Monday, December 4

Probably this time...

In another effort to upgrade the traffic conditions in Pune, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was recently introduced on the Hadapsar-Swargate-Katraj route. BRT requires that the buses have a right-of-the-way lane. Separate dedicated lanes are meant to ensure punctuality, even during peak traffic hours. The ticket system is electronic, as in Pune’s case, to decrease the time of ticketing. It could also be pre-boarding ticketing for the same reasons. This is what an ideal BRT would include.

BRT is an ambitious project and might ease the traffic situation in Pune, which has deteriorated drastically over the last decade. The rapid growth of the city lead to increased residents and parallel growth in number of personal use vehicles. The public transport system which was hardly commendable was neglected further and still struggles to find its footing. The narrow roads in the city could not keep up with the increase in traffic and excessive vehicular pressure led to deteriorating road conditions. Over the last couple of years there have been consistent demands to alleviate the situation but almost nothing seems to have worked. N number of projects were promised, introduced, inaugurated and died their own death. Most of them tried to attract commuters to public transport and away from private vehicle usage to ease the burden on the roads. Projects like “Janata bus” (you wave out to the bus and it would stop almost anywhere you want it to, and the fares were also minimal), induction of new superior quality buses, plans to merge the PMT and PCMT, sky-bus etc. are just a few recent examples. The progressively deteriorating condition of the roads, the constant poor quality asphalting, potholes with the first rains and increased accidents have all made most of the citizens skeptical about any new programs that the PMC introduces to ease out things.

The timing of the BRT is also no better. It is less then four months before the PMC elections. The haste with which an approximate Rs.64 crore project is being implemented cannot be expected to create confidence and excitement among commuters. To many it came as a surprise pre-election do-good project. It seems more to be another of the Kalmadi projects. Pawar on the other hand is pushing for a metro system for Pune on the lines of Delhi.

As someone who is well aquatinted with the traffic conditions in Pune, I am not optimistic about the project. One, the BRT takes off an entire lane to itself on roads which are hardly three complete lanes. Most of the roads in Pune are extremely narrow to fit even the existing traffic, and banning maximum vehicles from one entire lane would make matters no better. The current stretch of the pilot project includes Swargate. On any given day Swargate is choked. Being an important ST and PMT bus junction, it bring along rickshaws, road hawkers, ‘tapirs’, restaurants, lodges, chaos, accidents, pollution…you name it. In such an unruly situation taking away vehicular space from others might just aggravate matters. The traffic in Pune is also not disciplined. Commuters hardly ever stand at a bus-stop. You will always find them out on the road, waiting, fidgeting impatiently for the buses. Now taking the bus track and the bus stop towards the divider side of the road seems like a dangerous proposition. Other vehicles which might want to cross or make a U-turn at places will be left waiting for an opportunity in the second lane. Generally those turning right are supposed to be towards the extreme right lane i.e towards the divider side which the BRT will now take up. The buses (each costing around Rs.70 lakhs) are said to be low rise volvo buses. Given the number of potholes and bumps I do not know how low rise buses would survive.

Of course it does not mean that the project is totally hopeless. It might actually help bring lane discipline and overall traffic manners to the otherwise notorious Pune drivers. If the buses do run fast, frequent and on time, personal vehicle usage at least among some section of the commuters can be expected to decrease. The transport authority could probably hope of a no profit no loss situation, instead of the current deficit. As the new buses are said to have a better technology we can assume that they might be safer than the antique buses that currently run on the roads. Also as they would have closed doors, incidents of accidents due to hanging at the doors could go down.

We will have to wait and watch over the pilot period if it actually benefits the public. Unless elections kill it.