The New Delhi BRT has been courting controversy in India since its inception in 2008. As yet another public interest litigation was filed a few days ago to scrap the BRT, I decided to take a look at the myriad controversies surrounding the BRT in New Delhi and introduce the Wall Street Journal’s take on why it might still be a good idea to have faith in a BRT system.
|The first BRT line|
The first line of the 14-line New Delhi BRT System opened in 2008, ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, to tackle the increasing traffic problems of India’s capital city. With more than 7 million vehicles on Delhi’s roads, the city made public investments in the much-appreciated Delhi Metro and the much-criticized BRT, both of which are managed by the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System Ltd.
The 9-mile long corridor between the Dr. Ambedkar Nagar area and the Delhi Gate area supports two bus lanes in the center of the ROW ranging from 90ft to 150ft. Poor management, lack of enforcement and several legal battles have delayed the expansion of the system. Currently, the BRT is heavily used by commuters, who are pleased by its service over the previous alternatives because of the overall speed and quality of service.
The Dark Side
The first lawsuit was filed by the NGO Nyaya Bhoomi challenged the legality of the BRT, to which the Delhi High Court temporarily ruled in favor of, allowing cars to use the dedicated bus-way. Eventually, the courts ruled in favor of the BRT and public transportation at large in 2012. The most recent legal battle is a PIL filed by the same non-profit a few days ago, alleging that the BRT corridor violates the minimum road width requirements of the 2021 Master Plan for the National Capital Region (the cities of New Delhi-Gurgaon-Noida-Faridabad) and further stalling the expansion plans.
|A newspaper article condemning the New Delhi BRT|
Apart from legal hassles, the BRT has faced much criticism that the traffic and safety situation in this area hasn’t improved as promised. As such, the road continues to be extremely clogged and the introduction of the BRT hasn’t caused a shift away from car use. Road users, especially private vehicle users who are stuck in traffic longer than before, are furious that the Delhi government has prioritized certain users over others. Moreover, lack of enforcement resulted in several cars and auto-rickshaws misusing the corridor, resulting in further congestion.
Why BRT Matters
Despite the lawsuits and criticism, this Wall Street Journal article rightly argues that it is unfair to base the future of an entire BRT network on a single line. Studying ridership and traffic on a single line is not the most conclusive, in thinking about the entire network and the efficiencies it offers. Moreover, the article points out that the several feasibility studies and technical reports conducted by the city because of the lawsuits will only aid in fully understanding the ridership, traffic volumes and pedestrian flows on the corridor and actually determining the exact impact of the current line.
That said, I am rooting for the expansion of the system. With most of urban India currently enamored by suburbanization and car ownership, I believe a city trying to make its public transportation system efficient is a step in the right direction. I think public transportation should prioritize the safe and efficient movement of people, both currently and in the future (thinking about growth, etc.), rather than get bogged down by the politics of road user priorities. Someone rightly said, “A developed country is not one where the poor own cars. It is one where the rich use public transport.”
Other Sources / Interesting Reads:
Update: Thank you, Arthur Graves, for editing this post!