Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bhopal BRTS - dismantle the corridor

Of late, there have been reports that the Bhopal Municipal Corporation is going top operationalise the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) from the 1st January 2013. A fiat seems to have been issued in this regard by the Municipal Commissioner and the officials concerned are reported to be working overtime to carry out the dictat. That the bus corridor and the roads for the normal traffic are far from ready does not seem to concern the Commissioner. His anxiety is to somehow commission the project. Perhaps there is pressure from above and if there indeed is any, one can understand the reasons. The completion of the project has been inordinately delayed. Approved in April 2006 the work on the project could not start before February 2009. Over the last four years or so the Municipal Corporation has missed as many as four deadlines for its completion.

The ambitious JN National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) under which the project is being implemented was launched in 2005. Since then BRTSs have been commissioned in New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Pune. While at many places these are under construction, in many others they are still in planning stage. The Bhopal System that is under-construction for around four years, however, does not quite hold out an example to others for emulation.

The initial mistake seems to have been to allot the project to the Municipal Corporation for implementation. The Corporation, as is evident, has less than modest capability. When it is not able to carry out its day to day civic functions to the satisfaction of the people, to expect it to competently and efficiently implement this massive project in time was futile. One can only wonder at the wisdom of the state government in handing over the project to the local body knowing full well its track record of all–round failure in rendering civic services. Jaipur and Ahmedabad created special purpose vehicles (SPV) for construction of their respective BRTSs and these were completed well in time. They are now in the stage of planning for further extensions.

Ahmedabad BRTS
Ahmedabad BRTS is reported to be so good that it has elicited inquiries from several foreign countries, especially from South-East Asia and Africa. It was developed by Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board which entrusted the designing work to the Centre of Environmental Planning & Technology University (CEPT). The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority and the Gujarat government established Ahmedabad Janmarg Ltd, a special purpose vehicle to execute the project. Incidentally, the CEPT has since been engaged by the MP government to suggest measures for effective conservation of the Upper Lake. Why it could not be engaged for designing the Bhopal BRTS is a question that needs to be answered by the government. 

The Bhopal Citizens’ Forum had requested the state Chief Secretary many months ago to constitute, in absence of a SPV, a fully empowered authority for planning and overseeing the implementation of the Project as also for effective deployment of both, financial and human resources. It was contended that such an empowered body would be able to take prompt decisions and clear obstacles in construction, wherever they occurred. This, however, was not agreed to and the Municipal Corporation is carrying out the work with its lees than adequate capability and acumen. The result is there for all to see. Many stretches of the road are still incomplete. Of the two flyovers to be constructed in the older portion of the town one is under construction, the other one is still in the design stage. Even the Habibganj railway over-bridge is nowhere near completion.

Unlike other BRT systems in the country the one in Bhopal is to pass through the old parts of the town where the roads are narrow and have no space for the six lanes that are necessary for it. What, therefore, is being done is to push back the walls of the government and semi-government properties as far as possible. In regard to the private properties nothing much, however, can be done and there are any number of them. Only time will tell whether taking the System right through the narrow and congested roads of the old city was wise or not.  

Another mistake made in planning the system seems to have been in reckoning the width of the roads on two sides of the corridor on the basis of the traffic volumes of the middle of last decade. Since then the number of vehicles of all types on the roads has increased manifold. The up and down carriageways for the ordinary vehicular traffic are, therefore, going to be far too inadequate with the constant addition of private and commercial vehicles on the roads. In an interview the municipal officials admitted this fact. With their myopic vision what they have done, therefore, is to impose a permanent handicap on the city’s traffic on its busy arterial roads. 

The Municipal officials have now reportedly expressed their feeling that the BRTS (presumably with its bus corridor) is a Western concept which has been imposed on this country. Surely, at the time of planning they could have kept in mind the local conditions. While there are still not very many buses plying in the city, the corridor is going to remain under-utilised for many years, what with lack of feeder services and absence of parking spaces near the stops. The main purpose of the BRTS of nudging people from personalised transport to public transport is, therefore, going to remain unfulfilled for quite some years, given the snail’s pace at which the Municipal Corporation carries out its works.

In the circumstances, one tends to feel that for the sake of ensuring smoother traffic flows perhaps it would be worthwhile to do away with the corridor. Three plus three lanes right through the corridor for up and down traffic should be adequate provided its movement is strictly managed. In that event traffic police will have to become more proactive in training, controlling and monitoring the traffic and strictly dealing with traffic offenders. There are unlikely to be bottlenecks and buses and other vehicles are likely to move at a reasonable pace. Dismantling of the corridor would, surely, mean waste of the money already spent. The Municipal Corporation should have no qualms about it, having wasted lakhs on enlarging several rotaries and then again reducing their sizes. This has gone on for years. But the wastage that is feared may in fact yield savings by way eliminating wastage of fuel in vehicles moving on low gears or stuck in jams or because of frequent stoppages at bus stops where traffic lights are proposed to be put up for the passengers’ safe cross-over to the buses in the corridor. 

It is not yet too late. The question of doing away with the corridor could still be reconsidered. It seems it will be more beneficial than having a virtually empty corridor with up and down carriageways on its sides chock-a-block with vehicles.

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