Buses, not capital-guzzling metros, are the hyperlogical solution to urban India’s woes

Buses are a much overlooked easy-peasy solution to the urban traffic mess

Among other things, world class cities boast of state-of-the-art transport systems. Buses, needless to add, form a very important part of those. A good number of them – modern, comfortable and clean – plying at ultra-frequent intervals provide an important lifeline to commuters. They serve to limit vehicular pollution and smoothen traffic flow by reducing the number of private vehicles on road.

In Indian cities, the story is a whole lot different however. Craggy streets clogged with private vehicles, three- and two-wheelers snaking through them and a few rickety buses that promise little in terms of comfort and punctuality are what we have in the name of urban transport, mostly.

To tackle the mess, many cities are now focussing on giving the harrowed public a more hi-tech means of transport, the metro.

But here’s the sad truth behind it.

So far, i.e. 20 years later after efforts in this direction were initiated, just 500 kilometres of metro routes have become operational in the nation. Another 500 kilometre is being readied. Compare this with the 1000 kilometre of lines operational in just one city like London. Clearly, we have a long, long way to go.

The new-age swanky transport mode is not only proving to be a time-consuming proposition in a nation riddled with bureaucratic bottlenecks but also capital guzzling.

It is said that the cost of building a kilometre of metro rail equals ₹2000 million approximately with the underground part costing twice as much. Maintaining them is equally costly. Fare of Delhi metro, for example, has been hiked repeatedly to keep it up and running properly. This has made it the second most unaffordable transport system in the world.

A bus rapid transport route, on the other hand, needs just ₹100 million for construction. And buying a low floor city bus that can be accessed by the physically challenged requires only ₹50 lakh. Maintaining them is comparatively hassle free as well.

The numbers speak for themselves.

Imagine the number of buses and the stretches of good roads that can be had with the humungous sums being allotted for building metro routes across cities! Not just that, mayhem unleashed by protracted construction of elevated or underground lines in crowded cities, also means commuters would not have to put up with chaotic traffic snarls.

Such concerns have been voiced time and again by common people, experts and journals. In the recently concluded Move Global Mobility Summit in Delhi this was pointed out yet again by participating experts. According to them, a robust bus network, and not metro lines, is the hyperlogical solution to the urban traffic challenge.

Cost-effective and easy to deploy, they are just the answer to our commuting woes. Yet, their number is woefully inadequate in a nation of over a billion, of whom more than 30 percent reside in urban pockets. With a total of 30, 000 buses running across cities in India, it has just 10 buses per one million people. This was revealed by Shreya Gadepalli who is the South Asia director at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in the Move Global Mobility Summit. She also drew a comparison with London, where in just one city 10,000 double decker buses, which is equivalent to around 16,000 standard buses, ply.

To make buses the main mode of transport by compelling people to abandon their private vehicles, their number needs to be increased manifold. They also need to be revamped with respect to safety, comfort and latest hi-tech features.

It can prove to be a game changer.

Not that it is totally unheard of in the nation. We do have dedicated bus corridors in many cities. They form the Bus Rapid Transit Systems (BRTS). Unfortunately, there are not enough buses. Such arrangements have proved highly successful in emerging nations in South American cities such as Bogota (Colombia) and Curitiba (Brazil).

The BRTS in Ahmedabad is the only outlier. Both airconditioned and non-airconditioned buses are seen seamlessly shuttling through the bus corridors at regular intervals in Gujarat’s capital. But other cities need to play catch up to drastically bring down the use of private cars by making better use of such facilities. This would ease congestion and reduce pollution to promote the health and economy of the city.

Are you listening policy makers?