Delhi and the BRT

I'm getting more than a little tired of the media witch-hunt and feeding frenzy on the BRT. Delhi is probably the only one of India's cities where the government is even trying to improve the infrastructure, between all the new roads, flyovers, new airport and the BRT. But since the day the corridor opened, we haven't heard a single bouquet, only brickbats. Yes, there are problems and they do need to be sorted out, but let's not negate the good stuff entirely.

And for all the virulent headlines in the media and the snarky comments by the citizens, I'd like an answer to a simple question : What do you do to make things a little better? Do you, as pedestrians, use the zebra crossings and wait for the signal or do you act like Moses and hope the Red Sea will part wherever you happen to want to saunter across the road? Do you as motorists driving any kind of vehicle follow the rules of land and sane driving? Do you stick to the lanes in which you are supposed to drive on the BRT route or do you just weave in and out pretending life is the same chaotic mess as always and then get your nuts off vowing vengeance at the poor Government? Do cars and cabs obey the rules about their lane in the BRT or do they insist on getting into the bus lane, causing problems for themselves and the buses?

I remember when the toll road opened, the media was full of critical reports on how much havoc was being caused and how long it took for people to get through the toll plaza alone. But later when the toll plaza management got their act together and turned it around so that they actually promise you - only 5 mts waiting - nobody bothered to report that. It now takes my husband an hour and 10 minutes instead of close to 2 hours, to go from Gurgaon to Noida while it takes me half hour to traverse the 1 km distance to my office within Gurgaon. Is anyone reporting on how life has become better since the toll plaza opened?

Today's HT carries a front page item about how a pedestrian was dashing across the BRT corridor at random and how in an attempt to avoid hitting him, the blueline swerved and hit the railings and one piece of railing went through the bus and impaled a passenger. Yes, the story's horrific and very sad. But instead of blaming the BRT, why not blame the ass who was jaywalking? Had the Blueline not swerved to avoid the fool but run him over, that would have been the next finger of blame at the Bluelines.

Of course, the Delhi government has handled things badly - not the BRT itself but in its PR. As always, the Government thought it could be autocratic instead of democratic and just ploughed ahead with its plans. A 'mai-baap' sarkar doesn't work anymore, especially in a city as confident and opinionated as Delhi - you need to be open and transparent to the public. A better way to handle the situation would have been to have a PR campaign a month in advance, telling the citizens the details of how the BRT corridor was planned and how it was meant to work.

They should have circulated flyers to nearby colonies and had people directing pedestrians for the first week, right from the start, instead of waiting till the doody hit the fan. They should have released ads in the papers, FM and television explaining which lanes were meant for whom. Having uniformed people guiding motorists and pedestrians would have added a huge measure of reassurance and sanity to the proceedings. They should take a leaf out of Delhi Metro's book - those guys have been real gentlemen. Any time they have to divert traffic, they put up big, lit-up signboards and have people stationed night and day to guide motorists and pedestrians.

The Delhi government could also have kept the public in the loop, as well as the media, about a period of confusion that was inevitable with any change and a timeline of how long they thought it would take for the situation to stabilise. And rather than their kneejerk reaction saying that they would not proceed with the rest of the BRT until this situation was sorted out, I would have thought they would plan it that way. Whenever you introduce something new, especially something that needs behaviour modification on the parts of aggressive Delhiites, isn't it a good idea to do it step-wise? all marketers know that new categories need to be test-marketed first to iron out the problems. Surely something as big as the BRT could have planned on it that way to start with? Even the Delhi Metro did that and look at how that is flying!

On the other hand, the media needs to be more balanced in its coverage, instead of sensationalist. Yes, there are problems but why is it that all the coverage of the reasons why, especially those reflecting poorly on the citizenry are buried inside the paper instead of being on the front page? Why are quotes from the people saying it is teething trouble in the middle of long-winded write-ups about all the gore the BRT is causing? Why are there no positive stories about what the government was trying to do and how successfully this has worked in other countries and why? Why was today's headline yet another finger of blame towards the BRT instead of the unruly citizens? The media has a huge amount of influence on people's opinions and needs to be more balanced - let's not have tabloid journalism!

Come on, people. A city's systems will only work when the citizens cooperate and let the systems work. And the citizens will only cooperate if they are made to feel that the systems will eventually improve life for them. If we just take a look at any other city in India and compare it with Delhi, we will see how much better life is becoming here on a daily basis ( Ok, let's not talk about the power crisis - that's the subject of another rant altogether). In fact, even if we look back a few years and look at life today in Delhi, we will see how how things have improved. So let's all work together and be responsible citizens, mediapeople and yes, responsive government officials and politicians.


indiascribe said…
yes, the problem is that we are ready to condemn everything at the very outset. Of course, the BRT could have intially been set up at a less busy stretch for trial and then extended to other areas. The main problem right now seems to be the signals that obstruct free flow and conflict situations arising out of vehicles wanting to turn into other roads. It can be solved by having underpasses and overbridges fitted with escalators like the one at ITO. They should follow the metro model of construction and maintenance. I will be posting something on my blog soon.

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