Who are we taking for a ride?

How can any organization first lay bare a problem and then lambast and contradict the solution needed to solve the problem? An oxymoron!

The industry body Assocham has carried out two successive studies. The first study done a while ago shows how people in Delhi and NCR are losing about 4.5 hours a day commuting because public transport buses have slowed down on congested roads. The man-hours lost add up to a staggering 17 million a day causing enormous economic losses! The study has blamed the growing number of vehicles and asked for improved public transport to reduce journey time.

But now – as the city is preparing to create space for buses to run swiftly and give pedestrians and cyclists their rightful space, Assocham produces the second report to claim that an overwhelming majority – as many as 97 percent of all commuters on the BRT corridor have given a resounding “No” to BRT! 

The majority of their respondents are motor vehicle users, four wheeler users and some shopkeepers and local residents. There is no mention of bus commuters and cyclists, who are the commuting majority on that corridor.  Even the report admits that all personal vehicles -- cars and two-wheelers are 90 percent of the traffic but carry only 15-20 percent of commuters on that corridor. In contrast the buses, only 2-2.5 percent of the traffic, carry as much as 60 percent of the commuters. Isn’t it logical that the buses that carry maximum road users deserve more space and speed?

Even in their gloomy vision for BRT Assocham result shows that close to half of those who live close to the BRT corridor support the corridor. When peak hour traffic speed has plummeted for all modes in other gridlocked roads of Delhi, this one corridor has reduced journey time for the majority of the commuters. This is exactly what the National Urban Transport Policy has asked for – plan for people, not vehicles.

The Assocham should have done an additional analysis to demonstrate if buses lose priority and majority of bus riders shift to personal vehicles without restraint, can roads hold? Can the city hold at the current rate of motorization? If this has not happened already it is because large number of captive users of buses and poor of the city do not have the privilege of personal motorized vehicles.  Rich are hiding behind the poor. The clamour for land to run and park cars will decimate this city. Are institutions and people living close to roads prepared to surrender personal and community spaces to build more roads and parking?

Let this city understand that we are in grip of serious mobility crisis. Increasingly larger share of our daily commuting trips are shifting to personal vehicles that occupy more road space, carry fewer people, pollute more, guzzle more fuel and elbow out the bus, pedestrian and cycle. The answer is not to take away the space from the bus, walk and cycle to serve the cars – as the Assocham report demands arrogantly. Instead, increase and protect the integrity of bus, walk and cycle lanes to segregate their speed and improve safety and ridership. Delhi roads are among the biggest killers.

But make the private road users – cars and two-wheelers -- pay the real costs for using the road and the parking. The congestion will thin out immediately as seen in other parts of the world.   

It is time for the city to decide its own fate as many other global cities are being forced to. Even a car manic US city like New York has begun to reclaim spaces from cars. In our polluted and congested city, justice demands that urban form and road design prioritise the rights and dignity of the pedestrians and public transport users who are part of the solution. Read the signs on the wall and do not get misled and blinded by the aspiration and arrogance of cars.