Ahmedabad celebrates 4th anniversary of Janmarg BRTS

The daily commute of twenty-nine-year-old Ranjit Rao, a professional working for a multinational company based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, has changed for good. Rao is part of new breed of city commuters who has ditched his private vehicle to use the new form of public transport: Janmarg Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) in Ahmedabad. According to him, it is more economical and comfortable to travel in by BRTS than vehicle. There is no worry of traffic jams and the system is easily accessible. He travels daily from his home in Maninagar, located in the central part of Ahmedabad, to Iskon circle in the Western part. He saves 15-20 minutes on his commute time, a few hundred rupees on fuel, and takes great pride that he is not part of the traffic anymore.

Ahmedabad BRTS celebrates 4th anniversary of Janmarg, synonymous with Ahmedabad, celebrated its fourth anniversary on October 14. In 2009, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, under its special purpose vehicle Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited (AJL) had launched the BRTS in dedicated corridors in middle of the road as an earnest effort to bring sanity back to roads.

Janmarg: Moving People, Not Moving Vehicles
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For all those who complain of the futility of BRTS corridor, here is an interesting fact, revealed by Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited: “Janmarg moved 180 people by just occupying 90 square metres of road space while in the mixed traffic lane on the Janmarg corridor, and 168 people were moved by occupying 550 square metre of road space.” This is very much in line with The National Urban Transport Policy of Ministry of Urban Development which focuses on “Moving People, not Vehicles”. On an average 116,000 passengers travels on BRTS for work (53 per cent), Education (19 per cent ) and Social and Recreation (27 per cent). According to an AJL study for the month of March, 2013, 26 percent of two wheelers have shifted to BRTS. However, the number of car users shifting to BRTS remains around one to two percent. No doubt, driven by the need for an alternative mode of transportation, people are buying vehicles, adding to traffic snarls and pollution. In Ahmedabad alone, the number of vehicles has climbed up to 2.2 million. An estimate suggests that 600 vehicles are getting added daily on city roads in Ahmedabad. So, the pressure on existing road networks increases and insures demand for parking in the city.

Complaints & Suggestions for Ahmedabad BRTS
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Overcrowding in BRTS Buses
The BRTS in Ahmedabad needs to keep the standard high for the confidence of regular users and to attract future commuters. The basic issues like BRTS bus drivers’ rash driving and their involvement in traffic accidents has reached alarming proportion. The increasing number of thefts on the buses is also a matter of concern, as is crowd management at popular BRTS bus stops.

Commuters’ suggestions for improving BRT services ranges from discount rates for students, senior citizens, and women to introducing a monthly pass system. Other suggestions include limits on the number of passengers travelling in a BRTS bus, and better traffic control mechanisms for BRTS buses, especially near traffic cross junctions.

Making BRTS Bus Stops More Pedestrian and Cycle Accessible

Sixty-five percent of BRTS users in Ahmedabad are walking to BRTS bus stops despite the poor pedestrian facilities in the city. Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation authorities need to take pedestrian concerns as a top priority to address the growing chaos on city streets. BRTS bus stops should be integrated with better and safer walkways, and cycle corridors to gain more regular bus commuters.

Innovation and Information is Key for the Growth of Ahmedabad BRTS

In the last four years of its operation, the system has received national and international awards for bringing a paradigm shift in the way city moves. BRTS is a great departure from rickety buses running on the roads where passengers can barely hold on, struggling to board or alight from the bus, fighting their way out to reach to bus conductors for tickets, along with the spewing toxic smoke.

But for BRTS to reach the next level and attract car users, BRTS requires a constant innovation in its services and an extensive outreach plan with consistent improvement in infrastructure for pedestrians & cyclists. Social Media needs to be leveraged well by introducing unique campaigns to attract youths to use BRTS. The BRTS authorities have to work on a holistic approach to make the system more popular and acceptable.

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My Bus, Longest BRTS Corridor in India, Launched in Bhopal

Bhopal, popularly known as the “City of Lakes,” added another feather in its cap with the launch of ‘My Bus,’ the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS), a new form of public transport system in India. My Bus was  carefully named to highlight a sense of public ownership of the new improved version of public transport in the city. Bhopal is the capital city of Madhya Pradesh (MP), the Hindi-language heartland of India. My Bus, for the first time in India have added push button features for pedestrians to access the system and has special security measures to ensure women safety.

My Bus was formally launched on September 27, 2013 by state chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Recently, Indore, a sister city of Bhopal, had launched iBus, another BRTS. Now, two of the most prominent cities in Madhya Pradesh have a BRTS in operation. Gujarat is the only state in India to have two BRTS systems running in Ahmedabad & Rajkot, with a third one to be launched in Surat by the end of year 2013.

Bhopal is named after the famous King Raja Bhog, who found the area suitable for his dream water harvesting project, Bhoj reservoir (648 square kilometres) and laid down the foundation of the city. According to the 2011 Census, the city of Bhopal has a population of 18.43 lakhs and the municipal area is spread out in 285 Square kilometres, with 647 Km of urban roads.

The Pilot Corridor of My Bus Is Launched 

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The length of the pilot corridor of My Bus is 23.95 kilometres and the width of the corridor is 30 metres and 60 metres. Altogether, there are 82 bus stops from starting from the Misrod Section to the Bairagarh Section on the pilot BRTS corridor, making it the longest BRTS corridor in India. The corridor will have 26 air conditioned buses exclusively running in the corridor. The 24 Km long corridor would take around an hour in the dedicated corridor, with a maximum fare of IRS 26 (0.43 US dollars).

My Bus Boasts of An Intelligent Transport System and Smart Features 

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The BRTS buses can be live-tracked for its current location, current speed, and last updated time and status of the vehicle. And the report generation compiles paths the vehicle travelled in the specified time range, with vehicle’s start & end time along with maximum speed, distance, idle time, location details, and speed graphs, among other details. The buses also have passenger access information such as what the next stop to be reached is, and the final destination of the bus.

Travelling Made Easy-Pay by Your Smart Card or Plastic Coins

My Bus bus stations will have automated vending machine with installed fare gates. Also, at the point of sale, smart card issue machines will be installed.

According to My Bus officials, passengers have the option to purchase a travel card and keep recharging it at the bus terminus or selected stops. Travel card users will receive other benefits. Passengers without smart cards can purchase a plastic coin in the bus stop before boarding. Passengers swipe it during entry via the rear doors, and swipes his card again, or drops the plastic coin, in the exit in the front doors. Passengers can still pay in cash to the driver who will carry an electronic ticketing machine.

My Bus’s Innovative Special  Branding & Outreach Exercise

A special mention for My Bus’s branding and outreach: Officials have put a lot of heart & soul in the marketing strategy to popularise the system. Public transport systems in the country rarely invest time, energy, or money in publicity. It will be a game changer to reach out to the targeted audience, and will play a major role in influencing commuter choice to use BRTS. First, they began with an open competition for a system name, hired professionals to maintain online platforms like the My Bus official website and its social media marketing platforms. Second, they came up with unique advertisements with catchy one-liners which were broadcast on TV and local radio channels before and during the launch of the BRTS.  And in the future, they will be intensifying their outreach exercise with more public engagement through an essay competition and photo journey, among other innovative marketing strategies.

From initially negative reporting in local newspapers, the system is now getting positive buzz. This perceptible change is due to the sharing of information between My Bus authorities and media personals on the development of the project.

One of the interesting outreach methods was releasing newspaper-styled booklets in Hindi, with a free bus pass for the day, highlighting the importance of the BRTS to the city. See it on its official website:My Bus Newspaper booklet.

Special Measures for a Special Public Transport System

However, for its successful implementation, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) took several strong measures to ensure a smooth BRTS ride. BMC hired 150 traffic wardens to man the corridor as special police officers. Officials received legal orders to fine drivers entering the dedicated bus lane.  Roadside parking was banned, and vending along the road in pedestrian pathways was stopped by the authorities to maintain ttraffic flow.

Controversy Courting My Bus BRTS in Bhopal

The controversy over the width of BRTS lanes, lack of footpaths over bridges, and accident related issues forced the state government of Madhya Pradesh to form a State assembly estimates committee, which inspected the BRTS corridor in Bhopal under the chairmanship of Mr. Omprakash Saklecha.

According to a Hindustan Times article quoting the report of the committee, “First, for the safety of the passengers, at least 20 foot bridges need to be built across the corridor so that passengers can use them to reach the central corridor. Second, at the main crossing, there is need to build flyovers, otherwise the journey on the BRTS corridor will get slow. Third, side lanes for two wheelers need to be built on both sides. The corridor is not just about the buses plying in the central lane. You have to also take care of people using private vehicles.”

However,  the same article quoted Bhopal Municipal Corporation authorities denying the objections raised by the committee. The article can be found here:  Three Things Missing from Bhopal BRTS

Paradigm Shift in Public Transport in City of Bhopal 

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Bhopal is infamous for its old minibuses, which run in an erratic way and in a very disorganized fashion. Most of the minibuses are in decrepit condition. These buses run with no fixed routes. According to the report Optimization of Public Transport Demand: A Case Study of Bhopal by Ar Anuj Jaiswal, Dr. Ashutosh Sharma, “the shift from private to public transportation has numerous advantages for city of Bhopal, such as:

1. Ensures Safety: Public transportation can be one of the safest modes of travel in Bhopal.

2. Saves Money: Money is saved greatly in transportation costs for both highway and public transportation users.

3. Eases Traffic Congestion: Nearly half of all residents of the city believe traffic is a serious problem where they live, especially the people living in the space-constrained Old City area.

4. Improves Air Quality: Public transportation helps promote cleaner air by reducing automobile use, which can exacerbate smog and public health problems. For each kilometer travelled, fewer pollutants are emitted by transit vehicles than by a single-passenger automobile.

5. Reduces Energy Consumption: Public transportation can significantly reduce dependency on petrol, reducing auto fuel consumption by 1.5 billion gallons annually.

6. Fosters More Livable Communities: Public transportation facilities and corridors are natural focal points for economic and social activities. These activities can help to create strong neighborhood centers that are more economically stable, safe, and productive. Studies have shown that the ability to travel in an area conveniently, without a car, is an important component of a community’s livability.

New Lifeline for Bhopal 

The My Bus BRTS is slated to become the new and reliable lifeline for commuters in Bhopal and provides opportunity, access, a viable transit option, and less congested roads, all of which contribute to an improved quality of life in Bhopal.

Picture Credit:

Mr. Chandramauli Shukla, Chief Executive Officer, Bhopal City Link Limited. Bhopal Municipal Corporation

Sources: 

Official Facbook Page: My Bus Bhopal

Official Website: My Bus Bhopal

*** The article originally get published on Sustainable Cities Collective.

 

Rajpath, the Second BRT System in Gujarat, Chugs into Rajkot City.

The Launch Story of Rajpath (In English-Road of the Royal)BRTS : Rajkot, one of the fastest growing cities in India with a population of 1.2 million, has become the second city in Gujarat to launch a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). Modeled on the success of Ahmedabad’s Janmarg BRTS, it began free trial runs on a 10.5km operational pilot blue corridor during October 2012. At present, 11 buses are carrying an average 6,500 passengers daily. The Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC), the local municipal body, christened the new public transport service Rajpath, or “Road of the Royal.” The name derives its origin from the history of the princely state of Rajkot prior to Indian independence. The corridor runs parallel to the 150 Feet Ring Road, which is rapidly developing and interspersed with shopping malls and residential construction.Rajkot Rajpath Ltd (RRL), the special purpose vehicle of Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC), the city’s municipal agency, operate the buses, decide on the fares, maintain bus lanes and maintain bus shelters.

Initial Success :Recently, the city celebrated the BRTS nomination as one of the semi-finalists for 2013 International Transport Forum’s Transport Achievement Award. Since its launch of trial run in October, 2012 more than six lakh (0.6 million) passengers have travelled by the bus. The commercial operation of BRTS started in May 2013.

Growing Dependence on Private Vehicles – City’s nightmare :Rajkot city is spread out into 104.86 square kilometre of area. However, the city is witnessing motor vehicle growth of  9.5 per cent annually2 putting pressure on the existing road network and ever-increasing demand for parking. The highest growth is of two-wheelers, with 9.8 per cent, while public transport in the city is abysmally poor at just 0.5 per cent. Rajpath BRT is a major step toward a formal public transport system in Rajkot, where most public transport demand in the city is served informally by three-wheeled auto rickshaws.

Push for Transit Orient Development:The new system provides an opportunity to achieve a long-term modal shift toward public transport through coordinated land use and transport planning.To allow more residents to live and work near BRT stations, RMC has increased the allowed densities along the corridor. RMC in a bid to encourage transit oriented development has increased the floor space index (FSI) limit from 1.50 FSI to 2.25 FSI along BRTS corridor on the 150-Feet Ring Road. The FSI increase adds 250 meters on both sides of the BRT corridor.

Best Practices in  Rajpath BRTS: Rajpath features BRT best practices such as median stations, off-board fare collection, and at-level boarding. Electronic ticketing with smart cards is planned but not yet implemented. Planners also chose to follow Ahmedabad’s approach to contracting and institutional oversight by retaining a private bus operator who receives payment on a per-kilometer basis. The Ahmedabad model has become a successful model for BRT in India.

Accessibility for Non-Motorized Traffic : Rajkot BRTS has a dedicated concrete road, 7.1 meters wide with two lanes, widening to 9.7 meters at junctions, also featuring integrated and well-designed cycle tracks and pedestrian pathways. The cycle tracks are a great first step and can serve as a model for further non-motorized transport improvements in the city.

Rajkot BRTS bus stop in the city.

 The Rajpath BRTS Project in a Nutshell : The Rajpath BRTS project is supported by Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Government of India, Urban Development & Urban Housing Department, Government of Gujarat (UD & UHD), Gujarat Urban Development Mission (GUDM), Rajkot City Traffic Police and Regional Transport Office (RTO) and the implementing agency is RMC. The entire Rajkot system will be implemented in three phases and eventually will cover a length of 63.5 km with three BRT corridors. The first phase was implemented at a cost of INR 175 (USD 29.6 million), of which USD 10.6 million went towards a split flyover along the corridor. The funding came through the Government of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, which contributed half of the total project cost. The remainder came from RMC, the municipal body (30 percent) and the Government of Gujarat (20 percent).

Challenges for Rajpath BRTS : The major issue remains the integration of different modes of travel and the feeder bus system. The pilot corridor is not yet fed by a dedicated city bus service. A robust communications and outreach plan to encourage public transport use and discourage dependence on private vehicles needs to be prioritized and implemented.

 Gujarat, an emerging hub of BRT Projects in India: In addition to Rajkot, two more cities in Gujarat, Surat and Vadodara, are planning BRTS corridors. Surat plans to launch in early 2013. Public Transport like BRTS has the potential to re-define cities in India, which are witnessing an exponential increase in the number of private vehicles, leading to poor air quality and bad health.

 

Sources:

Rajkot Rajapth Limited: http://www.rajkotrajpath.com

Photo Credit: Rajkot Rajpath Limited 

Park it as Hungarians do !

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Author : Kumar Manish

Hungary’s capital Budapest has turned tide of parking menace by initiating and enforcing a lot of parking reforms in last few years to improve the quality of urban life. In the main city area, one is amazed to see streets completely free of parked cars, which provide ample and comfortable space for pedestrians and cyclists to move around. Few years ago, Budapest was exploding with increasing number of cars and insatiable demand for free parking space on the streets. Private vehicles were filling up every available space in the city and also reaching up to its boundaries. More or less, a situation same like in present Ahmedabad. 


The effects of easily and freely available parking facilities in Budapest were traffic chaos, unhealthy environment, and unsafe streets to walk or cycle on and growing use and dependence on private vehicles. Sensing the impending trouble for sustainable growth of Budapest, city authorities brought a paradigm shift by introducing a progressive parking policy and enforcement mechanism to put it in practice. This change towards parking was also a result of an impending penalty from European Union (EU) on rising air pollution levels in Budapest, which was “linked primarily to growing vehicular traffic”. It is a mandatory requirement in the EU that in the cities of its member states, air pollution levels cannot reach a certain limit.

The city started its parking reforms by creating a separate parking management authority, an SPV dedicated to address parking. The city put more than 90,000 parking lots under its control and created its payment zone system by dividing cities into different zones. Each zone of the city, starting from the core area, has different parking fee slabs and hours for which one can park their vehicles in the respective zone. None of the zones allow more than three to four hours of parking at a stretch. Also, parking fee in core city area is much higher than in outer zones. The revenue generated from parking fee is reinvested in the city. One of the best examples is that Budapest uses its parking revenue surplus in procuring new buses which read out ‘Thank you for paying your parking fee’ assuring citizens of the proper utilization of parking fees and garnering better support for it.

Budapest, in addition to introducing parking charges, has also improved city connectivity by public transportation system (trams, metro and public buses). The city also invested in well-designed pedestrian and cycle ways, making city more accessible and safe for the commuters. Parking requirements in commercial areas are tied with availability of public transport facilities. Corvin Shopping Centre with its historical Corvin Cinema in Budapest is a unique development project, which has reduced total amount of parking space by half as required because public transport connections offer excellent accessibility. The Centre has revitalised the area and now a popular meeting point. The city also introduced lot of pedestrian-friendly streets and restricted entry of cars in heavily pedestrian-ised areas in many parts of the city.

Caught up in traffic jam

Caught up in traffic jam

Ahmedabad and Budapest are very similar. Both are spread in about 500 sq km area, divided in two parts by a river and have a core city area. The existing parking scenario in Ahmedabad is no different with more than 600 vehicles added to the streets daily, putting pressure to create more parking spaces or convert public space into the former. Almost free or negligible charges and unregulated parking spaces have fueled traffic congestion, pushed pedestrians on the brink and have boosted usage of private vehicles. Poor public transport is also to blame for this growing mess on the roads.

Three-year-old BRTS in Ahmedabad is a ray of hope to bring back the faith of people on buses. Ahmedabad can take a leaf out of parking reforms introduced in Budapest to suit its parking needs. Chennai already has put forward a proposal to establish a parking management authority on lines of Budapest. Regulated parking can be used as tool to improve quality of urban life and also for discouraging usage of private vehicles. 


Budapest-based Zoltan Gyarmati, an expert in parking issues emphasises that it is of utmost importance that rights and ownership of parking management is with the city government. He is also of the opinion that the city should introduce widest variety of payment methods to improve willingness to pay by cash, credit cards, RFID/city-cards and cellphones. Ahmedabad has recently prepared a parking policy but its fate is still not clear. 

*The column originally got published in DNA, a national English daily published from India,