my analysis of the CIRT report of the BRTS project in Pune.

    Some drawbacks of the BRTS as it is planned now -
    It is tragic that the average total passenger trips across all these different routes (proposed for BRTS) is just 8170 / hour. By many standards this is a rather small number.

    Peak hour is not defined any where. It is vital to know this, as it may differ for different routes.

    Average length of BRTS routes = 2.8 miles or 4.5 km.

    Still worse is the fact that Passenger Trips on Buses / total passenger trips for several BRTS roads is above 50% already!!

    Bibwewadi Road = 69.75
    Saswad Road = 68.46
    Satara Road = 66.78
    Ahmednagar Road = 66.31
    Sangamwadi to Kharadi IT Park = 66.31
    Yerawada to Bhairoba Nala = 61.63
    Paud Road = 60.83
    Solapur Road = 57
    Old Mumbai Road = 56.88

    The above data suggests that existing service of PMT (however poor it may be) is doing a reasonable job. BRTS will only add speed on these short stretches, but by how many minutes? If one travels 8km at 30 km per hour it takes 16 minutes or 8 minutes at 60km / hour. Simple maths suggests that for short distances speed never matters. So for 4.5 km by buses travelling at 60 and not 30 we will save 4 minutes.

    I completely agree with the idea of BRTS buses having doors on the left, only then can they integrate with non-BRTS routes. But in such an event why was there a need to build stops in the centre of the road? The dedicated routes could well have been on the periphery - making it easier and more cost-effective instead of having to build pedestrian pathways to the stops. In the absence of safe paved pathways to central bus stops many people are unable to use BRTS right now.

    Without investing in PMT which serve the feeder routes, investing in BRTS makes little sense - will people be expected to travel in rickshaws / personal vehicles to get to BRTS routes?

    Instead there is a strong case made by above for -

    Rationalising and improving PMT services: anyone who cares to read the JNNURM's protocols will become aware that there is no rule that they fund only BRTS like projects. PMT/PMC should be asking for funding to improve the quality and quantity of PMT buses. At least 1500 buses are the need of the hour. Also, PMT runs too many routes, several dozens less than 10km. This is where revamping and rationalisation of routes is vital (like the BEST routes which run length and breadth of Mumbai and overlap thus making huge choice and frequencies a reality). Mumbai has 350 routes covering 3 times the area and 4 million passengers per day (= to Pune's population), it is hard to understand why PMT has over 200 routes with just about 1000 buses?

    The idea is to plan routes such that most roads (especially main ones) are served by several buses at a time by implementing overlapping routes.

    An example is as under -

    You can have two routes each from Pashan, Baner and Aundh going to Karve road. But each route will be either via SB Marg or University road. Thus for people on SB Marg and University Road, there are 3 buses that could do the trick (with possible wait of just 5 minutes before next bus) of getting towards Karve road destinations. And they could all have minor variations - the 3 buses on SB Marg could go via LC road (one cutting through Prabhat Rd).

    Indeed there should be buses from Baner and Aundh going to Karve road via Pashan road, Bawdha and paud road - but it is a matter of thinking through longer overlapping routes unlike the current situation where huge proportion of routes are less than 10km long.

    When I lived in Bombay at Haji-Ali or Girgaum - If I wanted to go to Dadar, there were as many as 6 buses doing that as this stretch of road was common to several South Bombay buses going in different ways to the subsrbs beyond Dadar. I loved BEST as it grew its fleet in 80/90s - There were routes connecting all public hospitals, tourist places and some that took you from Colaba to Vashi.

    We need a reformed PMT, in adequate number of travel worthy buses (to be honest 850 buses could do the trick). This in my opinion (for what its worth) is a prerequisite for BRT to be successful (it cannot work the other way round). We also need a single ticketing structure (allow pass holders to board on-off unlimited numbers of times). Do this and Bus Patronage may be much higher.

    A bus service without a comprehensive business model is useless. If there is hope to reduce use of 2 wheelers one has to beat them at the cost-effectiveness they offer. Investing wrongly in BRT is only going to affect ticketing and make bus travel costlier - how would one then win over people in favour of public transport? A comprehensive package is needed and I suggest you have a look at the article - Pune caught in a whirlpool, can we rescue it to look at bold measures that need consideration (only after getting a basic good quality travel worthy bus service in place).

    Other measures:

    Improving bus priority with simpler methods such as bus lane enforcement (rather than widening roads for dedicated lanes) during peak hours only. For more details on how in UK roads smaller than SB Marg have bus lanes on either side, read my summary of the Bus Priority - a Resource pack acquired from Dept. of Transport, UK by clicking here. PTTF and Dr Kareer were provided entire CD ROM of this resource pack. A summary of the contents of the CD on Bus Priority is available as a download.

    Unfortunately the reports from PMC, Delhi IIT and CIRT - all focus on BRTS. Not one of them compares potential benefits and disadvantages of BRTS against other forms of Bus based public transport with improved priority (BEST model or the UK model). The terms of refrence to any review should have been wider to avoid overwhelming bias in favour of BRTS.

    I doubt if any builder wishing to build a 5 story building will start with 5th floor first. The foundation will have to come first. Similarly, the focus of any improvment in Public transport should be PMT first, then BRT (I am not against it, but it should not be our priority) and not other way round.

    It will be fair to say that the only city whichis ready to consider use of BRT is Mumbai given a fully functional BEST service.

    I end by requesting you and other bodies / experts to emphasise that getting the basics right is vital and without it spending on BRT was a criminal waste of tax payers money.

    Dr Joglekar

    Visit to view my 17 driver education videos covering all aspects of defensive driving in India and join me in changing the way India drives.

    By Blogger AJ, at 3:46 AM  

  • Your blog is very nice... i like your blog ....

    Madurai Hotels

    By Blogger vineshkumar, at 5:48 AM  

  • What u think if BRTS projects in india will go in the same direction as per your observation and study, which city is able to apply this modal under JNNURM ?

    I am An Architect and Urban Planner Student. I am Thinking About this BRTS Feasibility across gujarat region as a thesis Research. Please Help me in finding the Drawbacks of BRTS, In design and Planning Point of view.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 4:31 AM  

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    By Blogger Unknown, at 1:33 AM  

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    By Blogger Unknown, at 12:20 AM  

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