DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bhopal Notes-3: Crunch time for BRTS

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The Bhopal BRTS is increasingly coming in for criticism. In Bhopal Notes-2 I had written about a seemingly concerted effort by various departments, authorities and those who manage and run it to kill the System. Apparently, there no redemption is in sight. There has been no reaction from any of the authorities indicating that they are keen to salvage it. The System seems to be running in its own lackadaisical way – limping along with no perceptible improvement.

Apparently, the authorities concerned, too, are slowly giving up on it even as pressure is building up on them to allow school buses, mini buses, other sundry buses, fire-brigade and army vehicles to be allowed on the corridor. The crux of the suggestions that are being poured forth is that all heavy vehicles should be shoved on to the corridor, leaving the mixed lanes for cars and three and two wheelers. The argument goes that there is no logic in keeping 20-odd kilometres of corridor largely empty of buses when the mixed lanes experience frequent jams for want of adequate space. Admittedly, the number of four, three and two wheelers, taken together, is far greater than the number of buses plying in the corridor. On the other hand, buses that should be in the corridor are stabled on account of various administrative reasons

Recently two former chief secretaries have come out with their comments. While Sharad Chandra Beohar (a batch-mate of mine) has rejected the system outright saying it was wrong to have established the BRTS when all over the world the System has failed, Kripa Shankar Sharma has, inter alia, said that the System is failing because of absence of feeder services and concomitant infrastructure.

I do not know where Beohar got his information from. It is not quite correct to say all over the world the BRTS has failed. Actually, as far as I know it has been a success even in the backward regions of South America, South-East Asia, China, leave alone the advanced nations of the West. In fact, many advanced countries would like to have the System running in their respective countries. Failures, if at all, have been in India – Delhi and Bhopal are the shining examples. Ahmedabad, however, is a runaway success celebrating its fourth year. The reasons for the failure are basically the ‘cultural factors’. Up in the North of the country we do not want to change from our wayward ways and we do not try to curb our proclivity to disobey laws, rules and instructions. This seems to have got into our DNA. As a result, given the absence of even a modicum of governance, chaos results and then everyone passes on the blame to the changes that have been wrought – in this case the BRTS.

It would be interesting to ascertain from those who are condemning the BRTS as the cause of frequent jams how many of them have ever paid heed to the ‘rules of the roads’ and displayed the ‘etiquettes” while using public road-space? One can see two wheelers or even four wheelers desperately trying to get past the next vehicle throwing all the rules to winds as if there is no tomorrow. And, even 70 years after independence we have not been able to teach the truck or heavy vehicle drivers not to take to the fast lane and stick to it for all their worth regardless of the pace at which they crawl. What have our driving schools and licensing authorities or traffic policemen been up to? One can venture to opine that most of the jams are the makings of our unruly, disorderly and impatient ways that have largely gone unchecked.

If we went by what Beohar and others suggest there is likelihood of more frequent jams in the narrow corridor. Besides, in that event it would cease to be BRTS as “rapidity”, the essence of the System, would be lost. In that case the corridor could as well be done away with. Ambulances and fire fighting vans one can understand but certainly not the sundry buses, minibuses and other heavy vehicles. In fact, other buses and minibuses have no business to be plying on the BRTS routes. It is because of these buses the System has been losing money. They may run on them but they should be prohibited from picking up or dropping passengers on the mixed lanes. This has evidently not been thought of till now. With Magics and other smaller vehicles running all over there is hardly any need for multiple bus systems.

Although we had heard at the planning stage terms like “mobility plan” of the city which, perhaps, meant preparing a comprehensive plan for commuters’ mobility. But that doesn’t seem to have happened as while the BRTS was readied, no plan for feeder services was put in place. While the former is not being fed, it is instead being poached on by sundry systems. This is where Kripa Shankar Sharma is right. In planning the entire thing a top-down approach was adopted whereas what was necessary was to start from the bottom and plan for feeders to make BRTS vibrant and viable. At the very first instance necessary infrastructure should have been put in place in the shape of junctions, parking lots etc. to feed the BRTS low-floor and AC buses.

Be that as it may, the Bhopal BRTS is heading for a crunch situation. As the pressure builds for practically doing away with the corridor there does not appear to be any political will to save it for the sake of common man. Soon it will be “to be or not to be” moment when the authorities will have to decide either way. However, while doing so they will have to keep, inter alia, the following salient points in mind:
1.    The corridor has been built for more than 70% of the commuters who do not have the means to use personal transport but have as much right to speedy transit through the city. This is in keeping with the National Transport Policy of “moving people, not moving vehicles”. Globally BRTS is considered the most cost-effective way for providing high quality public transport.
2.    The intention behind the System was to nudge more and more people from use of personal vehicles towards speedy and decent public transport on account of not only the country’s rising rate  of emission of greenhouse gases but also to reduce the import bill for petrol and diesel.
3.    All over the world there is a perceptible move for use of public transport, green vehicles like bicycles, etc. shunning private transport in view of the rising incidence of violent and extreme weather mostly attributed to the progressive global warming largely because of burning of fossil fuels. We too have suffered from them with loss many lives and valuable property.

4.    In the current context, giving up on the corridor would be highly retrograde step and may even bring forth innuendoes against the people of the state and its governing establishment. 
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