BRT - Bus Rapid Transit - I

There's lot of discussion going on about BRT in last few months. There seems to be more confusion and that too based on some prejudices and self-made-assumptions. In an attempt to answer few of those queries and create a better environment to understand the whole BRT system, few of my friends has started a series on BRT FAQ. All of us belong to a movement which is named as 'Save Pune Traffic Movement' and more details about this movement could be found here.

I thank Harshad Abhyankar, Rajendra Sidhaye and other folks in the movement for allowing me to re-publish the FAQ that they are putting together with a lot of effort.

BRT Prologue:

  1. What is BRT?

BRT is not just high quality clean fuel buses moving in dedicated lanes at high speeds. Not just clean and well-designed bus stations, ticketing and passenger information boards, route maps etc. All these are of course important and need to be executed to the highest standard possible, but this is only part of the total picture. BRT (unlike PMT) will attract ridership that today refuses to get into a bus or has stopped doing so on account of switch over to personal auto mode.

Other than the passenger carrying component, cities where BRT has transformed the look and feel of cities and made citizens love their city instead of hating it, is the urban renovation carried out in conjunction with planning and implementation of BRT.

In Curitiba, Mayor Jaime Lerner linked the BRT to poorest localities of the city, introduced "food for garbage scheme" where the slum population get fruit and vegetables in exchange for segregated garbage collected each day by the municipal authorities. This has led to the slums becoming cleaner than the rest of the city. He also developed many gardens with water bodies (to counter the effect of perennial flooding), car free streets and public spaces especially for the poorer sections.

In Bogota, Enrique Penalosa is best known for creating the world's best BRT system - the TransMilenio, but lesser known is his contribution to promoting sustainable Urban Development. Some examples (list is too long to quote here) Led a massive effort to improve Bogota's neighbourhoods infrastructure and promoted high citizens involvement, created a successful Urban Land Reform Institution, large improvements to the city centre including the recuperation of plazas, creation of a large park in an area previously totally taken over by crime and drugs, turned one of the main downtown avenues under severe deterioration into a dynamic pedestrian public space. Built more than a hundred nurseries for children under 5 and assured resources for their operation, increased children's enrollment in public schools by more than 200,000 a 34% increase in four years, planted more than 100,000 trees. Promoted a city model giving priority to children and public spaces, restricting private car use; built hundreds of kilometers of footpaths, more than 300 kilometers of bicycle paths, pedestrian only streets - one of which is more than 17 kilometers long and 15 meters wide through some of the poorest neighborhoods... created/resurrected more than 1,200 parks, introduced annual carfree days etc.

  1. Promotion of BRT

Flowing from above, the promotion of BRT needs to go beyond just the technical details of lane widths, size and capacity of bus stations, distance between bus stops, ridership counts, origin and destination surveys etc. Again these are no doubt important and even essential but what’s really important is the need to include and spell out the benefits as enabling the creation of really good (wide, safe, smooth and uninterrupted) footpaths for pedestrians, citywide cycle tracks, creation of Public Spaces, gardens, parks, walkways with trees for shade, benches, cycle stands and public conveniences for those who walk (whether into a BRT bus or not). So also facilities for hawkers, rickshaws and vehicle parking at major stops (again) for making the life of the BRT user more comfortable and safe. Another key factor is the introduction of TDM (traffic demand management) measures. None of us is talking about this. On the contrary some are even talking about the need to protect the rights of personal vehicle users!!!

  1. Criticism of BRT

If one believes in the above wider benefits, the criticism will not get stuck in technical engineering aspects alone. Whether side or median dedicated lane(*), whether split stations or common stations for two way flow of BRT buses, whether pre-board ticketing or given by the conductor inside the bus. Whether diesel or CNG, whether Rs. 70 lakh Volvo or Rs. 20 to 30 lakh Tata/Leyland? All these are again to a greater or lesser degree important. Neglect will make BRT unviable. However these are not make-or-break components, so while we should fight tooth and nail with PMC to ensure their inclusion, we should at the same time be very careful to ensure that our criticism isn't misread as a verdict rejecting BRT itself on these grounds.

  1. Projected impacts from a well executed BRT

Shift (at least partial) from personal auto use to BRT, opening up large spaces for public use, space for pedestrians, space and opportunity for citywide network of cycle tracks, space for parks instead of parking, reducing the danger to city's natural and built environment, reducing pollution (from decline in use of personal auto vehicles) and improving health and elevating the liveability index of the city.

(*) BRT was pioneered in Curitiba. It is one of the best systems in the world and it operates on side lanes, as in several other cities. However majority of cities subsequently going in for BRT (including the best in the world - Bogota's TransMilenio) have been opting for the median dedicated lanes.


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