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.

 

Hits & Misses in Cyclesharing in India

Cycle sharing story in India so far 

Caught up in traffic jam for long hours and agonising wait for short-distance commute for public transport system in Mumbai, one of the busiest place in India, Raj Janagam, came up with Cycle Chalao, an organised system of renting out cycles at certain parts in Mumbai to provide last mile connectivity to hapless commuters.The pilot project started with 30 cycles. It was operational on 2.5 kilometres between  Mulund East Railway Station and Vaze Kelkar college in Mumbai. This was an instant hit among  young commuters. The system helped the commuters who get out of buses and trains and then have to wait for long or haggle with autos and cabs to reach home or near by offices which were located within a kilometre or two.

A cycle Chalao, cycle sharing cum renting in Mumbai. The services are  not in operation

A cycle Chalao, cycle sharing cum renting in Mumbai. The services are not in operation.

Riding on the success, in year 2011, Cycle Chalao was awarded a project by Pune Municipal Corporation(Pune) to run and operate public cycle share system in the city. However, the project ran into rough weather. Cycle Chalo winded up their initiative and this what they have to say  on their official website “Bicycle sharing systems to be successful in India have to be fully sponsored by the public authorities wherein the private corporations shall act as contractors to provide construction, operations and maintenance alone. ”

In city of Bengaluru which is riddled with traffic jams and parking issues, Kerberon Automations, a green technology start-up came up with  bicycle sharing system known as ATCAG(Automated Tracking and Control of Green Assets), an automated unit which automatically issues and accepts bicycles electromechanically.

The pilot project ran with nine cycles at three locations in the central business district of Bangalore in association with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT), Govt. of Karnataka. According ATCAG, an automatic system will  immensely  help in popularising the concept, just like an an ATM machine. The system cuts waiting time and human intervention and makes it easier for the commuters to use the system. Now, the cities are moving towards single mobility cards and this  system can be well integrated into that.

A  welcome beginning

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Launch of Namma Cycle in Bengaluru at IISC campus

On August 6, 2012, Namma Cycle, a cycle share system was launched at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. The system works on “simple sign-Up, select, ride and return system where students can sign-up via the website and get a registration ID, select a cycle from any of the station racks, ride the cycle to their destination and return it to the nearest station.” According to Namma Cycle website , within five months of its operation, 3000 trips were made covering 4500 km and prevented one ton of CO2 emissions because 300 liters of petrol were not used.

Cities eager to experiment with cycles to ease congestion

The other cities in India which are toying with the cycle share idea are Bhubaneswar, Mysore, Jaipour, Rajkot, Vadodara and Ahmedabad. Bhubaneswar seems to be the most promising one among them. Recently, a delegation of  Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC)  visited  Amsterdam  to see the facilities provided to cyclists as a part of a study tour.

The National Urban Transport Policy, 2006 of Government of India(GoI) emphasizes on” movement of people and not vehicles”. Recently, Ministry of Urban Development, GoI  came up with a toolkit to promote cycle share systems in India. The toolkit outlines  cycle sharing  planning process, project prerequisites, institutional roles and responsibilities, the coverage area, number of cycle stations, and outreach and marketing of the concept.

A captive young audience for cycling

In India, already 25- 30 per cent of daily trips are by walking & cycling  which needs to be preserved with better facilities for them on roads. Current cycling trends show that majority of cycling is done for transport by the poor. There is also a growing tribe of  very high end cyclists who do this for leisure and endurance exercise.India has a young population and for them cycle can be an ideal transport mode for short trips which they used to take by bus, walking or auto rickshaw. The cycles can be used for short commute, with the additional benefit to health & environment, but with this intermodal travel as a main focus.

Challenges  ahead

However, there are challenges ahead for cycle share schemes in terms of political will, dedicated allocation of government funds for cycling infrastructure, competition with mega city projects, image of cycle as a poor man’s choice  and inclusion  of unorganized cycle rental facilities existing in different cities provided by local cycle shop owners.No doubt, Cycle sharing systems in India will create a new group of people who will  use cycles for everyday commute from different economic backgrounds and not just poor.The cities need to invest in providing  proper safety on roads for cyclists, innovation in street design by allocating dedicated space for cyclists and extensive  use of mobile & IT applications and good outreach & marketing of cycle sharing concept among young population.

Future is bright for cycling in India

Compared to other public transportation projects, cycle sharing systems are very inexpensive, fun and people friendly. Cycle sharing systems can be well be utilised or integrated as a feeder system which can provide first & last mile connectivity to  public transport systems like, BRTS & Metro. India has a thriving bicycle industry in existence which needs to be explored and encouraged to be part of city cycling revolution with proper incentives and friendly government policies.

*Originally the article got posted on Sustainable Cities Collective, an independent editorial for Urban Thinkers