Will BRTS work for Chennai? pros and cons

Chennai city administration is reviving plans to roll out BRTS or Bus Rapid Transit System in Chennai. This post shares my thoughts about this system, its viability and pros and cons.
Special Purpose BRTS bus with raised entrance
What is BRTS?
BRTS is a city transport system in which at least two lanes on a major road is reserved 100% for buses, with custom made bus stations and buses ferrying passengers on this dedicated lane. Refer image below for an idea.
Source: Times of India

BRTS was very popular in Bogota, Colombia. Many cities around the world have this system. Within India also, Pune, Delhi, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and few other cities are experimenting with this concept. Read this Commonfloor report and this Wikipedia report. In Pune, which was India's second BRTS program I was given to understand the scheme failed to take off - Report. It has moderate success in other cities, I think most successful in Ahmadabad.

BRTS looks great as a concept. Below are the supposed benefits of the program
  • Reach destination faster in a bus than in a car, thanks to dedicated lane- incentive for more people to ditch their cars and try the bus
  • Less pollution, less congestion on the road as large volume of public are transported quickly across city via BRTS in its dedicated lanes.
But BRTS scheme has several practical challenges that could lead to its under utilization.
1. Long walk to access bus stop- Since bus stop is on the median, public will have to take a much longer walk- usually few hundred meters to nearest foot overbridge, then cross the road and get down to reach bus station. In Bogota I had to walk easily half a km and climb up n down the walkway to reach the bus stop just across the road- the time and effort needed for this is a big deterrent for many.
Above: Sorry for poor clarity but notice the distance to bus station from FOB in Bogota

You've to walk half a km to board the bus, another half a km to get out of destination bus station, plus wait time, travel time n expense- if your destination is less than 2 kms away, it makes more sense to just walk. Of course, I could be wrong in it- if design allows a shorter access to BRTS station this problem will go away.

2. Can't mix bus & auto/cab
In a conventional bus station, if the bus doesn't arrive, waiting passengers can take an auto or cab from the same spot. This is not possible in BRTS thanks to exclusivity of the lane. If a passenger waiting for bus in BRTS need to take auto, he/she will have to walk back to across the road by climbing the foot overbridge and walking all the way back.

3. How many lanes to dedicate for BRTS? one is too little, 2 is too much.
Most roads in Indian cities have max 3 lanes on the main roads. Of these, do you set aside one lane or two lanes for the BRTS? if you provide only 1, all buses have to tail each other irrespective of stops, passengers and other things and overall travel will slow down. If you provide 2 lanes, only 1 lane will be left for rest of the motorists.

Indian road users are often ignorant of the rules. Two wheeler and Autodrivers might be tempted to slip into BRTS lane when they see an opportunity to avoid congestion on their own lane and this will create more complications for traffic police, BRTS drivers and others.

4. Will it be exclusive BRTS or regular buses also ply?
Another decision for city administrators is to decide if the regular buses will be discontinued along the BRTS route or not. Because BRTS program needs dedicated bus design, these buses can't operate on roads that don't have dedicated lane and bus stop. So to connect parts of city not serviced via BRTS, regular buses are also run in all cities that has BRTS corridor. This will annoy other motorists further- having lost lanes/road space to exclusive BRTS corridor, they will still have to deal with big buses occupying remaining road space.

5. What about tolls?
OMR in Chennai is tolled. Cars pay 25-30 rs to cross toll booth. With 2-4 lanes taken away for BRTS, would the toll be reduced? (Since available road space has gone down)- mostly no. Toll operator will not reduce the toll- this will probably result in more conflicts.

6. Level of Security
Metro stations have an airport like security check today where bags are scanned and humans are frisked. Would BRTS get similar security or it will be relaxed? If security checks are to be done then more staff, more expenses, more time. If not, higher risk of some anti social elements targeting BRTS station.

7. People won't ditch car if BRTS coverage is adequate enough.
If one has to commute 25 kms a day and only 10 km is covered by BRTS, car owners can't think of leaving their car behind and using BRTS. For BRTS to be success it should function effectively across the city connecting at least all major spots, so that people can rely on public transport for most of their commute.

Way forward:
BRTS is good way to solve city's traffic problems if effectively planned, implemented and used. Just that city planners often take it up as another money minting project and don't implement it seriously the way commuters want it. BRTS projects demand dedicated bus lanes, special design buses, bus shelters, safe access to bus shelters across the road for passengers, technology to manage bus routes, timings and ticketing, coordination with traffic police for signal management and much more. Hopefully Chennai authorities will learn from mistakes done in Pune and other cities, take public consensus and do this right. Let us see.

Similar: City buses around the world

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