Answer to mobility woes lies in mass transport

BRTs are cost effective, metros are not. The cost of metro is ten times more than that of BRT but still the poltical class prefers Metro because what happened in Delhi. Metro is a very expensive choice but politically safe. Cities across the world are going for BRT

Let’s start with BRT because you have worked on this project in different cities of India. Do you think that BRT has a future in India?

BRT has a technology that serves a very good purpose. It’s a very cost effective way of creating high quality mass transportation systems. If you look at the corridor in Indore today, you know that 11 km corridor is now carrying 70-75 thousand people. They are recovering all of their cost. So from cost perspective it’s a sustainable mode also. But one of the challenges in India is that, especially as you go to the smaller cities lengths of journey are small, so for 4-5 km trip people don’t really care for mass transport. Its the big cities where mass transport is more needed.

I think big cities are afraid to go for BRT after what happened in Delhi. They are afraid politically. It’s a lost opportunity. Cities all over the world you know like Rio and Mexico City are building BRTs. So we are not doing it and we are losing; we are going with the more expensive choice of Metro. The problem with Metro is you have to pay for it. It costs a lot of money.

I think big cities are afraid to go for BRT after what happened in Delhi. They are afraid politically. It’s a lost opportunity. Cities all over the world you know like Rio and Mexico City are building BRTs. So we are not doing it and we are losing; we are going with the more expensive choice of Metro. The problem with Metro is you have to pay for it. It costs a lot of money.

To put it in perspective, what is the cost of per kilometre of metro and BRT, if we compare the two?

Metro is about 300 crore per kilometre while BRT will be 15 to 30 crores per kilometre. Based on that calculation, cost of metro is ten times that of BRT. Like in Kerala, there is a new government and they are asking the right questions. If we take example of Kochi, they are saying why are we building this Metro if it’s only 30-40 thousand people who are going to use it daily?
How are we going to recover the cost of such a massive infrastructure? Even the Delhi Chief Minister is questioning the phase-IV for Delhi Metro. It is a good thing because in the end somebody will have to pay the debt, so that issue is not going to go away. So I think BRT provides a cost effective option. It’s just that you know politically that we have to be courageous to do it.

Why did the Delhi corridor fail and what are the lessons that we need to learn from that?

There are multiple reasons. If you look at it, BRT is equally about re-organizing operations. In the end if you build a corridor for mass transit and you want 60-70 per cent people to travel whole distance a five kilometre stretch will not help. That is why It didn’t solve anything. So you have to pick up a corridor where you need to ensure that for at least 70 per cent of people whole trip need is met.
Moving away from BRT and metro, let’s talk about the future of urban mobility especially now that electric cars are coming up. Do we have that kind of infrastructure to support sustainable transport of electric cars? The reason
I am asking this question is because when we started promoting E-Rickshaws it has created a mess in Delhi. The proper management is missing and it is creating problems for traffic and for other road users.
I think we will have to create mass transport on major arterials. There is no other option. You have to make the most cost effective sustainable alternative. We have to make a choice a number of times and these are not just techno-economic decisions but they are political decisions. So in that political context you have to make the decision. So mass transit is a necessity especially on the major arterials in cities. But beyond that now we are really seeing a lot of new types of sharing that are emerging. In India electrification actually will happen in two three wheeler segment rather than in cars. We have a majority of people who still use two wheelers in our city. So, we can probably come up with ways in which you have shared two wheelers. Two wheelers are very cost effective actually. Shared two wheelers, shared buses, these kinds of things can come up and actually become alternatives. There is a huge opportunity for India to rethink the usage of two and three wheelers. The government has to subsidize. Some amount of subsidy is required for public transport; you are not going to be able to run everything on profit.

Do we have infrastructure in place at this point in time? Do we have infrastructure for electric vehicles?

See, charging infrastructure will have to be put in place. Right now charging infrastructure is very limited. So I think charging infrastructure will have to be systematically put in place as required as we ramp up electric vehicles. Often it will be home charging but some amount of charging will also be required on the road. I think you know if you don’t get too many load peaks then the battery life increases. Still I think we will need charging infrastructure in a big way.

There is a concern about safety component of two wheelers. If a person is riding a two wheeler for 20 years, probability is that he will meet with a fatal accident he may lose a limb or eye also. So what is your view on this aspect?

I think safety is a huge issue in all our cities. You know hundred and fifty thousand people are dying whether its two wheelers, pedestrians or whatever. So I think from a safety perspective we have to completely reimagine our cities. We have to make slow streets. At that point, if you look at the roads and the way we have designed them, we have designed them for a speed of 60 km/h, 80 km/h or even 100 km/h. This design of the road has to change because nobody can drive more than 20 kilometres an hour . So you should re-design the road because all that little accidents happen at night or they happen when there is some collision with buses. There are very specific places where accidents happen. So I think some amount of work has to be done through education and helmets and all of that.
But I think that is a huge part of it and can be done by redesigning the roads where there is space for people to walk, where the carriage way is designed for heterogeneous stuff which is what we have on India’s roads and basically slow streets. The streets that are designed for 25 or 30 kilometres per hour and it doesn’t cost much to do it.

We were talking about safety of pedestrians when the government and state government are widening our roads for cars specially. Your take on that?

As I said I think we need to segregate pedestrian and two wheelers safety also. A road ideally should have three spaces. Less than 10 kilometres an hour for people who are walking cycling or doing what they were doing at less than 10 kilometres an hour, then 20-30 kilometres an hour for rickshaws. Two wheelers and cars can coexist at something like 50 kilometres an hour. Well ideally we should put more buses because you want to move more and more people in that space right. So this type of thinking has to come
in road design. I agree with you. This requires some
major education.

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