Poor planning, without application of common sense, may ensure that the pilot project fails - what are the pitfalls?
Long suffering commuters in Bengaluru were delighted that the BBMP, BMTC and Bengaluru Police announced plans for Bus Lanes on arterial high traffic roads. We were even more thrilled when they conducted a public consultation, a most unprecedented event here in the city. Various shades of opinions were expressed, by civic activists and experts. However, commendable though the gesture was, we see no sign that this feedback has been taken into consideration, for BMTC will go ahead with the proposed trial run on the Outer Ring Road, without any changes to its plan.
The Bus Priority Lane proposal comes a few decades late and while we do think this initiative holds the solutions for many of the problems related to traffic congestion, the city has miles to go in terms of an integrated, holistic solution.
The Citizens Agenda for Bengaluru, a citizen-led think tank, had crowd-sourced a framework on which the city’s transport needs to be addressed.
The administration is executing a pilot trial in a rush, on the Outer Ring Road, home to one of the biggest nightmares on Bengaluru’s infamous traffic scene. If this pilot works, it will provide almost magical relief to thousands of commuters and BPL will be touted as a solution for other arterial roads. If it fails, it could become an excuse to desert the idea entirely, or be misused by various lobbies that wait on the sidelines, to bring back their ill-planned, big ticket projects. The refrain could be, “We tried it, but it didn’t work.” That is why so much rests on the success of the pilot project.
It must be noted that the same advisors of the government, who put their might behind the notorious proposals for unpopular projects (elevated corridors, taxi pods and the steel bridges) that had to be shelved after popular outrage, continue in their advisory capacities. Surprisingly, they have changed tactics are publicly expression support for the new initiative. That in itself should be seen with caution.
FAR-LEFT LANE OR MEDIAN?
What are the main concerns? BMTC has allocated the far-left lane on the carriageway for the priority lane. This will not work for a number of reasons. First, traffic from service lanes will need to enter and exit the other middle lanes, which can happen only by crossing this prioritised left lane. The bus lane will become a choking point, leading to traffic jams at every exit, possibly along the length of the lane itself.
One lane is insufficient: Only one lane has been made available for buses. This is insufficient and cannot incorporate incidental needs like overtaking, or a possible vehicular breakdown. Two lanes will be required in each direction, that is, four lanes in total with onward and oncoming traffic.
Not fenced: Without fencing, it will be impossible to prevent other vehicles from entering the priority lane.
Risk to pedestrians: The other arterial roads have people and goods passing from the main road to the sides and vice versa, as well as vehicle parking requirements. Putting a bus lane on the left will create chaos and operational charges, as well as pose a risk to pedestrians crossing the road.
Challenges for the current plan:
Route rationalisation: BBMP bus routes have not yet been rationalised and commuters’ preferences and needs are not yet a given. A data / ITS based-reorganisation of bus routes is mandatory.
Service oriented: Buses should be made service oriented (ie., time reliable) and not profit oriented. (suspend the practice of fixing targets for conductors, instead fix targets for drivers to arrive on time).
Renting to private companies: The focus must remain on the general commuters. BMTC should suspend the renting-out of buses on contracts to private companies. Use buses for public service only and attract the users of private services by making the public counterparts dependable and attractive.
Re-haul required: The entire public transport system needs an overhaul, a core component of which would be to have an empowered and competent Unified Transport Authority, that reports to the local government and not the state. This means the City Council and the Mayor will need to be given more powers, by implementing the 74th amendment.
The Public Consultation was a big step in the right direction. We recommend that it is followed through in spirit and more meetings are held with public and experts to study it further and evolve a plan that will work.
We recommend that the entire plan be modelled very carefully, and the necessary infrastructure put in place before the launch of the plan, if necessary, postponing it, to ensure the same, so that the success of the initiative is not jeopardised.
And vested interests do not find their way back to propose harebrained projects, and force citizens to protest again....