Sunday, April 20, 2008

Surviving Delhi's Bus Rapid Transit Corridor

The mile-long caterpillar has started moving again, quickly breaking up into parts as each car, autorickshaw and mini-van makes a dash for the exit, and comes to the inevitable screeching halt. The lights have turned red again. A new caterpillar takes the old one's place.

For the thousands of people condemned to an endless wait on Delhi's Bus Rapid Transit(BRT) Corridor, it's easy to conjure up flights of fantasy.

The line of toxin-spewing cars idling under a relentless April sun represent the travails of a woman in never-ending labour; Samuel Beckett's tramps waiting for Godot; the indeterminable minutes that the reality show host takes to reveal whether you, the eager contestant, are in or out.

Of course, you will escape -- but it takes limitless patience before your vehicle can traverse those final inches at the Chirag Dilli crossing, before it can take off, explode with orgasmic intensity and hit Josip Broz Tito Road with all the enthusiasm of a five-year-old boy handed an unexpected treat.

They began testing the BRT Corridor today and I had one of my rare brainwaves -- travel by bus -- because stray cars can no longer approach the central verge and the much maligned Blueline buses can overspeed, overhonk, overgloat as they rush unhindered towards an unseen horizon, jerk to a stop every kilometre or so, and discharge passengers smack in the middle of the road.

To be honest, I didn't see any car driver try and cross over to the special corridor -- something they did with impunity just 24 hours ago. And I notice the smirks on the faces of my fellow passengers as the bus flies past rows of stationary automobiles on either side.

I can't make out the faces of the car drivers -- just blurs of frowns and bared teeth and snatches of vulgar abuse directed at the government. But why did they come this way? Don't they even glance at The Times of India's daily diatribes on the traffic jams on the BRT corridor.

"But why are the bus-stops in the middle of the road?" asks a middle-aged lady seated next to me. She seems to be trapped in what looks like a yellow cocoon of paisleys, too dazzling a dress to wear for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The conductor is in a foul mood, and he lets loose with a red gob of betel-nut spittle that lands with practised precision on one of the shiny tubes of one of the shiny new bus-stops that sprung up last month on the shiny new road.

"They want to make Delhi like Paris," he barks as the veins of his eyes throb in unison to his spluttering. "But how will they make the people of Delhi behave like those in Paris?"

(Read Part 2 of this post here)

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