If Arvind Kejriwal scraps the Bus Rapid Transit corridor in Delhi, as is widely reported,  he will be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  The irony is inescapable – a party that rode to power reflecting the aspirations of the aam aadmi  seems to be set on short-changing the interests of the common man. Much ink has been spilt debating the minutiae of the existing 5.8 km corridor, its pros and cons. But this misses the point.  One shoddily implemented short stretch cannot be the reason for scrapping BRT as a solution for mobility in Delhi and in other Indian cities.  It is like saying if a man wearing a blue shirt committed a crime then all men wearing blue shirts are criminals.

While the BRT corridor is under attack by car-owning critics, the expensive, shiny Delhi Metro can do no wrong.  In fact, every city worth its salt from Kochi to Jaipur wants one.  It makes us feel modern.  So whether we ride the Metro or not (and most car owners do not), we feel proud to have it.  It matters little whether it addresses urban mobility in a cost-effective manner.

The Metro has been effectively packaged and sold to the country as a successful engineering project, delivered on time and within budget.  It showcases the can-do attitude of a resurgent India, something we can impress the world with.  But wait a minute: we are talking about moving people, not generating a feel-good bit of expensive infrastructure.  A BRT could be impressive too, but, then, who cares?

Since they claim to speak the common man's language, here are six homilies on the future of BRT in Delhi for Kejriwal and his colleagues to consider.

#1. Don’t bark up the wrong tree
If it had to choose, more than the Metro, Delhi needs many more buses and a better-managed bus system.  Buses provide flexibility of routes and last mile connectivity unlike the Metro.  New bus routes can be deployed quickly to respond to the fast-changing geography of a rapidly expanding city. Described as a "surface subway" by Wikipedia, a well designed and managed BRT combines the capacity and speed of light rail or Metro with the flexibility and simplicity of a bus system – and it's cheaper.  Urban mobility solutions for Delhi need not be zero sum, that is, either BRT or Metro.  But at present, the focus is only on:

a) moving cars faster by creating signal free corridors, flyovers and elevated roads, and b) expanding the Metro.

Buses, especially an extensive and efficient BRT system, are not in the picture. This is short-sighted and wastefully expensive.

#2. Do not believe in mythology
An earlier article on this site debunked five myths of Delhi traffic.  The myths included the notion that more roads and flyovers will ease congestion and that the Delhi Metro will solve all public transport problems.  The acceptance of these myths in the minds of our netas and babus have led to abandoning the BRT as a crucial piece of the urban mobility puzzle.  It is easy to see why Delhi’s car-owning elite and middle classes love the Metro – it does not compete with them for road space, either being underground or elevated. The shoddily implemented 5.8 kms of the current BRT corridor on the other hand, goes through tony parts of South Delhi where it crowds out private car owners.

But history is not destiny.  Cars and BRT can co-exist.  They do in other cities of the world, and they certainly can in Delhi.  After all, the city has one of the world's highest proportions of road area – a fifth of its total area is paved over.

#3.  Money saved is money earned
A kilometre of elevated Metro costs about Rs 100 crore-Rs 150 crore, about ten times that of BRT.  Each kilometre of underground Metro costs about 30 times as much. But  Delhites do not care.  After all, much of the Metro has been financed with Japanese largesse and to a lesser extent with that of the Central government (i.e. it is a gift from the rest of India to Delhites). Of the total project cost of Rs 70,433 crore ($11.4 billion) for the first three phases, the Delhi government has contributed Rs 8,683 crore ($1.4 billion) or 12.33%. The problem is there is not enough money in donors coffers or in the Central government kitty to replicate this for all Indian cities, big and small.

#4. Those who speak the loudest are not always right
Those who can emote in English in print and on television are the ones who drive the cars and the SUVs and feel the pinch of the current corridor as buses with unwashed, sweaty masses whiz past (at least on that short stretch).  So they complain the loudest.  They argue the masses have been given a shiny toy to ride in. But the whiners are wrong.  The solution they offer to the masses is not financially sustainable and will not address the problem (see the earlier article).

#5.  One swallow does not a summer make
A mere 5.8 kms of a poorly implemented BRT corridor cannot be used against the concept to seal its fate. The corridor became a game of political football between an incompetent implementing agency, namely, Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System Limited and Delhi government’s Public Works Department. In any other system where accountability mattered, heads would have rolled.  Instead the officials at Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System who gave the BRT a bad name went on to plum postings.

#6.  Do not be an ostrich
India and Indians, especially our bureaucrats, are known to be knowledge-proof.  The refrain always is, “It can work in city X or Y but it cannot work here”, or  “We are too different."  Yes, no two cities are alike as no two persons are.  But the world over, cities have shown how well a BRT can work.  Closer home, Ahmedabad’s BRT Jan Marg has received international and national accolades.  The ostrich buries its head in the sand thinking if it cannot see its enemies, they cannot either.  We know what happens in that case.

Shreekant Gupta is with the Delhi School of Economics and LKY School of Public Policy, Singapore.  He was former Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.