International transport expert reviews Delhi BRT:
February 7, 2009
New Delhi, February 7, 2009: The Delhi Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is an evolving system, and its pilot corridor has already succeeded in meeting some of its key objectives: this is what an assessment of the BRT by Dario Hidalgo, a leading international transport expert, says.
Hidalgo, an authority on urban mobility with extensive experience of working on BRT systems worldwide, has been in the capital to assess the 5.8 km stretch of the BRT pilot corridor. He is a transport engineer with the US-based EMBARQ, the World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport.
Hidalgo has carried out this assessment to suggest the next steps for further improving the performance of this corridor and also to leverage this system for better mobility management in Delhi. The assessment, carried out in consultation with all the key planning and implementing agencies involved with the BRT project, was presented to the media here today.
The key observations from the assessment:
Pilot corridor is delivering on its objectives: Hidalgo’s most significant observation is that that though the pilot corridor is still an evolving system and a small segment of the larger network planned, it has succeeded in meeting some of its key objectives. It is moving a mass of people at a greater speed and has succeeded in reducing the average person delay. The average speed of buses on this corridor has increased from 12-13 km/hr to about 19 km/hr; more than 50 per cent of the people traveling on the corridor use these buses. The corridor has reduced average travel time for bus users by 35 per cent within the pilot corridor.
The focus must be on reducing person delays and not vehicle delays: Hidalgo points out: “The focus in Delhi has to shift towards reducing average person delay rather than vehicle delay.” He has studied the ‘wait time’ for all types of motor vehicles at the Chirag Delhi intersection. The results indicate that the wait time for cars and two-wheelers is 96 per cent of the total wait time, and affects 32 per cent of the people moving through the corridor.
Compared to this, the wait time for a bus is only 4 per cent – but it affects a majority 68 per cent of the people as buses carry more. Therefore, future improvement in the management of the corridor should aim at increasing the throughput of people and not vehicles. The review shows that currently, while buses are just 2 per cent of all vehicles at the Chirag Delhi intersection during the morning peak hour, they move 55 per cent of the people. Cars and two-wheelers make up 75 per cent of the motorised fleet, but move merely 33 per cent of the people.
Next steps must improve the operation of the corridor: The preliminary review shows that the pre-requisite infrastructure has been put in place for the pilot corridor. But the next urgent step is a complete revamp of the operations of the corridor. “The priority should be to improve the reliability, comfort and safety of buses and the quality of bus services. The corridor will work more efficiently if more controlled bus operations are achieved. The service will have to be more reliable. This will require better supply and timely arrival of buses at the stations, low variability with good speeds and less intervals and less breakdown,” says Hidalgo in his assessment. Improved quality of service will help retain the current bus ridership (55 per cent), and can also make it better.
The review recommends shorter signal timing and also better signal synchronization along with measures for a better traffic area management plan. Shorter signal cycles will ensure that more people are moving on the corridor and quickly.
It has also come through quite sharply that all dedicated facilities for different road users, including pedestrians and bicyclists, need to be preserved for the system to function in an integrated manner. Says Hidalgo: “Any compromise on the right of way for pedestrians will erode the bus ridership and will hurt the integrity of the corridor. The current practice of letting motorised vehicles using the bicycle facilities should be prevented.”
Develop performance indicators for assessment of the current and the future corridors: Hidalgo has emphasized that the performance of the corridor will have to be benchmarked in relation to well laid out criteria to ensure that the objectives of BRT are met all through the system network. BRT is meant to be a high quality public transport system, oriented to the user that offers fast, comfortable and low cost urban mobility.
The current pilot corridor and the future expansion must be evaluated every three months against these indicators, suggests Hidalgo. BRT may have a flexible design, but any modification in it must ensure that the speed of the buses already achieved on the pilot corridor does not deteriorate, cost of bus operations due to congestion does not increase, and enforcement of lane discipline for all road users is not compromised.
The accepted threshold speed for a bus on a BRT corridor is 20 km/hour. The available data from the pilot corridor shows that while the on-corridor bus speed is between 17-19 km/hour, the off-corridor speed is 11-12 km/hour. Hidalgo cautions that this is likely to deteriorate in a mixed traffic and also on curb lanes that have too many left or right turns and are exposed to friction from activities along the road.
Queuing can be solved only with city-wide efforts to reduce congestion: Hidalgo warns that better traffic area management and adding an extra lane for motorized vehicles on the corridor may provide temporary reprieve, but the additional space will soon be filled up with more induced traffic from the adjacent roads. Global experience shows that increased lane capacity always induces more traffic as more vehicles shift from the surrounding areas. “The fundamental solution to this problem does not lie in compromising the space for bus users, and pedestrians but in enforcing city-wide restraint measures to reduce to overall load of vehicles on the road,” he says.
Learn from others: Hidalgo informs that many Asian cities have embarked on BRT projects that provide the learning curve for other cities. There are cities like Jakarta that have similar traffic conditions as Delhi and yet they have succeeded in creating one of the most extensive BRT network with a length of 82 km. Transitional glitches are common to all systems. But all systems are making the requisite modification to achieve greater system efficiency in terms of moving people, improving access, shortening trip lengths and bus route rationalization. Other cities have gradually scaled up the BRT network to become fast, comfortable and low-cost urban mobility systems.