The study has been compiled by the Hazards Centre to assess BRT and its impact in context of Supreme Court orders, High Court judgements, environmental norms and studies, several studies conducted by government and non government institutions and recent developments.
The Independent Evaluation report was released at the press conference and Mr. Dunu Roy, Director Hazards Centre, Geetam Tiwari, Professor at IIT Delhi, Dinesh Mohan, Professor at IIT Delhi, representatives from Mahila Kalpana Shakti, Beghar Mazdoor Shakti Sangathan addressed the gathering. The report has been prepared with the support of Delhi Integrated Modal Transport Systems (DIMTS), IIT, Envirotech, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Sandeep Gandhi and Associates, DTC Union etc
The present attempt was to present the observations made by this research team with reference to the three original objectives of the BRT and how far the system has been able to achieve those objectives.
Here is the full report:
In 2000, a study by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) showed that there had been a significant reduction in pollution at traffic intersections and in industrial areas in terms of CO, NO2, Lead, SO2, and SPM levels.
But, in 2003, CO, SPM, and RSPM levels were still reported to be above permissible levels and, in 2004, the Amicus Curiae reported to the Court that the rapidly growing number of vehicles threatened to destroy the gains of pollution control.
If not checked with public transport augmentation and travel demand management plans the gains from small improvements in vehicle technology and fuels would be lost. The Amicus presented data to show how growing numbers, and the resultant crippling congestion and slow traffic were aggravating the haze of pollution.
It was in this context that the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) presented a report to the Court in July 2004, titled “The imperative of controlling vehicle numbers and increasing access: Report on public transport projects in Delhi”.
On November 30, 2005 the Court passed directions for the implementation of the HCBS in the NCTD with fixed time-bound implementation schedule and the relevant deadlines. The Court accepted the logic that the HCBS was designed not only for the most widely used form of public transport (the bus carried about 40% of the 15 million passenger trips per day in the city), but also provided demarcated space for the cyclist and the pedestrian (who accounted for another 42%), while leaving a substantial two lanes for the private cars and two/three-wheelers (which accounted for only 8% and 10% respectively). The deadline for completion of the entire project was fixed as April 2007.
Studies conducted by Centre for Science and Environment, EMBARQ and Hazards Centre have demonstrated how the BRT has benefited public interest over time.For example, an evaluation carried out in February, 2009 by Dr. D. Hidalgo and M. Pai with support from CSE, showed that while the cars were carrying an average of only 1.045 persons of vehicle, the buses were loaded with 57 passengers per vehicle. But the spoilsports in this groundswell of support were precisely the minority of these 2 and 4 wheeler drivers, of whom not more than 28% came out in support of the BRT at any time on any issue in any of these studies. And their frustration has eventually found expression in the “public interest” petition filed by the NGO Nyaya Bhoomi in the High Court in February 2012 which “invites attention to the traffic snarls between Ambedkar Nagar and Moolchand Hospital” and attributes them to the BRT.
It was the contention of the petitioner that the BRT “instead of improving/smoothening the flow of traffic, has resulted in the traffic in the non-bus lane moving at a snail’s pace.” The petitioner urged that “the large number of other vehicles is far disproportionate to a small number of buses which ply on the exclusive corridor, reducing further the already insufficient road space for other vehicles.”
Nyaya Bhoomi, therefore, pleaded before the Court that other vehicle owners had not been encouraged to switch over to buses which “are allowed to move at a quicker pace in the exclusive corridor”, and sought a direction permitting plying of all mechanised vehicles also on the lane meant for buses. In other words, the petitioner was manifestly arguing the case of the minority of car owners and going against all previous meticulous work done by transport planners, researchers, mandated authorities, and even the Supreme Court of India.
The High Court should have not entertained the petition at all on the grounds that it was not a “public interest” case at all. Still, the Court directed on March 15, 2012 that designated expert bodies/institutions (National Highway Authority of India – NHAI, and Central Road Research Institute – CRRI) should submit their proposals for carrying out the survey/study of: a. whether the BRT corridor has served the purpose which it was intended to achieve; b. whether it has resulted in slowing the traffic movement of vehicles other than the buses and if so, the impact thereof on consumption of fuel and environment;c. even if the said corridor has expedited the movement of buses, the proportion of the commuters who have benefited therefrom to the commuters who have/are suffering; d. the viability/desirability of having the bus stops as islands on the road, with no access thereto; etc.
The methodology adopted by the CRRI, particularly the modification of the corridor, has no scientific basis. But the problem is that the High Court has seen fit to place its confidence in the report produced by CRRI and to order, at the insistence of the petitioner, that the exclusive bus lane may be kept open for all vehicles until further notice. This is akin to a demand for opening up the dedicated preserve of the Supreme Court in Appellate (appeals from the High court) and Original (dispute between States) jurisdiction, as prescribed in the Constitution, so that they may adjudicate in direct civil or criminal litigation, merely because an aggrieved party claims that, in comparison to the lower courts, the Supreme Court is moving faster as it carries less traffic!
At this stage, the present attempt is to present the observations made by this research team with reference to the three original objectives of the BRT and how far the system has been able to achieve those objectives.
These three original objectives, as embodied in the Supreme Court’s directions, were:
1. implementation of the HCBS as planned to provide access to cost-effective and rapid public transport
2. reduction of congestion by controlling the number of motorised vehicles;
3. consequent lowering of the levels of pollution.
It is important to remember that this BRT was designed to carry 240 buses and 6,000 cycles per hour per direction – and not for increasing numbers of cars. In that respect the BRT is carrying less than half the number of buses and one-third the number of cycles at peak hours than for which it was designed.
This has much to do with the fact that the BRT corridor has not been completed as well as the general shortage of buses in Delhi. However, the number of vehicles is not the primary factor for assessing mobility and, in line with the recommendations of the EPCA, the Supreme Court, the GNCTD, and the National Urban Transport Policy, one has to assess the number of people that these vehicles carry.
What was particularly significant was that there were the same number of buses (5) in 2003 (before the corridor was constructed) and 2012 (during the CRRI ‘experiment’) and they were all in the middle of traffic. However, in 2008 (when the BRT was operational) there were only 2 buses and they were in their dedicated lane, while the number of cars had reduced from 40 in non-BRT conditions to 30 for the BRT. The number of two-wheelers and auto-rickshaws were the same for 2003 and 2008, but had increased during the ‘experimental’ phase. These preliminary findings clearly indicated that (a) buses could not be blamed for congestion on the BRT, (b) throughput had been accelerated during BRT conditions, and (c) the ‘experimental’ conditions had created the worst conditions of congestion and interference between different modes.
The other aspect on which some data exists is the police records from different thanas on accidents and deaths on the BRT stretch. The fatalities on this stretch declined between 2003 and 2005, and then dropped sharply after 2008 when the dedicated BRT lane was inaugurated.
There was a sharp rise in 2010 and many have concluded that the BRT is a dangerous proposition. The available information strongly suggests that speeding was a cause for many deaths and this would not have been possible on a congested BRT. In addition it points to the fact that the police had abandoned the BRT since its inception and regulation was left to the poorly equipped marshals who had no penal powers to stop offenders. The social ambience, it should be noted, had been set by the Commonwealth Games that year with its emphasis on the ‘world class’ city with its glamour of wealth, speed, and elite ‘freedom’.
One of the major factors which spurred the design and implementation of the BRT was the concern with rising levels of air pollution because of the runaway growth of vehicles in the city. The hypothesis was that a good public transport system would provide an added incentive for people to move away from private vehicles and thereby the pollution per passenger-km travelled would reduce significantly.
This would, it was argued later, not only benefit the health of the residents but also reduce the potential impact on climate change. Has the BRT, in practice, reduced the pollution level on the corridor? To answer this question an air monitoring study was conducted on the BRT for the primary pollutants of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), and Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM). These pollutants have been linked to a number of different health outcomes, starting from modest transient changes in the respiratory tract and impaired pulmonary function, continuing to restricted activity/reduced performance, emergency room visits and hospital admissions and to mortality.
There is also increasing evidence for adverse effects of air pollution not only on the respiratory system, but also on the cardiovascular system.On the BRT corridor SO2 levels generally remain lower than the 2007 values as well as the permissible levels, although NOx and SPM levels have increased by about one-third to double and are in excess of national standards. Since SO2 is generally associated with petrol engine emissions and NOx and SPM with CNG and diesel, the conclusion appears valid that the BRT has successfully reduced pollution from private vehicles while the shift from petrol to diesel would be an issue of great concern in the future.
The Hazards Centre, Beghar Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, and Mahila Kalpana Shakti carried out a survey in May 2012 amongst bus users, car and motorcycle/scooter passengers, pedestrians and cyclists travelling on the corridor to explore whether the perceptions of different sections of the BRT users match with what the data says or not. Questions were also asked about problems faced in the corridor. 23% people complained about jams in their lane; only 12% complained of lack of safety/increase in accidents on the corridor. 50% of the people were of the opinion that a major issue was lack of awareness and conforming to rules in the corridor. 30% people complained of cars entering the lanes meant for buses and cycles. Only 7% felt there were problems in crossing the roads. 46% opined that the working of the marshals was a major concern. When the respondents were asked about their opinion regarding the continuity or scrapping off of the BRT, almost 90% were in favour of continuity and expansion while only 10% want the BRT to be removed.
It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that the Supreme Court’s directions in 2005 for implementation of the HCBS, based on scientific investigation and sound technical advice, have been carried out to the extent possible in the present BRT corridor from Ambedkar Nagar to Moolchand.
This is despite the documented evidence that:
The full corridor has deliberately not been allowed to be implemented by a variety of vested interests supported by unbridled media campaigns.
Other planned corridors have been kept in abeyance on the unfounded pretext that the present corridor has caused congestion and traffic delays.
The traffic police have completely abandoned the role of regulation and disciplining to a group of poorly equipped marshals.
The number and frequency of buses are nowhere near the designed parameters, and bicyclists have been discouraged by the presence of motorised vehicles in their lane.
Safety measures on the corridor, including kerb stones, rumble strips, signage, space for allotted parking, and fencing have been removed.
There has been no attempt to restrict the growth of private motorised transport or to prevent the shift from petrol to diesel.
There is no forum for the vast majority of commuters and road users on the BRT corridor to express their views and approval for the BRT.
After much debate and intervention, the BRT awaits timely initiatives by the government to foster public transport in a sustainable manner. Whether the damage can be undone and the original objective of the BRT reaffirmed is going to be a significant social and political question.