Don't ignore expert opinion

Delhi Bus Rapid Transit is an example


Shivani Chaturvedi | February 11, 2011

It is common practice for government to ignore opinions of bodies of experts when the latter differ with what those in power want to hear. Think of all those commissions of inquiry. But if you believe it is only due to political reasons that the government rejects the findings of bodies it sets up, here is an example that shows how much the same is being done in case of infrastructure projects. With disastrous results. While experts can often differ on technical issues, it makes sense to debate all views with much more vigour.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a non-governmental organisation gave a grant to IIT Delhi for planning and design of the Delhi bus rapid transit (BRT) system. ITDP also sent international experts to train IIT-D personnel and give inputs on the design, both of the BRT component and the non-motorised transport facilities. However, in 2004, ITDP had some differences with IIT-Delhi over the way the overall BRTS project was undertaken. The NGO then discontinued the work with the IIT-D over this project.

The same ITDP is providing technical assistance to Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) university, the primary consultant of Ahmedabad BRT. CEPT had been given a contract by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) to prepare the design for the entire BRT system. The ITDP advised CEPT and AMC on physical designs, the bus specification, contracting, operational planning, institutional structures and other aspects.

The result is there for all to see. Ahmedabad’s BRT is hailed as a success story while the Delhi BRT is floundering.

Christopher Kost, technical director, ITDP, says, the BRT is something more than bus lanes. It involves contracting, operational planning and much more. Many of these factors were missing in the project undertaken in Delhi.

The BRT should be qualitatively and quantitatively different from the existing public transport and then only public can be attracted towards the new system. Whatever buses were operating previously continue to operate on BRT corridor. Whether it be school buses, or bluelines or low-floor Delhi transport corporation buses, all are operating on BRT. Any of the vehicles can get into the bus lanes. This creates a chaotic situation. The key to successful BRT is having a dedicated BRT fleet, the technical expert suggests. Monitoring becomes much easier then. In Delhi, if things go wrong the government can’t hold anybody responsible. In Ahmedabad, there is a single contract. It’s easy to hold the person accountable. You can charge if any of the  contractors' buses does not run on time and deduct from the payment for the same.

Moreover, there is the issue of the physical design of Delhi BRT, and then there is a lot of congestions on junctions. This is because the way the BRT stations have been designed.

This may not be a representative example because any expert or body of experts can get it wrong on an issue. Yet, it serves to highlight the fact that projects impacting lakhs of lives need to be planned and debated more thoroughly before they are launched. 




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