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Crosscurrents

Travellers on an eco-friendly road

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Mar 31, 2013 | From the print edition

Ahmedabad’s BRT is yet to be popular among lower-income groups

imageThe bus rapid transit (BRT) system is often held as an affordable and sustainable public transport option in rapidly urbanising cities of capital-deficit developing countries like India. However, it seems to be going the way of other worthwhile projects that become “holy cows”. We hesitate to evaluate BRT critically for fears of playing into the hands of the Metro lobby. But as investments in transport infrastructure rise in Indian cities, it is pertinent to assess who gains and who loses as a result of BRT.

We focus on Ahmedabad, the only successful and largest BRT system in the country. With 45 km of rapid transit network, Ahmedabad stands out among the Indian cities that have BRT. The service is becoming increasingly popular among the people of the city. However, there is much scope for improvement in planning, designing and implementing the system.

Middle-income groups are the biggest users of BRT in Ahmedabad

To develop a nuanced understanding of the system in Ahmedabad, we surveyed 1,040 BRT users in the city. The survey tried to assess if the system is accessible to all social strata of the city. We also tried to find out if the system has resulted in any modal shift away from high-carbon emitting vehicles (private vehicles) to low-carbon emitting (public transport) ones.

Ahmedabad’s BRT users are largely men (72.5 per cent). Of the total users, just 13.7 per cent belong to households with montly incomes of up to Rs 5,000, which is the official poverty line. In this group, women users are far fewer than men: for every 1,000 male commuters there are only 244 female travellers.

imageWe found that BRT is most popular with people from middle-income groups, with monthly incomes between Rs 10,000 and Rs 40,000. Half of the system’s users belong to this income group. But then, women from middle and high-income households have a minuscule presence in the labour force in prosperous cities like Ahmedabad. They largely use the BRT for social or recreational commuting. The system is popular among people who have regular jobs in the private or public sector. Only 6.1 per cent men BRT users and 3.3 per cent women BRT users are casual labourers.

A very large proportion of the BRT users—about a quarter among the men and two in every five among the women—commute for social purposes. It is quite possible that the system has given a spurt to social and recreational commuting. For example, the BRT connects western Ahmedabad to the recreational facilities at Kankaria Lake in the city’s southeast. The new transport system has made the long-distance recreational facilities more accessible for the middle-class living in the more prosperous areas of western Ahmedabad.

However, only 42 per cent of the BRT users take the system for about 21 days a month, implying that it is still to find regular and sustained ridership.

Before BRT came into place, a large proportion (47 per cent) of the system’s current users were using municipal bus services. These services were discontinued on BRT corridors, forcing commuters to shift to other bus services on the corridor. Another 26 per cent have shifted from intermediate public transports: shared and full-fare autorickshaws. In all, 73 per cent of BRT commuters were regular users of public transport in some form or the other. Only 12 per cent of commuters have shifted from private motorised vehicles. Meaning, BRT has not impacted carbon emissions much as users have shifted from one public transport to another.

*AMTS = Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Services

image

BRT is not just about running bus services on the central verge; it is a comprehensive system, benefitting various users of the public transport, cyclists and pedestrians. But most of Ahmedabad’s operational BRT corridors are on roads 30 metres or more in width, and maximum road space has been left for the mixed traffic, sometimes at the cost of cycle tracks and footpaths. Non-motorised transport infrastructure has not been given the due attention that was promised and claimed in detailed project reports.

Paid parking policy has also not been implemented along BRT. Integrating the BRT system with regular municipal bus services is another unaddressed concern, and currently there is no plan for integration.

Lastly, the social impacts of the project, such as rehabilitation of people displaced by the development of the corridors, have not been addressed. The system is not yet popular among people from lower income groups, and the causes for this need investigation. Attracting private vehicle owners to public transport remains a challenge as well. If Ahmedabad’s BRT has to remain a “best practice” it has to widen its social reach and attract more users from private motor vehicles. It has to develop well-designed footpaths and cycle tracks, implement paid parking regime and effectively integrate all systems of buses in the city.

Darshini Mahadevia is a professor and Rutul Joshi is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Planning and Public Policy at CEPT University, Ahmedabad. Both are founding members of Centre for Urban Equity (CUE) at the university. Abhijit Datey is senior research associate at CUE. The views expressed here are that of the authors and not of their institution

AddThis

What strikes me is the lack of total understanding of the attitudes of groups using different mode of transport for all sort of journey. What works in one situation is not necessary will work in other situation.

Basic understanding of upgrading the movement network, the discipline aspect by the users and also of the policing authority is prerequisite for introducing transport mode of this type.

If the purpose is to move users (all groups) to this mode then the system will have to be highly subsidised, need to be very flexible and some form of surcharging for those using two wheelers / cars.

20 March 2013
Posted by
Suresh Patel

CEPT is responsible for mess created in the name of BRTS at Indore. While BRTS promise to carry 13 percent of all users while consuming 45 percent of road.

It starts with stupid assumption that Bus is most efficient mode of transport. The aisle required to reach any seat itself consumes 20 to 25 percent of seat area. In case of vans like TATA magic this area is not required and thus they are atleast 25 percent more efficient user of space, fuel and time.

Yes there should be public transport but Buses and BRTS are not right solution. Two wheelers are better options. Carbon uses is unnecessary bogey raised by half educated environmentalists.

20 March 2013
Posted by
N.S. Purandare

"The system is not yet popular among people from lower income groups, and the causes for this need investigation."

For the above, it would be helpful to know what percentage of Ahmedabad's population belongs to lower income groups(< Rs 5,000 per month)

29 March 2013
Posted by
Tejas

Dear writers,
The fact is well said that Ahmedabad's BRTS implementation is the ONLY successful implementation in India. Compared to other such implementations, like national capital, Pune, Indore, etc., the planning, implementation and maintenance by Janmarg is kilometers ahead.

However the concluding lines of the article just depicts the negativity and bias with which this article is written. Acceptance by any group classified by income is not to be blamed on poor planning or implementation of any project. Acceptance by lower-income groups or by women across various income groups could be influenced by various reasons like reachability, safety, over-crowding. Small thought-process should be done before concluding. (like, where do the low-income groups colonize? Near construction sites, near factory-sites, near GIDC areas?) After such thoughts are in place, next thing to ask is - through which means are these sites connected to the mainstream city. How much is the ridership expected if BRTS were to be implemented on this route.

Nevertheless, Ahmedabad's BRTS implementation stands out the cannot bow to such petty issues.

29 March 2013
Posted by
Anonymous

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