The much-hyped 24-km BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System) corridor in the city, on which Rs 329 crore has already been spent to create the required infrastructure, is now likely to be dismantled, at a cost of 40% of the money already spent on it. The “corridor of trouble”, as it has come to be known among commuters, residents and commercial establishments on its route, has seen 121 accidents and 21 fatalities between 2016 and 2018, according to official figures. Not to mention the traffic chaos it is causing.
Launched in 2013 by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, the corridor from Misrod to Sant Hirdaram Nagar has faced opposition from people since the beginning. Besides people getting stuck in traffic jams on both sides of the corridor daily, the construction has also raised serious safety concerns.
There are now demands, even from the city’s elected representatives that the project be discontinued and the structures built be dismantled. But officials of the Bhopal City Link Limited (BCCL), who had spent Rs 56 crore under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission to buy 225 buses for use in this corridor, are opposing this demand claiming that one lakh people use the corridor daily. BCLL was created as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) owned and incorporated by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC), to provide an organised dimension to public transportation in Bhopal.
Unfortunately, its efforts so far have only caused trouble for commuters. “The BRTS corridor remains empty as only city buses run on it and no other vehicle except emergency service vehicles like ambulances, fire brigade and police, are allowed to use it,” said Anuradha Sharma, a college student in Bhopal. “On the other hand, the public lanes on either side see regular traffic jams”.
“Most roads in the city are less than 60m wide. In such a scenario, the basic idea of building a corridor was flawed,” added Jagdish Prasad, a bank employee in his mid-30s who lives in the city’s Jinsi area, which falls on the corridor route. “The city roads are narrow and I regularly get caught in traffic jams at many places since the corridor came up. An expert team from Delhi has said there is no need to raze the corridor. But the problems created by the corridor cannot be underestimated.”
Kavita Khare, a school teacher, said though the corridor is meant only for buses, many unauthorized vehicles enter the corridor to avoid traffic congestions which leads to accidents. “The corridor has many accident-prone spots and many fatal accidents have occurred in these places,” said Kavita. “The purpose for which the corridor was created has not been served. It was said that a bus would run every five minutes. But in reality, this does not happen. Often the corridor remains empty, while there are traffic jams in the other traffic lanes. The situation is disastrous in areas like TT Nagar, Peer Gate, Lal Ghati, Bagh Sewania, etc where people waste hours stuck in traffic jams”.
The major safety issues on the BRTS corridor are that the side lanes on both sides of the corridor have become too narrow leading to traffic jams and accidents. Sometimes vehicle drivers, particularly two-wheelers, dart into the BRTS corridor through the random open points along the corridor to avoid jams and get hit by the bus. In some places, there is not even a red light or any other safeguard at the opening. Both pedestrians and two-wheeler riders in particularly have met with accidents.
Besides, many structures like shops, kiosks and marriage gardens have come up along the corridor route further causing traffic congestion. On Bairagarh Road, for instance, a row of wedding halls renders the corridor ineffective. Said Naeem Khan, a young professional who frequently travels on BRTS buses: “There is no staff to stop people from straying into the corridor. The corridor remains empty since the frequency of buses is quite low. So people get tempted to stray into the corridor when they get stuck in the traffic jams on the side lanes.”
According to BRTS officials, the daily ridership on BRTS buses is about 125,000 and a total of 225 buses are plying on 12 city routes. Pradip Sinha, a shop owner in Kolar area, said: “Travelling experience is good. But the frequency of buses is low. I come daily from the Ashoka Garden area to Kolar. But there is great rush during peak hours.”
Bad for business
Traders along the corridor’s route in Sant Hirdaram Nagar on the outskirts of the city complain that their business is suffering on account of the corridor. Many of them said there is fear of an accident at every step as there is little space left on either side making traffic jams a routine affair in the area. Sant Nagar’s business has come to a standstill due to BRTS, the traders have alleged.
According to local police, at least 10 people have died and another 31 injured in 44 accidents in Sant Hirdaram Nagar alone in the last three years. Congress councillor Ashok Maran, who unsuccessfully campaigned for the removal of BRTS railing in Sant Hirdaram Nagar to allow plying of other vehicles through the corridor said: “The number of accidents due to the corridor must be much more as many cases are not registered”.
The traders of Sant Nagar had written to Chief Minister Kamal Nath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for the corridor to be removed. They said the corridor has created multiple issues for busy market areas like Sant Hirdaram Nagar and Bairagarh where business activities have been badly hit due to traffic snarls mainly generated by the BRTS corridor.
Residents too have been complaining. “A six-and-a-half-metre wide dedicated corridor was built here in the middle of the road, which was reserved only for select low floor buses,” said Babita Pholwani, a young homemaker in Sant Nagar. “The width of the lane on both sides of the corridor is just seven meters. The result is that the dedicated corridor remains empty and there is a traffic jam in the other lanes daily.”
According to Manikchand Seth, a garment merchant in Sant Nagar, customers do not like to come here as they do not find parking space for their vehicles. “If this continues, businesses here will be forced to shut down”. Now the authorities have allowed plying of school buses and inter-city buses in the dedicated BRTS corridor in Sant Hirdaram Nagar and Bairagarh.
What experts say
In view of the intensifying opposition from the public, the state government decided to bring in experts from Delhi to evaluate the performance of the transportation system. The feasibility of the BRTS corridor in Bhopal had been questioned by the public ever since its inception and they pointed out its shortcomings to the experts and asserted that the system has failed to live up to its expectations.
The government itself is not averse to demolishing the structures that had come up as part of the project. Madhya Pradesh’s Urban Administration Minister Jaivardhan Singh had said that the work of dismantling the BRTS corridor in Bhopal could begin after obtaining the experts’ opinion. On June 25 2019, a team of experts from the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), Delhi visited Bhopal to inspect the corridor. A similar corridor built in Delhi was eventually dismantled on the recommendation of the same team and experts who visited Bhopal, giving hope to citizens that the same could happen in their city too.
However the CRRI experts, Dr S Velmurugan and Ravi Shekhar, said there was no need to disassemble the BRTS corridor. They did, however, emphasise that some changes were needed to enhance its utility and efficiency. CRRI experts inspected the corridor from Bairagarh to Board Office in Bhopal. The team has given suggestions on how to increase safety standards within the BRTS corridor, and improve public transport in general. The visiting experts said that they were “satisfied with the design of the transport system and there was no need to break the structure.”
Minister Jaivardhan Singh added that “the detailed evaluation of the CRRI experts report would be received by the end of October. Measures would be taken to remove the shortcomings and resolve the people’s problems according to the recommendations in the report.”
But that is of little consolation to the people as there is likely to be no relief from the current traffic chaos and accidents in the near future.