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.

 

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Start Young on BRTS Social Media Promotion

India is a young nation. More than half of its 1.2 billion people are under the age of 25, and two-thirds are below 35. According to an estimate, 85 percent of young India is connected through social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. Therein lies an enormous opportunity for public transit authorities to reach out and get connected to this large, young audience through social media. High quality transport facilities are not enough – cities must effectively communicate about these systems to inform, attract, and encourage users.

iBus, the newly launched Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, has pioneered a new beginning in the promotion of public transport in India through social networking with Facebook. The iBus system is operated by Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd (AICTSL), a Special Purpose Vehicle to operate and manage public transport services in the city of Indore.

The official Facebook page regularly posts news updates, maps of routes, fare collection information, photos of BRT passengers, and also replies to queries posted by followers. The administrator of iBus page encourages users to submit suggestions, ideas, complaints, and appreciation for the system.

ImageThis is a progressive and welcome development to popularize and promote public transport systems. Unfortunately, branding and marketing of public transport projects have been a low priority for Public Transport Authorities in India despite the immense value in creating a sense of ownership among bus users.

The next step would be having regular bus updates, detour information, promotional events, exciting contests, hangouts with officials, celebrity chats, and other online activities to keep the bus passengers and new audience engaged and informed.

MyBus utilizes social media and clear branding

MyBus BRTS, operated by Bhopal City Link Limited, started its trial run of BRT in June, 2013. It also has registered its social media presence by creating a dedicated Facebook page with its brand name MyBus. The Facebook page has regular updates on trial runs, seminars and conferences on BRT, awareness videos on BRT, and trial run photo essay.

However, it is still in its nascent stage. The page needs regular content which is informative, engaging, and empowering for the users. MyBus daily announcements on bus timings, routes, and other user-friendly information can be shared through its social media platforms. The content should be visually alluring making it easy to understand for others.

Popular BRTS Systems In Gujarat Have No Official Social Media Presence

The successful Janmarg (In English, “Peoples’ Way”), the BRT in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, which has won national and international accolade, has no official presence on social networking sites like Facebook and twitter.

Janmarg was launched in October, 2009, by Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, but even after four years of Janmarg operation in Ahmedabad there is no dedicated Facebook Page and Twitter handle.

Though there is no official Janmarg Facebook page, an unofficial group handled by Raja Nageswaran, a BRT enthusiast from Ahmedabad, boasts more than 2,000 members. However, the group is not active as it used to be in the past. Nageswaran is hopeful and “willing to share administrative rights if the Ahmedabad BRT accepts the group and makes it an official one.”

Janmarg authorities needs to invest time and energy to come up with a robust official BRTS page for its users. This will immensely help in gathering user feedback on the existing system, and also help in maintaining the positive image of the BRTS. Janmarg’s official debut on social media platforms will only add to its popularity and wider outreach among young users.

The Way Ahead for BRT in India 

Social media is the fastest growing medium of mass communication in India and is considered reliable, as some say in India: “twitter is faster than earthquakes”. Public transport authorities like many other corporate brands should start utilizing this new medium to promote transportation systems like BRT, which is fast, efficient and reliable.

The power of social media is immense and it can create a healthy two-way communication between public transport authorities and public transit users. However, this approach requires a committed effort and consistency in sharing the information and updates on social media platforms, mostly on bus timing, change of routes, or any major construction work on the route.

Global examples like Rea Vaya Bus transit, a BRT system in Johannesburg, uses Facebook and Twitter extensively to promote closer relationships and information sharing with daily bus passengers. In India, Jaipur Traffic Police are making the best use of social media platforms like Facebook to keep the citizens updated on traffic situations in the city. Most of the information shared is on real time basis.

The costs involved to manage social media platforms are miniscule as compared to expensive traditional media, such as print, TV, or large billboards.

Government agencies in India, especially cities with upcoming and running BRT systems should start investing their time and energy to popularize BRT initiatives through well-planned social media strategy to attract the urban and upwardly mobile city dwellers in addition to providing a world class BRT infrastructure.

*Originally this post was published on July 14th on the Sustainable Cities Collective.

* The post also got published on The City Fix 

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,