Interview: Sustainable transport
By Saahil Waslekar

Urban mobility is increasingly considered a vital means to make our urban habitats sustainable. Efficient urban public transport is widely regarded as a giant step in this direction, but is one that involves a holistic approach that encompasses various concerns, including environment, economy, technology and urban governance.

Sandeep Gandhi, an architect and a BRTS designer has been closely involved in Delhi’s sometimes painful transition to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, outlines the emerging challenges and the road ahead.

Every city has its own infrastructure on the basis of which certain specific plans work best. In India, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Rural Mobility plan has allocated 25 percent of total 600 billion Rupees amongst 63 cities for urban transport projects. This money has been mismanaged and made the metro project an expensive affair in Delhi.

The metro costs three billion rupees a kilo meter. Besides this it has had a very heavy capital investment, high maintenance cost and is low on returns. There is need for government subsidies.

Thinking of the economics, chunks of public distributed money invested in the form of hefty metro projects is not a suitable option for cities across India.

How is BRT a promising next option?

In 2002 Delhi envisioned an initiative to launch a Bus Rapid Transit system. BRTS planning framework began late 2002, early 2003 and construction initiated in 2006.

During this period there was a lot of resistance faced from different government institutions. The reason for friction was due to inability to accept change and the simple lack of awareness. Finally the project was partially completed and operation took form in 2008.

Today, there are more than million daily bus users. Government of Delhi has proposed to operate on a cluster bus system. Here, private operators are the one to benefit the most. The operator is meant to get his own bus into the system and would be paid a percentage per kilo meter of usage on a particular route. There would be various operators to operate on a particular route. This would be done on auction basis.

This would eliminate competition and increase safety. The redundant blue line buses have been termed as unsafe and inefficient and thus phased out. As of today only one cluster is in operation, significantly seen by the orange colour buses.

The system has proved to be much more efficient than even the DTC operations, with better usage of fleet, and visibly higher ridership.

What urban public transport strategy would you devise for a city like Delhi?

The mindsets of planners and administrators needs to be addressed. Currently in India, roads have primary objective of catering to private automobile users. This directly means construction projects to increase number of highways and flyovers resulting in fast mobility for private auto owners.

We need to re-orient this approach to be in line with the National Urban Transport Policy, which discourages investments in private vehicular infrastructure over public and non motorized transport. Equitable allocation of road space with people rather than vehicles as the focus of attention is the need of the day.

Which are the future technologies to improve public transport?

Every town and city has its own characteristics. Considering the rate of urbanization in India, there is grave need to switch to sustainable means of transportation. Here, media has a great role to play. It can help in making people aware of the issues facing us and thus build a general consensus for change in favour of more sustainable and equitable choices.

Unfortunately media is not fulfilling this role. Government also must employ and follow up with suitable policies and development initiatives keeping in mind people’s livelihood, which include a plethora of concerns. Hence, technology is one of the mediums towards the improvement of public or future transport.

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