He is one the world’s foremost authorities on public transportation, and in particular bus systems. He led the transformation of bus transport in his home city of Bogota, Columbia and has since been involved a host of cities around the world.
Dario Hidalgo is in Bangalore for a few days and he and his team of people from EMBARQ, an international organisation that develops sustainable transport solutions, are training BMTC officials on improving it’s BIG-10 services. EMBARQ works with local transport authorities in developing countries to help them adopt best international practices.
Hidalgo is the Director for Research and Practice at EMBARQ. Based in Bogota, he was a pioneer in introducing BRTS (Bus Rapid Transport System) there.
In a conversation with Citizen Matters on September 28th, Hidalgo said that unlike other state-run bus transport undertakings in Indian cities, BMTC was actually ready to make changes to improve its services. "We are not a regular consultancy, we are handholding with BMTC," he says.
During this visit, Embarq team is focusing on improving BIG-10 bus services (services along the 12 major corridors in the city), specifically on the G3 (Hosur) corridor. "Improving existing services is more important that introducing Bus Rapid Transit, as BRT will come in some corridors only. BIG-10 has become a successful service; on improving it more people are likely to shift to public transport and reduce private vehicle usage. In addition to reducing pollution and traffic congestion, lesser use of private vehicles will also prevent wastage of expensive and scarce land resource which is used only for vehicle parking," Higaldo says.
Higaldo quotes BMTC data on BIG-10 users. According to BMTC survey, 9% and 1% of current BIG-10 users were formerly regular users of two-wheelers and cars. "It is a major achievement. BIG-10 buses are of good quality, costs only a little more than ordinary bus travel and has grown as a brand," he says.
Higaldo opines that Big 10 can improve further if BMTC can add express services and add more short loops to the BIG-10 points. "Bus services have to adaptive based on real usage and conditions. Also they should not be overloaded, irrespective of the type of service," he says.
Higaldo says that BMTC is open to change and much change can brought about in a cost-effective manner. "For example, the number of services can be increased without increasing the number of buses. Tracking and shuffling the crew around the city can be automated with specialised software instead of the current process of manual data entry", he says.
The team is not focusing on BMTC’s plain vanilla bus services for now as they believe that only gradual change is possible. "In Santiago, Chile, the government attempted an overnight transformation from the old bus system to a new advanced system and it went into chaos. It is best to make changes incrementally, one step at a time," says Hidalgo.
Regarding the much-touted BRT, Higaldo says two things. One that BRT is not the panacea to all bus transport challenges in the city. He is firm that there is plenty of room for improvement in the current services itself, before moving on to BRT. "Bangalore would not be ready for BRT until existing operations and services are improved. Though BMTC is a very successful model in terms of profit-making, it has many challenges in terms of running time, boarding points, number of buses etc.", he says.
BRT is an advanced, technology based, intelligent bus transport system, Hidago points out. Bangalore should do a full lifecycle planning with co-ordination of different government agencies, like Ahemedabad did. BRTS failed in Delhi and Pune as they focused only on infrastructure and not on operations. "In Delhi a separate BRTS lane was made, but no separate BRTS buses were introduced. There was no branding or technology use in fare collection. In Pune the project was done cheap, without separate BRT stations which are in fact critical for quick entry and exit," he adds.
Higaldo says that the failure of Delhi and Pune models have harmed the concept of BRTS itself in India, but that Bangalore is taking a step in the right direction. "Last year the Ahmedabad BRTS team had visited Bangalore on BMTC’s invitation," he says.
Bangalore’s CTTP (Comprehensive Transport and Traffic Plan) suggests BRTS for 291.5 kms at the cost of Rs 3498 crores in 14 corridors. The pilot project is being planned for ORR between Silk Board junction and Hebbal. It is expected to cost Rs 550 crores, according to the Urban Development Department of the state government. The state government has allotted Rs 25 crores this year for the project.