Questions have been raised about some aspects of the Bus Rapid Transit System for Mumbai. While it is necessary to address these issues, it is more important not to delay the implementation of such a crucial project that can transform transportation, which is now straining the city and its citizens
The Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) has been on the agenda for Mumbai from as far back as 2003, when Mumbai urban infrastructure projects were being conceived for the city. It was thought that it would eclipse all other transportation projects and that by 2011 we would be comfortably placed. That has not happened. Still, we look forward with optimism, like at the end of each day we look forward to the sunrise the next morning. Perhaps, addressing some of the concerns of the authorities may help in moving the BRTS programme forward.
During my conversation with some of the stakeholders, such as the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), the Bombay Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking, and the transport department of the Maharashtra government, I learned of some of their apprehensions. They include queries that the common man may have-whether it is those who use public transport, or even the small minority who own personalised, motorised transport. So, let's consider some of these fears and concerns, systematically.
> BRTS has not been tried, and if it fails, there would be plenty of public criticism
> Taking away one lane for buses, from the already congested vehicular traffic will create strong negative reaction from the public.
> 3-metre wide road lane is sub-standard and should not be followed.
> Need pedestrian crossings at the same level as footpaths.
> Provision of foot-overbridges to cross the road and to reach the BRT bus stops.
> Mumbai is different-it has no space for all this.
Let us take address these issues step by step.
Let's try a Dedicated Bus Lane (DBL) to start off, and if this succeeds, then let's take up the BRTS.
Money cannot be spent wastefully. If BRTS fails, there will be criticism of the money wasted. On the other hand, DBL is inexpensive in comparison to the funds that would be required for BRTS. If DBL fails, it will be easier to defend the money spent on it. And if DBL succeeds, it would pave the way for the acceptance of BRTS. This may be true.
However, what needs to be understood is that while DBL will not improve the performance, it demands greater supervision during operation. It is beset with numerous unsolvable issues. DBL is bound to fail in Mumbai-small experiments to run buses in dedicated bus lanes over a short distance, say between Chhatrapati Shivaji (railway) Terminus and Mantralaya (the state headquarters), should be sufficient reason to realise the futility. Yet, there has to be an open mind to use the DBL if BRTS has to function efficiently.
BRTS is a well-designed system that requires plenty of detailed planning, just like the Metro Rail or the Monorail, or even the much taken-for-granted, suburban railway system which have well-designed system. If the cost, operational flexibility and performance of BRTS are to be compared with a system, it should be with the Metro Rail and Monorail and not with DBL.
BRTS is untried and if it fails, there will be plenty of criticism from the public.
Barely 3% of Mumbai's population use personal cars and 8.5% use motorized two-wheelers and they will not be affected by the introduction of BRTS in Mumbai. They currently drive on congested roads and will continue to drive on congested roads even after the BRTS project is implemented, unless of course a large number of them move over to using the BRTS and other modes of public transport. While traffic police have been callous and mismanage traffic, road congestion is blamed on bad roads by the BMC and the increasing number of cars. It is likely that the BRTS 'taking away' one full road lane will be the main criticism for the 11% of the population who have personal motorised vehicles.
So this is a good enough reason for the government-both the bureaucrats and their political bosses-not to care for the plight of the silent suffering 89% of the population of Mumbai who travel by suburban trains and BEST buses.
It is argued that BRTS is untried! They pretend to ignore the fact that BRTS is already in operation in different parts of the world, at different capacities, and especially in cities which decided to go in for a quickly implementable, low-cost option like BRTS, for urban rapid transit. Flexibility of design and operation of BRTS lends itself to operation as in the much-appreciated low-capacity Ahmedabad BRTS (1,500 pphpd-passengers per hour per direction), much criticised, but getting expanded immensely; the reasonably good capacity Delhi BRTS (8,000 pphpd), and Pune BRTS, and in the BRTS under implementation in Jaipur, Vishakhapattanam, Surat, Bengaluru and Rajkot, not to mention scores of them in China, or in Seoul, Brisbane, Istanbul, Lagos. Bogota (in Colombia) has achieved 45,000 pphpd capacity and Curitiba (in Brazil) provides 13,000 pphpd. Sao Paulo (also in Brazil) and Santiago (in Chile) have about 22,000 pphpd.
Mumbai needs four routes of 45,000, or six routes of 30,000, or five of 36,000, or two of 45,000 plus three of 30,000 pphpd-any combination that gives a total capacity of 1,80,000 pph if we want the suburban railway to run at its design capacity. The point that all stakeholders must note is that super-overcrowding of the suburban railway system leads to about 4,000 fatalities annually.
So, is the fear of facing criticism for possible failure preventing government from taking the right decisions? Does not the loss of 4,000 lives annually affect their sensibilities? Cost apart, will the Metro Rail and the Monorail meet the much-needed requirement? And when?
Because the public transport is in such a bad state and the pedestrian ways unfriendly that the Persons with Disability (PwD), Elderly, Expectant Women, Children, the infirm and the many with medical problems such as cardio vascular and arthritic ailments are rendered virtually immobile.
'Taking away' one lane for buses, in already congested vehicular traffic, will spark off a strong negative reaction from the public
Considering that buses occupy less than 5% of road space compared to equivalent cars and additional cars, taking away one lane for buses would mean 95% of vehicles will have the remaining lanes to move on. For a three-lane carriageway, this would amount to 95% of vehicles would get 67% of road space! The arithmetic does not resolve the apprehension fully as it is evident that reduced road space will lead to high road congestion, especially when the rest of the traffic will continue to also include non-motorised vehicles (NMVs) as well as heavy motor vehicles (HMVs).
However, the reality is different. Currently, buses and heavy motor vehicles rarely follow lane discipline, just as most other vehicles flout the norm. By driving on the lane demarcation line, a vehicle occupies two lanes. Stage buses also change lanes often to halt at (or near) bus stops and they still do not stop close to the kerb, adding to the road congestion. By putting buses in a dedicated bus lane, one of the reasons for road congestion is eliminated.
Although the remainder HMVs may occupy two spaces on the road simultaneously, their numbers are too small and unlike stage buses they do not make halts and so should not cause disruption to traffic flow. It is the non-motorised vehicles (NMVs) with much lower speeds that render one lane a slow-moving lane. This leads to conflicts on the road with motorised vehicles (MVs), visible in the honking and disrespectful behavior towards NMV users. To assist MVs to travel at good speed and improved throughput, it is best to segregate NMVs from MVs, just as in the case of buses, to improve transport performance.
In an open system, pedestrians and NMV users are the most vulnerable group. Segregating them to safer grounds is as important as allowing MVs to move with good speed and public transport to function more effectively through DBL.
The strong negative reaction from the public is from the group that occupies nearly 90% of road space, but contributes to just 15% to 20% of commuter throughput. Since segregation of NMVs, commuter buses and MVs will enable each of these groups to perform optimally at their respective steady good speeds, the apprehension of the MV users can be convincingly argued out with them; that their mobility is expected to improve rather than deteriorate by such reallocation of road space.
Promoting safe transit to NMVs, also means promoting larger segments of the commuting public to adopt the carbon neutral mode of transit for their respective travel distances. Recognising this aspect is everyone's responsibility and the government's duty to adopt and implement policies that proactively contribute to lessen global warming.
A 3-metre width traffic lane is sub-standard; the Indian Road Congress (IRC) set width of 3.5 metres should be followed to ensure good speed and 'less' accidents.
In urban areas, speeds must be kept in check through design features and minimum enforcement needs. Speed breakers and rumblers should be used sparingly as they are uncomfortable and injurious to health, even at slow speeds.
When the road lane width is as wide as 3.5 metres, the driver is quite comfortable to increase speed and he pays less attention to driving. Along narrower lanes, the driver usually pays more attention to driving, and hence keeps his speed in check, and avoids overtaking as the opportunity for squeezing in and overtaking diminishes considerably, thus preventing road accidents. Road accidents involving a pedestrian or bicyclist at high speed, commonly results in fatality, whereas at lower speeds and with greater attention on driving, fatal or serious accidents become rarer. Therefore, in order to lessen the probability of fatal or serious injury-causing road accidents, sub-standard road width should be beneficial, even if it does not follow IRC recommendations. Any way, IRC norms are mostly for highways and not urban roads.
Since squeezing-in is reduced, bottle-necking, one of the causes of road congestion in a flowing stream of vehicles also gets reduced. Therefore, providing substandard road width of 3 metres should be considered a progressive step.
Pedestrian crossings at the same level as of footpaths
The raised level of pedestrian crossing has twin functions. It is a facility that is friendly to PwD, the elderly, and also acts as a speed breaker. However, speed breakers are not friendly to people traveling in MVs. Motorised vehicles invariably move at higher speeds and have to take corrective measure to slow down suddenly, and not being able to achieve slow enough speeds to negotiate the speed breaker without jerks.
Too many speed breakers can be harmful. It speed breakers are combined with pedestrian crossings, the details must be modified to avoid the need to slow down suddenly. If speeds are not slow enough to enable the driver to brake to a halt in the event that a pedestrian moves on to the pedestrian crossing, the result could be serious, even fatal.
As raised pedestrian crossings are often part of BRTS details, it is suggested that the pedestrian crossing should be at least 3 metres wide and 15 centimetres to 20 centimetres above the road carriageway. The approach slope should be 1:50 while the leeward slope 1:15, with rumblers at about 15 metres before the beginning of the approach slope, sufficient distance for the MVs to slow down and roll over the pedestrian crossing-cum-speed breaker. This will avert suddenness and also keep speed in check.
The height of footpaths must be 15 centimetres to 20 centimetres from the road level at the kerb as a standard, and not the eight inches to ten inches that is being provided. This is to enable cars to stop closer to the kerb and allow the doors to open on to the footpath; else the cars get parked about a meter away from the kerb. Also, it must be ensured that there is no railing at the edge of the footpaths, only the posts of the railing 1.5 metres to 2 metres apart are adequate to streamline the pedestrian on to the footpaths. This would mean that autos, taxis, cars and non-BRT buses can stop closer to the kerb, while passengers are alighting or boarding the vehicles.
On congested roads, two-wheelers tend to drive on the footpath, which means there has to be greater deterrent and better enforcement rather than increased footpath height and putting up railings. Increased footpath height is very unfriendly to the whole class of people with disabilities.
Provide foot overbridge (FOB) for crossing as well as reaching BRT bus stops
Where it is necessary and space is available, providing an FOB is quite in order. However, there should be no compromise on making provisions stipulated under the Persons with Disability (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995, which have to be made in any case for all public facilities. This would mean providing elevators or properly designed ramps.
It is to be understood that there are national and United Nations standard details available for making barrier-free environment, which makes the person with disability (PwD) independently mobile. Considering that there are significant numbers of PwD, the elderly, expectant ladies, the infirm and the many who are restrained from climbing stairs due to medical conditions, who need to use public transport, providing such facilities is non-negotiable. Even the law requires providing such facilities.
Mumbai is different - it has no space for all this
Is achieving mobility for 88% of the population more necessary; providing safety to the vulnerable sections of road users and implementing the Persons with Disability Act 1995 at all binding on us; and saving 4,000 lives annually more important; or will the issues of the 11% motorised vehicle users keep us from doing something worthwhile. It is for citizens to decide and demand from their political representatives, and a matter that bureaucrats must ponder over seriously.
[Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on the Government of Maharashtra's Steering Committee on Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) for Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's (MMRDA) technical advisory committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of the Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA). He was a member of the Bombay High Court-appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He has been an active campaigner against noise pollution for over a decade and he is a strong believer in a functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected]]
Balanced funds are a misnomer. They are disguised equity diversified funds, because as much as 65% of the investment is put in equities
Balanced funds are designed for those who want to invest in a low-risk fund with modest capital appreciation. Balanced funds often have a pre-determined allocation of holdings. The risk is contingent on the amount of equity in ratio to other conservative holdings. Funds with a higher fixed income percentage are designed for conservative investors. In India, they are a misnomer. For, to take advantage of the tax-free benefit on long-term capital gains, they invest 65% of the money in equities.
The Taurus scheme too proposes to allocate 65%-75% of assets in equities and equity-related instruments. It would further invest 25%-35% of assets in debt and money market instruments with a low risk profile. The portfolio performance will almost totally depend on how well the equity part has performed.
On the other hand, these funds are usually found to be expensive. In reality, balanced funds aren't nearly as cheap as they should be. Internationally, investors in these funds are a different class; they are mostly those who have graduated from debt or monthly income plans for better returns, but their primary concern still continues to be safety of principal.
If you have to invest, there are better funds available in the market. The best is HDFC Prudence Fund.
The RBI had opposed setting up a DMO under the Union government to manage sovereign debt, saying only the central bank has the requisite expertise to manage market volatility. However, C Rangarajan, a former RBI governor, said times have changed and the government could take up the job if it is "adequately prepared to undertake that function"
New Delhi: Joining the debate over hiving off the debt management activities of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) chairman C Rangarajan has favoured setting up a separate Debt Management Office (DMO) under the aegis of the central government, reports PTI.
"There are many countries in the world where the public debt office is managed only by the government. Therefore, even here, the RBI can continue to play its role as a monetary authority, without having the DMO under it," the PMEAC chief told PTI.
The RBI has opposed setting up a DMO under the Union government to manage sovereign debt, saying only the central bank has the requisite expertise to manage market volatility.
"Only central banks have the requisite market pulse and instruments to aid in making contextual judgements which an independent debt agency, driven by narrow objectives, will not be able to do," RBI governor Duvvuri Subbarao said at a meeting of the Central Bank Governance Group in Basel.
However, Mr Rangarajan, a former RBI governor, said times have changed and the government could take up the job if it is "adequately prepared to undertake that function".
He said that earlier the government required the helping hand of the RBI to enable it to raise the required amount, because prior to 1991, the borrowing rate of the government was well below the market rate.
"But things have changed since then... According to the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, the RBI is not supposed to be in the primary market," he said.
The government has proposed to set up an independent Debt Management Office, aimed at separating the RBI's roles as the decider of the interest rate in the market and being the banker to the government.
At present, both the government's debt and fresh borrowings are managed by the central bank.
In his 2011-12 Budget speech, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had mooted the proposal to introduce the Public Debt Management Agency of India Bill.