In the past 5 years, BMTC has time and again suggested that they have plans to implement a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) in order to solve the traffic problem in Bangalore. The city’s elite have time and again suggested that BRT is the best and cost-effective solution as against the ultra-expensive Metro Rail. A few days back, members of Bengaluru Vision Group (BBPAG) suggested that BRT is the best near-term solution and can be implemented in 12 months. They strongly feel that this system should be developed on ORR on an emergency basis. For a long time now I had been thinking of putting my thoughts down on why BRT cannot really solve the problems unlike what our traffic experts think.

This morning, I came across a well researched article written by an expatriate interning with Citizen Matters – a civic issue public portal. The article draws from statistics and experiences of two mega cities – Mexico City and Delhi. Not minding the time I was spending to comment on it, I jotted down my thoughts. While do like the idea of a BRT, I strongly feel it’s not suited to serve Bangalore’s future needs. Let me know if you feel otherwise.

Over the years, the voices supporting BRT have gained a lot of momentum. While BRT is a brilliant idea that uses part of the existing infrastructure in an optimum manner, whether BRT is an ideal solution for Bengaluru’s traffic woes is debatable.

When someone talks about BRT, the questions that arise in my mind are:

Where are the roads for it?
Bengaluru is not blessed with wide roads, thanks to haphazard growth and lack of long-term planning. There are very few lines that can be implemented as part of BRTS. ORR, Tumkur Road, Hosur Road, Old Madras Road-Hoskote line, International Airport (bellary) Road and Mysore Road are the only roads that are capable of sacrificing an entire lane towards BRT. These roads, however, are not of uniform width throughout their lengths. In order to have a streamlined passenger traffic run side-by-side with BRT and to avoid bottlenecks, the roads should be of uniform length. This would mean, Bengaluru will have to sacrifice more trees and property. With the metro project in progress / planned on most of these roads, it doesn’t make sense to lose more and more land and green cover in the same region.

How many stations and how will the public access these stations?
A successful BRT would require stations to be built every 600-800 metres, I believe. I cannot back this claim with any research. I’m basing this on common sense. Stations require more space in the middle of the roads and the public will have to cross the roads to get to the stations. This will only add to the chaos. Building skywalks is an option. Every station will have to be served by a skywalk connecting both sides of the roads. This would mean, BRT would, like metro, require quite a lot of space on / near the roads.

How many people can it move?
All major arterial roads of Bengaluru, that carry most of the traffic are the same roads that carry a massive BMTC passenger traffic too. A 3-coach metro train practically carries 750 passengers comfortably against the quoted capacity of 100 passengers. A 6-coach metro train can carry around 1500. The platforms have been built for 9-coaches. The metro has the capability of moving more people every 3 minutes.

How comfortable is it? Can BRT match Metro’s carrying capacity or the comfort?
Train travel is always more comfortable and less tiring when compared to travelling on roads. The A/C coaches of metro not only provide its passengers with a smooth ride, it also keeps them away from all the noise and pollution throughout the ride. 5) What about the existing junctions? BRT, unlike metro, is at-level with traffic. This means BRT will still not ensure smooth traffic flow at the junctions / traffic signals unless underpasses are built. 6) What about the environment? Just because BRT will take (theoritically) many vehicles of the road, we can’t say that it’s a green solution. It is eco-friendly, but not green. If the buses deployed on BRT routes are going to be anything but an electric bus, it’ll still be contributing to the pollution in the city. Green solutions like Metro / Mono rail that can cut down carbon emissions in the long-term always score higher than BRT. When BMTC mooted the idea of BRT 6-7 years back, I was happy. But it has delayed the implementation. I don’t know the rationale behind the delay, but it’s too late already. Bengaluru really needs to stop looking at road-based solutions (road-widening, flyovers, underpasses, BRT etc.) to curb the chaos.

So what’s the solution?

1) Metro Rail: I strongly believe that Bengaluru is on the right track as far as Metro is concerned. BMRCL should become efficient when implementing the successive phases of the network. BMTC should play the role of a feeder system. This can be done by taking off buses that are running on the same routes as that of metro and deploy them to connect the interior localities with the metro stations.

2) Subsidize Metro Travel: Encourage the public to hop on to the metro system by providing free-and-safe parking at metro stations as well as a seamless experience if one chooses to reach the stations using BMTC. Look at subsidizing metro fares through advertisements and renting out floors (but not public money)

3) Commuter Rail: Expand the existing railway stations and implement the commuter rail on a war-footing. The existing railway network city can be utilized to provide connectivity to areas not served by the metro. If the Indian Railways wants to charge on-par with the Metro, let them. There are over 70 stations in the metropolitan region of Bengaluru.

4) Monorail: Build short to medium length Monorail systems to feed the metro. There are many stretches that are not covered by the metro, but can be connected to a metro line. E.g. Interior parts of Peenya Industrial Area, Hesaraghhatta Road, Vidyaranyapura, Banashankari (Srinivasnagar, Bank Colony, Girinagar), Koramangala Inner Ring Road, Yelahanka etc. These systems can be built to cut across metro lines too.The advantage of monorail over BRT would be that we won’t be blocking an entire lane on our roads which would be rendered useless if the project fails.

5) Inclusive Planning & Development: Bengaluru’s experts always concentrate on the areas/localities that are part of the fancy IT corridor which is spread across East and South Bengaluru. It’s true that these localities face major gridlocks. But that doesn’t mean other localities should be left to rot. Half the localities listed in #4 above wouldn’t be familiar to many readers, but the city really requires a holistic and inclusive approach to development.

6) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): Yes BRT. We can still implement BRT. But not within the city limits. BRT can be used to server Bengaluru’s suburbs withn the metropolitan region. BRT can be used to connect Nelamangala/Dobbespet with BIEC Metro station, Hoskote with KR Puram Metro station (if it materializes as announced), Kanakapura with Anjanapura Metro station, Bidadi/Ramanagara with Kengeri metro station, Dodballapur with Yelahanka or Airport Metro Station (based on what route is finalized). These satellite cities contribute a lot in terms of floating population to the city’s woes. Today, people commute between Bengaluru and these places for work using BMTC and KSRTC buses. A BRT implemented to serve these places will ensure that the satellite towns are better connected with the city. It’ll also keep Bengaluru’s expanse in check.