Home » Vox Pop: Should cities focus on bus transit systems?

Vox Pop: Should cities focus on bus transit systems?

Vox Pop: Should cities focus on bus transit systems?

As many of our cities grapple with more basic needs, they also need to also understand infrastructure needs, viabilities and economies of scale in their transport infrastructure. But are they? Some of the best minds in urban transport—a policymaker, a researcher, a planner-cum-implementer and an analyst—tell us where they could be going wrong, and where the solutions lie.

What are the pros and cons of Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) vis-à-vis Metro Rail for the largest of our cities, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai?

The most simplistic answer is that the city should adopt what it needs and what it can sustain. So if for example a city like Guwahati neither can have 70,000-80,000 pphpd to feed it, nor it has the money to provide, operate and maintain it. That is why buses will continue to be a major mode of public transport whatever be the other modes of public transport. BRTS is also a bus system, so to what level they have to be refined will depend on a city’s level of demand. So you can have an ordinary city bus service, you can have your city bus service with mini buses or standardised buses or dedicated bus corridor or you can have bus priority lanes, dedi­cated lanes, overtaking lanes, signal pri­ority, you name it—and each value addi­tion improves the efficiency and increase your throughput. The design a city plans should last for at least 10-15 years. In the case of BRTS, it is available, flexible and scalable: the reasons why many of the cities around the world are now looking forward to its implementation.  It is a very efficient system of bus provisioning.

I believe cities should ‘Think Metro, Implement Bus’. What are the advantageous elements of Metro that we can adopt in a bus system?

• The system has its own dedicated track, leading to better and more reliable scheduling.
• It has level boarding and alighting facilitating quick boarding and de-boarding.
• It has a prepaid system of fare collection.
• It has a passenger information system.
• Drivers are trained by the Commission of Railway Safety.
• There is complete uniformity in the system.

Bus systems can adapt these concepts and standardise the systems—therein lies a solution.

No one system is adequate to meet with the travel needs in cities. An inte­grated multi-modal solution has to be dev­eloped. It has been observed that in such a system, the bus transport system (BTS), both in its basic form and in its rapid form, plays a major role. Ahmedabad’s BRTS, called Janmarg, now carries over one lakh passengers per day. During peak hours, it carries upto 2,700 pphpd. Surveys show that about 50 per cent of the people have shifted from private modes. 22 per cent and 26 per cent are from two and three wheelers.

BTS has the following specific advantages:

• Flexibility: The network can be more widespread
• Adaptability: The network can be modified/ extended/ quickly and at less cost
• Equity: The design, by nature, reall­ocates road space in a more equitable manner
• Low cost
• Speed of implementation: Typically, complete BRTS in a city can be cons­tructed in two to three years
• Operational flexibility

BRT and Metro rail are medium and high capacity modes, respectively. For a corridor in a city with high demand—more than 10,000 pphpd—BRT will not be adequate. Cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai will definitely have a few corridors where the future projected demand will definitely be much in excess. But BRT will suit several corridors in these cities. Hence an integrated system into a multi-modal transit system becomes necessary.

Between 10,000 and 30,000 pphpd, other modes such as light rail and monorail can be considered. When the forecast de­mand level is above 30,000 pphpd, Metro rail is the only choice as there are no other proven options. And at that level of de­mand, grade separation is almost essential. When the demand level is below 30,000 pphpd, various medium capacity modes such as the BRT, LRT and Monorail need to be considered. Rail transit Metro rail, Light rail or Monorail offer better cap­acity, are more environment friendly and have a better image for a commuter due its reliability than bus.

A major constraint in Metro rail (MRTS) is the cost of construction, which is very high (per km, about Rs 160 crore) compared to BRTS system (per km, about Rs 30 crore). The major advantage of BRTS is that people can travel point to point journey along the entire road net­work—something that is not possible in MRTS system, this system requires less capital cost, but needs additional land along the road network to build the dedi­cated bus lane on busiest bus route, BRTS requires special planning on intersection/ junctions of the road which is difficult to incorporate with other traffic.

In my view, the BRTS system should be introduced over the MRTS in the cities that have the required land available for the BRTS network.  The advantages are after some year when required pphpd is achieved, the city can think about the MRTS system.

Do you believe that BRTS is scalable, which relates closely to viability?

In case of Metro rail, a city will need to provide stations and most other stations right away. So that kind of capital invest­ment will go into the system right on the first day. In the case of BRTS, however, what other countries have also done is that if they require lesser bus station of 30 meters they will provide so, tomorrow they want more then it is all pre fabricated and since it is at grade you can just provide an extension. A solution lies in Intelligent Transport System (ITS) where we manage the provisioning of levels of integration at various stages.

Will the same concept or plan work for all our cities uniformly?

Yes. A multimodal concept is required and will work for all cities. It is the only way of developing a project with the highest financial viability.

Not at all; as I mentioned, it should be feasible technically as well as financially for a particular city. Also, it should be based on the need of the suitable trans­portation system required for a city at a certain stage or in future and not just poli­tically willing to get the fund from Centre or state government for such type of urban transportation system.

How can BRTS be integrated in the overall transport system of the city through feeder and other systems of infrastructure?

High capacity systems cannot go to each and every nook and cranny of a city, and people may not want to walk for a distance of maybe about more than 500 m or so. A feeder can exist in both mechanised and non-mechanised forms of last-mile connectivity, and most of our cities already do. In Mumbai, city buses feed into the suburban rail system; about 30 per cent of Delhi Metro passengers commute by cycle rickshaws.

The design integration of our transit systems is the first level of integration. In Chennai Metro, many of the bus stations and the metro stations are as far apart as a kilometre. So then it is no integration at all and it needs to be provided considering that ultimately the passengers have to use it.

The second level is the operational integration, which means the frequencies of the main transit, say, the Metro, and the feeder system should match.

The third level of integration is infor­mation integration, which is not there pre­sently. If passengers access a Metro website and cannot access information about the feeder system, the public transport solution lacks the networked, seamless conne­cti­vity—not just of the system itself but in the commuter’s schedule and mental system. It creates better certainty.

The fourth is the fare integration, which in turn has two levels—the fare mechanism integration or fare medium integration, and the actual fare integration in terms of the total amount which you are supposed to pay for total distance travelled through all the modes in the system.

BRTS system has to be planned as a network and not corridors. It has to be developed as a part of overall urban deve­lopment plan.

Any urban area should have a good bus system as its main mode of transit. BRTS can be integrated with such a system (which can act as a complementary and feeder system) easily. This includes fare as well as physical integration. Physical integration with feeders is particularly easy.

PPP in Mumbai and the Delhi Airport Link seem to have a positive cash flow projection; however, the belief is that Metro rail is too “social” in nature to be PPP-friendly. What are the perils in replication of this model in other cities?

In last December, Mumbai airport handled 2.53 million passengers creating a record of sorts, as it is the highest number of passengers ever handled by an airport in India in a month. The Delhi airport came a close second at 2.45 million passengers handled for the same month. Any metro city which is able to touch figures like those in footfalls can replicate the model for airport links.

Replication is clearly possible, but the amount of government contribution may vary. These are projected as viable projects with contribution by Government. Mumbai got a cash grant as viability gap funding (VGF) and the Delhi Airport Link infrastructure is built at government cost. So the success of these projects under operation is yet to be proven.

Even less proven is the PPP concept in bus systems, but this seems to be on the urban development ministry’s agenda. Will it work as a financially sustainable and viable model? How or why not?

In PPP, we seem to be confined to big ticket projects. There are options for PPP in bus, taxi or auto rickshaw management system. With 17,400 cabs, Singapore runs a taxi management system efficiently. With nearly 70,000 autorickshaws, Delhi should be in good shape to have such a system. The taxis and auto rickshaws can be indi­vidually owned but the government can facilitate a common control centre to which all of them can subscribe and should be made mandatory which will facilitate them reducing their empty trips and also facilitating passenger travel convenience. Similarly, bus operations, bus depots, ITS, fare collection system, parking development have the potential to work on PPP. So there are a number of things which can be done on PPP. They are all viable; the governments need to take the lead.

If structured well, urban transport can be made financially viable. To enable this cities have to adopt transit oriented deve­lopment concept and assign all revenues from advertisement on transit corridors, proceeds from sale of FSI for urban tran­sport fund.

It is difficult to structure BRTS project as a whole as a PPP project. It involves public rights of ways and carry networks of several agencies underneath. Further in an urban setting distinguishing costs and ben­efits to users is going to be difficult.
Unbundling the project into several co­mponents and structuring each differently would be a wise option. Ahmedabad’s Janmarg structured several PPP arrange­ments. The main ones include Bus Procurement and Operation and ITS (automatic ticketing, vehicle tracking and PIS).

Building bus stations accounts for significant capital cost and is amenable to PPP arrangement. However to reap full benefits, we should build the system and hive out advertisement rights from time to time.

As many cities have some capital grant, bus shelters can be built by the city and advertisement rights are given from time to time. In that process urban transport fund will have another source of revenue.

This might be on the agenda on the urban development ministry because BRTS requires less capital over to MRTS. However, the BRTS won’t work as a financially sustainable and viable model. BRTS requires land within the city limit for dedicated bus corridors—not an easy task for any ULBs, the revenue in the form of ticket sales also is low as compared to MRTS, it also cannot generate the com­mercial revenue on the Bus Stations like MRT stations. The inference is that Centre or state government needs to bear almost the entire capital to provide this type of transport system.

How should cities determine whether MRTS (which seems to be the flavour of the season) or BRTS (whose success story in Ahmedabad has triggered several other projects) should be employed in their city?

Choosing a mode for a city is quite complex. It depends on cost, speed, cap­acity, pollution, energy, land and safety aspects, aesthetics, technology and sus­tainability. The choice of mode depends mainly on future demand level on a cor­ridor, the proven capacity of the mode, speed of the mode, cost, engineering feasibility, commuter convenience and other externalities.

Three main steps are involved in plan­ning a mass rapid transit network and choosing the mode of transport:

• Determine corridors for mass rapid transit and the projected demand level on each
• Check available road width and other engineering constraints in the iden­tified corridors
• Choose a mode of mass rapid transit for each corridor taking various factors into account.

The best way to technically justify the required transportation system for a city is to prepare a Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) or Master Plan of Traffic and Transportation System from the present up to next 25 years.

To prepare the CMP/Master Plan requires gigantic secondary information of the city including past trend of growth in population, employment, category-wise vehicle population, etc. Also it needs information of potential growth centre of the city, existing road network and Public Transportation System, Intermediate Transportation System (auto/taxi/cycle rickshaw), etc, incorporating with primary traffic survey, work based survey and house­hold survey, which reveals the need of the transportation system required for a parti­cular city and willingness to pay for the same. The entire data then needs to be validated and calibrated for the present situation and then forecast for the future year using an appropriate software solution.
Nagpur, Allahabad, Nasik and Tirupati have already prepared the Transportation System Master Plan for the future years, clearly mentioning that the suitable system required (MRTS or BRTS) and in which year.

Are our cities planning their local transport in accordance with those variables? Where are the glaring gaps?

Unfortunately, no. The transit services should form a grid with convenient inter-changes and feeder services where nec­essary. The network should operate under close electronic supervision using ITS techniques to ensure high quality, safe, user friendly and punctual services.

Very few cities are aware of planning their local transport system in systematic way, while the remaining cities are introducing or willing to adopt MRTS and BRTS haphazardly which requires huge cost without ensuring feasibility or need. Introducing the popular or attractive transport system should not be the status symbol of the city, but the effective system with minimum cost should be appreciated.

As a low-tech solution to our congested cities with land acquisition problems, can the Ahmedabad model be applied to
our other cities? Please explain how or why not.

What is the meaning of high tech? Smart card ticketing, passenger information system, passenger information system, control centres, cameras, etc are all high-tech and all used in BRTS.

BRTS project is essentially an insert into urban fabric. Right of way (ROW) is often designated and in most parts is available. Only in certain cases it needs to be widened.

Further, BRTS should not be looked upon a system in isolation. Preparatory work in the form of implementing and enforcing existing legislations, completing the road network (missing links) has to happen before and during implementation. Land acquisition issues are not peculiar to BRTS; they occur in any development project. Innovation in managing these issues and moving ahead is the key.

Is the Centre’s policy on urban transport feasible? If you believe there are some problems, what are they and how should they be tweaked for better effectiveness?

Improvements are possible, but as it is, it is comprehensive and workable. The good thing about it is that it clearly states the pre-requisites to get funding from the government.

The Centre’s policy on urban transport is not sufficient. Several acts and rules, which have important implications in dealing with urban transport issues, are administered by the Central Government, whereas, the responsibility for management of urban areas (and thus urban transport) rests with the state governments. Many of the key agencies that would play an important role in urban transport planning work are under the Central Government and have no accountability to the state government.

Just by providing the bus fleet to the Urban Local Bodies (ULB) through the JNNURM fund, won’t solve the problem at all; the fund also requires the ancillary infrastructure required within the city for that Bus fleet, such as procurement of land and construction of bus depot, bus parking and workshop, and many such others. Also, some bus routes need to be widened in order to be able to fulfil the need of the common public.

For MRTS or BRTS in a particular city also, the Centre’s policy is not too attractive even if the project is technically feasible since states don’t have the kind of budgets required for expensive urban transport options.

What are some of the other obvious and less obvious issues in BRTS?

• Ownership/political will: Since BRTS does impact existing mobility options directly, ownership at local government level and a strong political will are key issues
• Stakeholder participation: Commuters are the key. You need to involve them, get feedback and continuously strive to improve to meet their demands and expectations.
• Planning: Planning BRTS (any urban transport project) is an ongoin and  continuous  activity. Developing one’s own capacity and partnerships with institutions is a key part of the whole process.
• Traffic police: Keep traffic police in confidence. They manage the actual situation on the ground.

SK Lohia, OSD (Urban Transport) and EO Joint Secretary, the Ministry of Urban Development
HM Shivanand Swamy, Professor and Associate Director, Planning and Public Policy, CEPT University; and Team Leader, Ahmedabad Bus Rapid Transit System
BI Singal, Director General, Institute of Urban Transport, New Delhi
Jayant Ukey, Leader-Infrastructure, a’XYKno Group

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