Geetam Tiwari talks to Anne-Marie Prayas about her experiences as a traffic designer in Delhi, and her role in the nascent High Capacity Bus System.
An Associate Professor in the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP) of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Tiwari has been closely associated with the design of the High Capacity Bus System - which is set to revolutionise road-based transportation in India.
What do you keep in mind while designing transport and traffic systems in a highly congested city like Delhi?
Delhi is a city with various kinds classes of people and choices of transport vary with each class. Most people forget that the city has a high ratio of cyclists and pedestrians, while designing transport. Also women, children, senior citizens and disabled people are among those that are forgotten in road designing. Pedestrians do not violate traffic rules of their own accord or because of lack of discipline; they are forced to do so because of the way roads are designed.
No one caters to the masses. Take, for instance, the flyovers in the Capital. While some may think that they are a great boon to the traffic system, most others are being put through a lot of inconvenience because of them. Their construction obstructs traffic, there is no path, under flyovers, for pedestrians to walk across and they encourage high speeds for motorised vehicles. The latter poses a great problem in areas like the AIIMS [All India Institute of Medical Sciences] intersection, where a busy flyover complex, with high-speed traffic, is flanked on both sides by two major hospitals! Just imagine the inconvenience caused to ambulances and other patients trying to enter and leave the hospital premises.
The roads are public space but the public has no say in the matter!
How disabled friendly is the new High Capacity Bus System?
We have tried to keep in mind all kinds of people while designing this system. The wheelchair user, the elderly suffering from arthritis and poor eyesight, the mother with her baby in one arm and a bag in the other, school children with their knapsacks and water bottles and the visually challenged with their canes. We have designed a separate path for pedestrians which is wheelchair-friendly, another zone for two wheelers and cycles and two separate lanes for buses. That way we encourage people to use buses and organise traffic at the same time.
We have paid special attention to bus stops as most accidents take place while people board and get off buses. The subways in the city are completely disabled unfriendly. The lack of ramps and sufficient lighting makes it impossible for any disabled person to use a subway, forcing them to risk their lives in heavy traffic. You should, in fact, file a case against the transport authorities regarding these subways! We need to be more aggressive in demanding our rights.
What are the main features of these new buses? How many passengers can they accommodate?
The buses have a low floor and wide doors. The frame of each door is wide enough to fit three people standing side by side and is, hence, wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through. The first step of the bus is very low to allow an easy climb. The platforms of bus stops would be raised to 38 inches, which is the same height of the first step in the bus. Therefore, the step and floor of the bus stop would be at one level when the bus halts for passengers. Wheelchair users can easily roll into the bus and can then use the ramp, along the stairs, to enter the main aisle.
The bus contains removable seats, in whose place wheelchairs would be clamped. Bus stops would be made of tactile flooring for the visually challenged. Buses will also carry additional ramps, for the benefit of wheelchair users, in cases where the bus cannot stop alongside the stop.
These buses can accommodate 30 seats and their standing space is 120.
Would the fares be higher on the High Capacity Buses?
We have the common man in mind when we are working on this project. Fares will be fixed keeping in mind what is most affordable to the lowest working classes of society. Money can be generated through other means.
What areas of the city would this system cover? Are you planning to implement it in the rest of the country as well?
We hope to cover all of Delhi. The plan, we have devised, includes the five main corridors in Delhi, which covers 130 km of routes. Several other cities have shown interest in this system. Hyderabad and Bangalore are amongst those who are considering the High Capacity Bus System very seriously.
What do you think of the Delhi Metro system?
The Delhi Metro may have many impressive features but it is capital intensive. Because of its high infrastructure, only a very small portion of the population can benefit from it. Unless you want to transform Delhi into Hong Kong, the Metro is of no use. In comparison to the Metro, the road-based system is more cost effective. The costs involved in constructing 1 km for the Metro would pay for 25 km in this road-based system.
We must stop aping other countries blindly and try and use our potential to the maximum. Conditions in India are still very flexible and adaptable. We must carefully devise our traffic conditions before we find ourselves becoming an irreversible concrete jungle like several places in the United States of America.
How long, do you think, it would take for this system to be running in Delhi?
If the government appoints an organisation exclusively for the High Capacity Bus System, it could be effective by the next Commonwealth Games.
What are your future plans regarding the transport of the city?
We want our transport system to be defined in just one word: INCLUSIVE.