Ideas and Action for a Better India
By Rishi Aggarwal
A well running transport infrastructure and mobility is a key component of any metropolis the scale of Mumbai and especially keeping the context of it being the financial capital. Any downtime in the transport system has immediate and significant impact on the economy.
Yesterday Mumbai Suburban Railway System suffered a train derailment on the important Virar Churchgate fast corridor a little after the peak morning hour, critical enough to cause large scale chaos still. The pressure was felt through the day and in the evening the road traffic saw the brunt as well. A day before that a train derailed at CST on the harbour section and there was complete chaos with some people taking 4-5 hours to reach back home.
The railway system sees commuter loads which are unduly high for the only reason that there has been a colossal neglect in making the right investments in new mass transit options and corridors over a very long period of time. Had new corridors and options been available, instead of having just one lifeline – as the rail system of Mumbai is popularly described – the city would have had many lifelines.
The result of having only one lifeline is that when there is a failure the pressure immediately spills over to the roads, which on any given day are anyways not capable of working efficiently during peak hours. The result can be a complete gridlock. People are not able to move via rail or road. The impact can well be measured best with the help of Twitter as can be seen in the following tweets.
Buses to the rescue
In instances like yesterdays derailment, the immediate backup for the administration is to ask BEST to run extra buses and even the State Transport buses at times.
But this does not help because additional buses further slow down the mixed traffic. Had there been a dedicated corridor like in the case of a BRTS then additional buses could be added by simply tweaking the frequency of buses. If the frequency is one bus per two minutes, then it could be increased to one bus every minute.
BRTS for resilience
A city like Mumbai cannot be so critically dependent on just one mass transit option like it is today. Redundancy is a critical feature of IT systems and is designed to increase reliability of a system by duplicating critical functions. Downtimes in modern day e-commerce or in airlines are unacceptable and every measure employed to ensure that systems run seamlessly and are always on, no matter what time of the day or geography.
Mumbai needs to be building in similar redundancy or resilience into its transport systems. A BRTS grid for Mumbai would be very helpful. Resilience simply defined is the ability to bounce back from an adverse situation. In transport terms ideally it would mean that the city functions with the same efficiency when a derailment happens on the rail line because there is significant capacity in other options to absorb the spill over of commuters.
The plan to have additional metro corridors now seems in place but it is still a good five years till we have new corridors become operational. Even when they become operational, land use changes have ensured that the demand for mobility is enormous. Any new capacity would find immediate absorption.
Rail or metro cannot match the ability to bounce back of BRTS corridors. A broken down bus can be removed from the corridor much easily and causing much less trouble to commuters than the similar case with a train.
Much delay has already been cause and it is about time that Mumbai develops a BRTS grid with BRTS corridors on its top 20 North South and East West roads. The central lane of each of the arterial roads would operate like the train system allowing consistent speeds of about 25-30kmph. Like in the picture below from Janmarg in Ahmedabad.
On the western side Linking Road SV Road and WEH each would have about 20 kms of a BRTS lane which would be pushing people at 30kmph in buses which could be tweaked to run at a frequency of anywhere between 30-180 seconds depending upon the need and in situations like when a train derailment happens.
On the eastern side, like the derailment at CST a day prior the Eastern Freeway can become a very good back up if there is a BRTS on the P DMello Road. Besides LBS Road and Eastern Express Highway should be a priority. JVLR is great for east west connectivity.
The roads would be used to evacuate people faster in breakdowns. When rail fails, roads could double up to offer an alternative.
ORF Roundtable 2010
Among the first few round tables that ORF Mumbai held was on a BRTS system for Mumbai on March 2nd, 2010. I had conceptualised the same then and it produced a report called Moving People – Why Mumbai needs BRTS. By then more than five years of efforts had been made by a few of us who were convinced of BRTS as a solution. Video here
It is now more than five years since that round table was held and BRTS has seen the same neglect from successive politicians and officials. It has been reduced to token significance. Breakdowns like the recent ones are an important time for Mumbai – its people, thought leaders and decision makers – to consider the role Bus Rapid System can play in providing resilience to its mobility.