The Bus Lane from Hell

Traffic Jam in Delhi Français : Un embouteilla...

Delhi traffic was bad enough before the bus lane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bus lanes are the great levellers of our times. The rich man sits in traffic in his Mercedes, watching as the poor man sweeps past in the bus. But here in Delhi, they have come up with an even more egalitarian version. On the Delhi Bus Rapid Transit Corridor, nobody is getting anywhere.

It used to be the quickest north-south route through the city, then the goverment decided it needed modernising. Now, the traffic is so bad it takes 20 minutes’ wait just to get onto the road, because there’s no space to enter. When you do finally get on it, you wonder why you ever did.

The traffic stretches back so far you can’t even see the traffic lights you are waiting at. When they finally turn green, there is bedlam as everyone desperately tries to get to the front in time, drivers swerving from lane to lane to get ahead. But there’s no point. They’re red again before you get anywhere near.

The buses sweep past. But they’re not going anywhere either. Because there is a queue of them waiting to get on a stand. For some reason nobody understands, the bus lanes are in the middle of the road, which means the only place the passengers can get off is at the purpose-built stand, also in the middle of the road. And it’s right in front of the traffic light. So there’s a queue of four buses, and they are all held up by one that has let off its passengers, but is stuck at the red light.

If Addison Lee has any thoughts of moving into the Delhi market, John Griffin can rest easy: he wouldn’t want his taxis stuck in this bus lane.

To the other side, the cyclists flash merrily past, in their exclusive, landscaped cycle lane. But they’re not getting anywhere either, because at the lights ahead the cycle lane abruptly ends, disgorging them into the chaos of hundreds of irate drivers turning across them, desperately trying to get through when the lights turn green in either direction.

The lights change again, there is another surge of chaos and you edge closer, only to be denied again. Hawkers cluster around the cars, selling sunshades, electric flyswats, toys to keep children stuck in the traffic amused, roses for those who are going to be late for their dates.

This is the Chirag Dilli intersection on a typical weekday. A few years ago, hoarding went up on the road here as the government announced its modernisation programme. The trees that used to shade the road were cut down. Then the government took down the hoarding and proudly unveiled the BRT Corridor.

Where there had been a broad avenue, there was now a two-way bus lane in the middle of the road, cycle lanes on either side, and squeezed between, two narrow lanes for cars that veered and curved to make way for the bus stands.

Nobody seemed to know why they had put the bus lanes in the middle of the road. Certainly not the bus passengers, who emerged to find themselves stranded on the new bus stands, with two lanes of traffic to cross to get anywhere, and no pedestrian crossing. Fortunately, the traffic is so snarled up it is usually stationary, so there are not too many fatalities as bus passengers scamper across.

The government clearly doesn’t trust people to respect its bus lane, since there are high concrete dividers to stop cars straying in, and guards complete with flags and whistles at intersections — though all they seem to do when a car does decide to enter the bus lane is wave their flags. No matter. The law-breakers aren’t getting anywhere either. They’re stuck behind the buses at the lights, looking sheepish.

The problem is not hard to diagnose. At the Chirag Dilli intersection, the BRT crosses the Outer Ring Road. Most of the private car traffic wants to turn, across the bus lanes. Most of the buses want to go straight on. The result, of course, is that everyone gets stuck at the lights.

Still for an Interview conducted with Sheila D...

Sheila Dixit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Delhi state government, though, has steadfastly refused to admit it has made a monumental mess of things. It knows it has, it has even left a stretch further north unimplemented, so that private cars stream past the unused bus stands, while the buses empty their passengers into the cycle lane. Bizarre as this is, it works better than the system as designed.

But Delhi’s Chief Minister, Sheila Dixit, refuses to countenance scrapping the BRT, or even redesigning it. It was her pet project, and she’s damned if she’s admitting it’s a disaster, whatever the inconvenience to commuters.

It’s even become an election issue, with Ms Dixit’s rivals pledging to do away with the BRT.

Now, some commuters have finally got so fed up they’ve taken a private case to the courts demanding the BRT be changed or scrapped. The court is looking into it.

In the meantime, Ms Dixit can say she has achieved the ultimate dream of all city governments, she’s done away with the traffic problem. The queues of cars at Chirag Dilli can’t be considered traffic. After all, they’re not going anywhere.

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  1. Sushmita Clays says

    or you can just use the pavement like i sometimes did when it was too close to the malls going to close.. am sure the suspension on my car didn’t like me one bit then, but hey at least i got to the shops!

  2. Quinny Lawrence says

    Great article. A bus lane in the middle of the road. Wonderfully funny. Magnificently stupid.


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