quotes of the week: cars vs buses in delhi


"Car owners are the creators of wealth. Do you realise that they get exhausted sitting in their cars due to traffic jams and they reach office completely tired? It affects their efficiency. Do you want them to perform less?"

B B Sharan, the chief petitioner opposing Delhi's
new on-street Bus Rapid Transit system, on
the grounds that it leaves less space for car traffic. 

"The problem of car users, who are in a minority, is being portrayed in the press as the people's problem. The fact is that less than 10% people in Delhi use private cars. More than 33% travel by buses and 30% walk to work."

Geetam Tiwari, a road safety expert and professor
at Delhi's Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)

After months of drama, Mr. Sharan's complaint is being considered by Delhi's High Court.  

Note that even the professor is reluctant to note the obvious: that buses that are allowed to run quickly and reliably will be more useful, and thus likely to attract even more than 33% of travelers.  Unless, of course, you assume that class boundaries are absolutely rigid, with eternally fixed numbers of "bus-people", and that nobody changes their behavior based on utility.   With that assumption, you're stuck with a purely entitlement-based argument, still a very strong argument in Delhi but not the only one.

Side note:  Summing up the professor's percentages, it appears that some significant share of Delhi commuters are much-besieged cyclists, riding in immensely dangerous conditions.  The daily reality of the Delhi curbface is that vendors fill up pedestrian spaces, including any sidewalks/footpaths, forcing pedestrians as well as cyclists into traffic lanes.  Traffic in Delhi is often slow but always turbulent, with vehicles accelerating unpredictably to jump into perceived gaps in traffic. 


First photo:  BBC

26 Responses to quotes of the week: cars vs buses in delhi

  1. Erik Griswold October 25, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    Exactly why I will always have a nagging suspicion of BRT; because it can be and often is eventually opened to private vehicle traffic because of the prevailing, dare I say Marxist, view of asphalt being a “commons”.
    (Railways and other fixed-guideways aren’t)
    For example, look at what has happened to the Transit-funds built El Monte Busway:

  2. Bruce Nourish October 25, 2012 at 7:09 am #

    In the El Monte case, my reaction depends on whether the resulting HOT traffic will be enough to delay buses. If not, I don’t see a problem, especially if the toll revenue goes to transit (not sure from the wiki article).
    Seattle’s express lanes work just fine that way (minus the tolling; HOV not HOT). Were we not building East Link in the I-90 express lanes, I’d have liked to see them converted to two way transit+tolls.
    Just as we shouldn’t go for ideological or class based reasoning about who uses transit service, we shouldn’t do that when it comes to the right of way. The the only question to me is, will the pathway still be as fast and reliable?
    In Delhi the petitioners seem to be demanding unrestricted GP access, which would of course be a disaster.

  3. Bruce Nourish October 25, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    At least from an inspection of the agency-provided fact sheet, the El Monte project looks pretty smart:
    “> Toll-free travel for vehicles that meet minimum vehicle occupancy requirement [3+], motorcycles, and privately operated buses.
    > Trucks (other than 2-axle) are not allowed entry.
    > Minimum peak tolls shall be no less than 150% of Metro transit fare on the Metro ExpressLanes.
    > All vehicles using Metro ExpressLanes are required to have a transponder.
    > Tolling will shut down (i.e. no toll users will be permitted to enter the ExpressLanes) when travel speeds fall below 45 mph for more
    than 10 minutes.
    > Emergency vehicles may use the Metro ExpressLanes when responding to incidents

    > The toll range will be $0.25-$1.40 per mile; toll rates will vary within the range based upon demand.
    > The toll rate is based on traffic levels in the Metro ExpressLanes to ensure a minimum of 45 mph.”
    So assuming this fact sheet is correct, it’s HOV 3+ and private coaches for free and lower-occupancy vehicles with a toll, but if congestion occurs the LOVs get priced out or booted out. Seems like a really smart way to maximize the utility of an express lane to me.
    If project like this are an example of the failure of BRT, I say we need more failure, stat.

  4. Jeff Wegerson October 25, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    So did I read the Wiki article right. During the experiment in 2000 with lowering the requirements for use of the HOV lane from 3+ to 2+ passengers not only were the HOV lanes drastically slowed (65 mph to 20 mph) but so were the regular lanes (25 mph average to 23 mph)?
    That means that so many people switched from 3+ to 2+ that they slowed things down so much in the HOV lanes that some spilled over into the regular lanes. Mind blowing.
    So by enticing some people to pay to leave the regular lanes they are hoping to speed up the regular lanes. At the expense of slowing the then HOT lanes, of course.
    So the next step is to take some of the money from the 3- cars and pay it to 4+ cars as an enticement towards further reductions in vehicle usage.

  5. Nathanael October 25, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    I’m with Erik Griswold on this. The sheer difficulty of letting cars onto railroad tracks is an argument in favor of rail. (Though not in favor of “shared lane streetcars”, which are almost never right.)

  6. Bruce Nourish October 25, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    No, the whole point is that by charging one- or two-occupants a variable amount of money, you don’t slow the transitway down, but you do provide more mobility to more people.
    It might not work, of course, in which case it makes sense to keep it at HOV 3+, but there’s no reason in principle to oppose such projects within an existing freeway right of way.

  7. Nathanael October 26, 2012 at 5:24 am #

    “It might not work, of course, ”
    Politics. Think politics; it’s always politics. If you can actually trust the politicians to keep the HOV lanes flowing, that’s one thing. I wouldn’t; the invididual-driver lobby is still very strong.

  8. Jacob October 26, 2012 at 7:16 am #

    I recently heard a BRT advocate say that much of the controversy in the Delhi system arose from a station design that exacerbated congestion by placing stations right at intersections. I’m assuming that since stations require much more space and intersections are bottleneck anyway that this was what caused the problem. Can anyone comment further? Are most BRT stations placed away from intersections?

  9. Marklister83 October 26, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    I lived and worked in Brisbane last year, and used the South East Busway corridor to commute to the CBD. Travel times were consistent and fast precisely because private automobiles were prohibited on the busway, regardless of the number of occupants. (I believe emergency vehicles had the option to use the busways if necessary.) I didn’t sense a lot of “bus stigma” – many different types of people rode the bus.
    Some stations were at intersections (e.g. Stanley St, Woolloongabba) but they did not interfere with traffic. Others shared space with vehicles and were a bit bottlenecked (Victoria Bridge/Cultural Centre).
    From what I understand, Brisbane chose to build busways because the buses could run separated from traffic in some sections, and then disperse onto local arterial roads to more effectively serve the lower density suburbs. The train lines in the city are good, but tend to work best when you’re within walking distance of a station.
    Mr. Sharan is falling into the bus stigma trap. When you have a convenient, frequent service, whether BRT or rail, people will use it.

  10. Eric October 27, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    Of course most stations are placed at intersections. How can passengers get to a station in the middle of the street if it’s not at an intersection?

  11. Alon Levy October 28, 2012 at 5:21 am #

    Sharan is not a bus vs. rail mode warrior. He’s a bus vs. car mode warrior. He’s not saying “Build rail because nobody rides buses.” He’s saying the city should give drivers more privileges over bus riders because bus riders are peons and drivers are the Wealth Creators.

  12. cph November 4, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    One thing about the El Monte Busway project is that an additional lane is being built. Up until the Express Lane project starts, the Busway was only one lane in each direction, which caused crowding when the HOV-2’s were allowed on. The project will add an additional lane in each direction, providing more capacity.

  13. Manuel November 7, 2012 at 4:13 am #

    I stayed in Delhi for a while (work related), and the observation about cars accelerating unpredictably to jump into gaps in traffic is absolutely true. As a foreigner not used to this, you need a few near death experiences until you realize that. Needless to say, my alertness as a pedestrian has risen to new heights during my stay.

  14. Mercedes-Benz Stretch Limousine January 3, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    Poems given in this article was nice and it’s true that in the Delhi car and buses are in many numbers.

  15. jens w. January 11, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    Really interesting article. I have never been in Dehli but now i know it works in India.

  16. Hassan Ovski October 22, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

    More bikes and few cars would be a good solution!

  17. Chris Rahimi November 27, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    A great read – and what an eye opener! Thanks for the info 🙂

  18. cute status April 11, 2016 at 7:23 am #

    so true, every point made is apt. the situation is even worse when you are stuck in any one of it. The solution you have mentioned seems possible and it should be given a chance

  19. John September 1, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

    I think More Buses would be idle solution and I got reason Why If you travel together must be saving of fuel and pollution free as well. so please my suggestion try to avoid individual vehicle.

  20. Mack Deon September 1, 2016 at 5:39 pm #

    In my point of view buses and personal vehicles are same as their place why and how? If you travel by your own self then it’s gonna take no more time however if you travel by Public then its gonna take more time compare to Personal.

  21. Chin Mack September 2, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

    I think you should suggest Bus is the best way to travel in Delhi.

  22. james micheal September 4, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    Buses run slower than personal cars so I think Personal Car would be the best option.. What you suggest!!

  23. Chin Mack September 5, 2016 at 7:37 pm #

    I should suggest that buses are comparatively slower than private vehicle so I should suggest that Use Personal Vehicle compare to Buses

  24. Andrew September 7, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

    In my point of view, Buses are much cheaper and more convenient than private vehicles

  25. Jacky September 15, 2016 at 11:30 pm #

    I my point view Buses are faster than Private Vehicle.

  26. Darcy October 4, 2016 at 4:10 am #

    Buses run more slowly than cars so I consider Car would be the ideal choice.. What you would suggest!!

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