Monday, April 21, 2008

Surviving Delhi's Bus Rapid Transit Corridor II

(Read Part I of this post here)

I feel sad for the blind and the aged. The people who are at others' mercy when it comes to crossing the road. At the BRT Corridor, it's worse. The reed-thin traffic marshal with a baton doesn't scare car drivers and his attempts to help an old lady reach the bus-stop are quickly rendered futile.

A cow ambles across the road and an alert traffic marshal is quick to pursue the fugitive. But his actions end up confusing the animal and it darts aimlessly into oncoming traffic.

The BRT corridor has swallowed up a few men and a dozen dogs in the past and it seems this milk-white cow is set to join the gang in paradise. But a bus screeches to a halt and order is quickly restored. The cow will live to moo the tale.

The brand new sign marking the bus-stop for Sheikh Sarai Phase II lies crumpled, mowed down by an errant driver or perhaps just an angry one. Pedestrians aren't saints either. Jaywalking is in. Who wants zebra-crossings?

It's Day Two of testing for the Bus Rapid Transit corridor and it quickly becomes apparent the problem will be far worse today. Three times Sunday's crowd is in for the torture, bigger caterpillars, angrier drivers, hotter temperatures, three-hour delays. Manic Monday on the BRT Corridor makes it as a news item on NDTV.

Their OB van is stationed on the route and I watch the reporter mumble something into the mike as the camera pans across the road to where I sit -- inside an autorickshaw.

More people now seem to have shared my brainwave of yesterday. The buses are crowded (even in the early morning) but they will reach their destinations faster by travelling along the central verge.

The autorickshaw-wallahs of Delhi are in fleece-mode today but I am too exhausted and irritated and late to complain. At least I will have air to breathe. But I steal a glance at a bus trundling past bursting at the seams.

My driver is in a chatty mood, assured as he is of a neat profit. I am taciturn, not least because he's overcharging me.

"The government has gone mad," he turns and exclaims, fingering his well-oiled moustache and displaying a set of paan-stained teeth.

"Yes"

"They should have just extended the Metro train from Lajpat Nagar"

"Yes"

"All this in the name of development. But who gains, sahib? Everyone suffers"

Silence.

He gets the hint and turns his attention back to the road. We hadn't moved an inch in five minutes.

Further ahead, another cow bars our path - a black one this time.

By evening, authorities realise the situation is getting out of hand. And allow cars to travel along the bus corridor.

The effect is telling -- the hitherto ecstatic bus passengers are quickly brought down to earth. My pain eases a little now that all of us are stuck - but stuck together - in the same mess. We are crabs that will never allow another crab to get out of the basket.

In the coming days, many will debate the pros and cons of Delhi's Bus Rapid Transit Corridor. This brainchild of an IIT Delhi professor will rock parliament and perhaps silence even those crying themselves hoarse over onions and potatoes.

But it will be people like myself, connected by this South Delhi lifeline, who will continue their daily odyssey, suffering and waiting patiently for God knows what.

Aaaaaaaaargh! I should stop philosophising and look for a house in North Delhi.

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