Tomorrow, BMTC’s bus priority lane (BPL) will be fully operational on a 27-km stretch of Outer Ring Road (ORR), from Swami Vivekananda Road to Silk Board. The project was to be launched on November 1st, but was postponed to 15th, as BBMP was unable to complete the infrastructure work due to rains.
There is much optimism about the project, but it has strategic and planning issues that should have been addressed beforehand. In the first part of this series, I look at the strategic problems around BPL.
BPL is not contextualised in terms of the city’s transport needs
The project should be conceived (and projected) as an important part of the mobility-improvement plan for the whole city. Thus, UMTA (a central agency that handles the overall multimodal transportation of Bengaluru) should plan and explain BPL in overall context:
- What are the transportation needs of the city – current and future? Share the Travel Demand statistics, Travel Demand zones, Origin-Destination matrix etc.
- How is the current transport demand met (mode share between BMTC, private buses, school buses, cabs, autos, private vehicles and walking)?
- How this mode share would change in the ideal scenario and the most-likely scenario?
- What benefits are expected (such as reduced congestion, economic gain)?
- What steps are being taken overall to achieve this change, and how will each step work?
- How does the BPL fit into this plan?
But this approach is missing. Now BPL simply sounds like an idea that we should try out.
The project is launched without any expected deliverable
BMTC has no target for this project (that is, on what basis it would be considered “successful”). For example, the following questions are unanswered:
- What is the expected reduction in travel time, for a given trip?
- What target Level Of Service (free space on roads) will we achieve? And consequently, what is the projected increase in vehicle speed on the remaining two lanes?
- What percent of private vehicle users will switch to public transport?
- What is the expected reduction in pollution?
- What is the benefit to the city’s economy?
The public will agree to bear the extra pain that comes with bus lanes only if they can look forward to some exciting results. They will not cooperate if no outcomes have been set for the project.
BPL cannot substitute for Metro. Why is the long-term plan missing?
Just the 6-km stretch of ORR between Marathahalli and Ibbalur has 38 massive people hubs including tech parks and malls. And there are no grid roads, that facilitate smoother traffic and pedestrian movement, to support the ORR. Hence we need a Mass Rapid Transit System – that is, the Metro – here.
A BPL just cannot handle as much traffic volume as the Metro. But the Metro project has been stalled indefinitely.
There is no official clarification on the long-term mobility plans for the area. Currently, it appears as if the BPL plan is aimed at merely pacifying people temporarily.
BPL needs moderate levels of congestion. Reduce congestion first!
According to the Revised Master Plan (RMP 2031), the stretch of ORR between Marathahalli and Ibbalur currently carries five times its rated capacity.
If we introduce BPL on this three-lane stretch, all private vehicles will have to be diverted to the other lanes. Thus each lane will be forced to carry 3-4 times its capacity, bringing them to a grinding halt.
Clearly, we must first reduce heavy congestion to moderate levels.
Fortunately there is a way. Single-occupancy cars make up much of private transport. If they take to the bus, much of the congestion will dramatically disappear from ORR. After that, BPL becomes attractive. But BMTC has never tried to woo the users of single-occupancy cars.
BMTC must pay attention to fundamental service design, and attract single-occupancy drivers to buses. Only this will reduce congestion on ORR. Here is a list of things that BMTC and other mobility providers must follow to popularise public transport.
[In the second part of this series, I discuss the practical problems in implementing BPL]