The next decade is set to witness tremendous growth in rail and bus based urban transport systems like MRTS, BRTS and variants. The development of the transportation sector in recent times has been provided a boost through the National Urban Transport Policy and other central government schemes. Tarun Kumar Gupta analyses why BRTS should be priority.
The growth of India’s 5,161 urban centres at about 3 per cent per annum makes it imperative for providing additional infrastructure facilities to cater to the demands of local transport.
With urbanisation and expansion of cities arises a rapid increase in travel demand and resultant vehicular increase in the urban centres. On average, whilst the population in India’s six major metropolitan cities increased 1.89 times during 1981 to 2001, the number of registered vehicles went up 7.75 times during the same period (Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highway figures). Thus, the growth of motor vehicles was almost four times faster than the growth of population, primarily driven by the steep increase in the use of private vehicles for meeting regular daily transportation needs. Except for mega cities, modal split in favour of public transport is poor and generally less than 20 per cent. There has been a decline in the use of buses among Indian cities over the years, and private and two wheeler populations has been on the rise, primarily due to poor quality and unreliability of these services. This cannot be complemented by increase in the road space and hence there is a need to move toward mass transit options which is economic, efficient and reliable.
Cost and functionality
With the growing need for rapid transit, there has been a constant debate as to the type of mass transit system that needs to be adopted: the Metro Rail vs Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). This is however, not a matter of choice but a matter of what best suits the requirements. The BRTS and Metro Rail are both a part of the “transportation system cycle” of the city and the type of system depends on what the current status of the city is and what its investment priorities are.
Passenger ridership and capital costs are the major factors for deciding on the type of system that needs to be adopted. A comparison on the options of commuter rail, Metro rail and BRTS indicates that few cities would qualify for the Metro rail as they do not display such riderships and cost higher by 10 times those of road-based systems. The result of large investments by the government in that form of transport would entail huge subsidies in operation. Another major factor is the distribution of densities. High-end mass transit works efficiently on corridor development areas as in Mumbai. Most Indian cities exhibit scattered, low density developments and multinuclear CBDs which makes road-based systems viable options for transit.
BRTS in Indian context
Other than the biggest cities, very little has been done for urban bus services. BRTS has been the new concept catalysed through JNNURM which has made an effort in organising the city services and elevating them to the level of rapid transit. The system is an intra-city transport service with dedicated corridors for faster movement using low floor buses for comfort and convenience. It has a good blend of technology such as ITS, aims at optimum utilisation of the right of way (RoW) through modal integration and covers integration of facilities like parking, IPT and mini buses. The project is much more than a simple bus operation or city bus operation road project and needs to be complemented with a strong institutional structure.
The benefits of BRTS are tremendous. The system has a capacity of up to 8,000 persons per hour per direction (pphpd). The fully developed versions have signal priority for buses and integrated planning. It involves much lower cost as compared to rail based systems—Rs 15 crore per km against Rs 150 crore per km for rail based systems. It is mostly the economics which favour a road based system over a rail .
The launch of JNNURM has catalysed investments in urban transport especially the BRTS and bus packages within India. It saw the introduction of the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) in April 2006, which provided a platform for providing financial capital support through JNNURM from the central government for investments in urban transport infrastructure.
The Mission has created special packages for funding buses and BRT systems with an emphasis on transport reforms. The NUTP has made important commitments regarding the role of the Central Government, firstly, to offer financial support either in the form of equity or one time viability gap (VGF) financing, and secondly, the basic principle in financing such public transport systems would be that the government should provide the infrastructure but the users (direct and indirect beneficiaries within the city) must pay for the operating costs and the rolling stock. The Mission is encouraging cities to put in place mechanisms to generate additional resources through dedicated taxes and innovative financing methods.
JNNURM encourages the preparation of a Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) as an integrated landuse—transport plan adhering to the concept of “Road for All” as the vision for the next 20 years within the cities. Reforms encouraged under transport included the creation of Urban Mass Transit Authority (UMTA) in order to facilitate integration of transport services holistically and pragmatically to strengthen the institutional framework of the transport system. JNNURM encourages cities for creation of the Urban Transport Fund (UTF) for raising money for the financing of transport systems.
The policy encourages high capacity public transport systems to be set up through the mechanism of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV). This is with the intention that the local government would retain only the policy making and management of the transportation system while the operations would be undertaken by engaging the expertise of the private sector. Supplementary parking and advertisement policies are being put in place to streamline additional revenue generation. To facilitate viability and sustenance of the transport systems, transit oriented development (TOD) concepts integrating land use and transport planning are encouraged to be focused in planning for the future.
A better urban transportation system would be one of the key benefits accruing under JNNURM. A total of 15,260 low floor buses have been approved for the JNNURM cities, at a total cost of about Rs 4,724 crore Additionally, Rs 5,203 crore have been approved by the Government of India towards funding of BRTS in cities of Vijayawada, Vishakhapatnam, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat, Bhopal, Indore, Pune, Jaipur and Kolkata, most of which are promoted on PPP. It is estimated that a total of 400-plus km of BRTS network have been sanctioned for these cities.Additionally, JNNURM is funding improvements for 20 cities in road network, especially in newly developed areas, enabling balanced urban growth.
The system is much more than a simple bus operation or city bus operation road project and needs to be complemented with a strong institutional structure. A number of reform initiatives in line with the NUTP are under implementation in the JNNURM cities. However the progress has not been up to the mark. Cities have undertaken initiatives, glimpses of which are presented in the adjoining table.
The Pune Municipal Corporation had proposed the creation of such a UTF for raising Rs 2,300 crore by increasing FSI for financing BRTS project. Through JNNURM, cities in several states have put a SPV in place while others are under process of being formed. It is observed that out of the 65 cities which are receiving funding under JNNURM, cities which have BRTS projects have made considerable progress in achieving the transport reforms while the other cities are still struggling to fulfil the reforms, thus indicating a strong need of incentivising the reform implementation.
The Way Forward
Need for focused attention on urban transport: The priority sector for JNNURM has largely been water supply, sewerage, drainage and solid waste management. Cumulative allocation to these four sectors totals up to about 75 per cent and urban transport is about 24 per cent of the total project sanctioned. However an analysis of all the Capital Investment Plans (CIPs) based on the City Development Plans (CDPs) submitted under JNNURM for the 63 cities (actual data for 61 cities extrapolated to 63 cities) showed that urban transport is the most priority sector. An analysis of the CIPs against projects sanctioned shows that more than 40 per cent of the investments envisaged for water supply, sewerage, drainage and solid waste management put together has been met whereas only 6 per cent of investments envisaged under urban transport have been met. The gap for urban transport is to the tune of Rs 140,000 crore.
As a case study for a state, in Maharashtra, the requirement for water supply, sewerage, drainage and solid waste management put together has almost been achieved with a gap of only 3 per cent, whereas the gap in urban transport is almost 94 per cent. Surprisingly Maharashtra had identified urban transport as priority sector number one; however their projects do not reflect that position.
Need for all round planning: The states and cities need to develop the DPR for urban transport projects, like any other sector, in a more comprehensive manner. This should be done in line with a Comprehensive Mobility Plan for the city and take into account the requirement for BRTS and MRTS in the city. The Missing components include vehicular growth and composition, integration of the system with the 3 major nodes i.e. railway station, ISBT and airports etc; pedestrian and non-motorised vehicle facilities and traffic management schemes including parking Management along the corridors. The integration of Master Transport Plan with Master Plan of the city also needs to be done. The DPRs are also silent about densification of defined transport axis/corridors by increasing FAR, a must for improvement of ridership and the overall sustainability of BRT, using land as a resource and its analysis as to how they can be used as resource for financing for public transport project and the PPP Potential.
Procurement of buses and its utilisation: Buses financed under the JNNURM are the brand ambassadors of the Mission. This has been an effective medium of publicity in the cities. The buses have improved the face of urban transport in the cities and will go a long way in changing the standards of city buses w.r.t. comfort, convenience and road congestion. There are some issues that needs to be resolved by some of the cities. In general these include setting up of UMTA, development of a comprehensive mobility plan, setting up of city based SPVs for operation and maintenance of the buses, route rationalisation, improvement in upkeep of the buses, setting up of depots, etc.
Issues in coordination: Issues of coordination with water supply department, electricity department, post and telegraph, etc. requires both time and effort. Issues are more complicated in cases where co-ordination has to be done with other Ministries such as Railways in case of ROBs. These approvals and sanctions not taken up on time result in project delays and increase in costs.
Overall models like PPP need to be executed to help meet the capital investments and operational needs of the transportation systems to ensure sustenance of these systems. These also need to be complemented with appropriate monitoring and implementing mechanisms to achieve the desired results. Institutional mechanisms, favourable policies, facilitative programmes and strong political will, all need to be garnered for successful transportation improvement in cities.
The author is Senior Manager, Government Reforms and Infrastructure Development (GRID), PricewaterhouseCoopers India, and can be reached email@example.com. With inputs from Nidish Nair, Manager.