By Kanika Sharma:
There are two bus routes in Delhi that I am most familiar with – the one I take from where I stay to where I work, and the other one from my office to Malviya Nagar (where a lot of work-related meetings take place). Both these commutes are 8 to 10 kilometers long. Unlike many of Delhi’s poorer commuters, I can afford to take the metro as and when I like. But the metro station is not close to my destination, and taking the metro also involves changing lines, therefore, I find that taking a bus is more convenient.
For the first route, I sometimes have to wait for as long as one hour for the bus to arrive. When it does, it is often quite full. Once I board the bus, I’m sure that I will reach my destination comfortably, though I’m never sure of the amount of time it will take. It is the same story when I come back on this route.
On the other route that I take, the bus is more frequent and the journey takes much lesser time. It also passes through the much-maligned Bus Rapid Transit Corridor (BRT), but I have never seen that as a problem. Every bus user is also a pedestrian and I find it safer to approach the Sheikh Sarai bus stand (the BRT intersection) than many other busy intersections in Delhi. Apart from elite roads of Lutyens’ Delhi, I have not seen such good footpaths anywhere else in the city. My bus journeys on the BRT corridor would have been much faster had cars stuck to their designated lanes. People who travel in cars may hate the BRT corridor, but bus users seem to like it a lot.
I remember an incident that happened at one of the peak hours last winter. A car had entered the bus lane and was stuck there at the Sheikh Sarai intersection. There were jam-packed buses on the corridor which were obstructed because the car was in the wrong lane. Instead of apologising and trying to find a remedy for the dangerous situation, the arrogant car owner took out their phone and started clicking photos of the bus and the bus driver. They obviously thought that the buses and the drivers were the erring party and were shouting at them. On that day I realized that many car owners in Delhi feel entitled to every inch of the road and do not want to yield any concessions to the majority of Delhi’s citizens who walk, cycle, or use public transport.
It is because of this sense of entitlement of car owners that the BRT corridor in particular, and public transportation in general, is in such a disarray. The BRT, an intervention that serves the majority of people on the road, is now on the verge of being scrapped because influential residents of colonies such as GK 1, GK 2 and Alaknanda cannot tolerate dedicated lanes for cyclists, pedestrians, and buses. Over the years, Delhi has built several flyovers and signal free roads to placate car owners, yet the congestion has not reduced because the number of cars keeps on increasing. This sense of entitlement is also partly responsible for the pernicious air pollution in Delhi which has detrimental effects on small babies, while also causing various respiratory diseases, and even cancer.
Delhi has the worst air pollution in the world, and this has had impacts on my health too. Over the past one year in Delhi, I have suffered from upper tract respiratory infections. Often I cannot stop coughing and suffer from routine chest pain. These problems magically vanish when I am in smaller towns or rural areas where I have to go regularly for my work. My friends and colleagues have had similar experiences. That is why it was extremely shocking for me to learn that the Delhi government and some of its MLAs are hell-bent on scrapping the BRT corridor. They have not taken any steps till now to improve the public transportation and to reduce air pollution in Delhi, nor have they given the BRT a fair chance ever, and instead are kneeling before Delhi’s powerful car lobby.
To challenge this preference given to cars in public transportation, some of us who have been involved with people’s movements, academia, citizens’ and professional bodies, as well as public transport enthusiasts, researchers, architects and students, have decided to initiate the Make Way for Buses Campaign – or the Bus ko rasta do abhiyan. We are organising and raising awareness to promote public and non-motorized modes of transportation in Delhi. This will improve accessibility for all citizens of all genders and classes, as well as children and differently abled persons. We believe that walking, cycling, and buses should also be seen as essential elements in any solution to Delhi’s rapidly deteriorating air quality. We hope that you will support this initiative.
Back in my hometown, and in most rural areas of India, stars are still visible in the night and the sky is still blue in the day. Many people in Delhi don’t realize this, but stars and blue skies are rarely visible in Delhi because of such bad air pollution. The repercussions of scrapping the BRT and not improving public transport in Delhi would be severe. That children would learn about “twinkle twinkle little stars” only in nursery rhymes would be just one of them.
Kanika is national organizer of the National Alliance of People’s Movements and a part of the Make Way for Buses Campaign – or the Bus ko rasta do abhiyan.