Rapid urbanisation, increasing mobility needs and changing cultural and social patterns are putting tremendous pressure on cities in the developing world, especially in countries like India that are riding high on an unprecedented economical growth. Urban infrastructure, particularly mobility, has become a crucial factor in determining the ability of a city in providing quality life to its people. Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat – a state that has stood as a symbol of sustained economic growth, is facing its biggest challenges today as it is on the brink of becoming a metropolis. The city contributes almost 20% revenue to the state’s income and is home to 25% of its population. Its connectivity with all major cities of India, as well as the ports, favours its development intro a vibrant trading zone. One of the most serious concerns of any development process is its impact on environment. The rapid growth of Ahmedabad had led to deteriorating air quality and noise pollution, amongst other issues, in the recent past. Deteriorating public transport conditions and limited travel options had resulted in a growing patronage of two wheelers and shared auto mode of travel. Four wheelers were also added to the roads at a very high rate leading to severe congestion of roads. Definitive action and out of the box thinking were imminently required. Bringing a larger number of people on a shared mobility programme was one absolute manner to deal with the issue.
The Government of Gujarat had declared 2005 the ‘Urban Development Year (Shaheri Vikas Varsh). During this particular year, the urban development department undertook various initiatives to resolve urban issues such as traffic management and the introduction and enhancement of a city transport system. The Gujarat government, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) and Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority jointly drafted a comprehensive urban mobility plan keeping in mind the needs of Ahmedabad as a mega city, and included in this, the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) and the planning of the regional rail and metro in future years. The first phase of 65kms of the project, named ‘Janmarg’ – the path of the people –, was developed by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and built under JnNURM of the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Government of India.
The city administration and the state government, as a way out of future transport network gridlock, prepared an ‘Integrated Transit Plan’ for Ahmedabad with a goal of long term sustainability of the city. Recognising that no single mode could cater to the mobility needs of the city, three distinct initiatives were undertaken.
The city, in 2005, based on the annual air quality monitoring exercise undertaken by Central Pollution Control Board, was rated as the third most polluted city in the country. As a response, the first step the city took was to convert the auto rickshaws, a prevalent private transport mode from diesel/petrol to CNG. This was accomplished in just a two year period without any resistance from any quarter. Many of the city-run AMTS buses were also converted. The bus fleet was augmented from 450 to over 1000 in a four year period. In addition, decentralisation of regional bus and rail terminals, putting in place a pay and park system, advanced traffic management system and complementary measures to strengthen institutional framework were a part of the overall plan. However, these measures would have taken time to be implemented. Surveys indicated that a good quality public transport service would fill the gap.
A multi-modal strategy involving a metro system, a regional rail system, BRTS and the regular bus system was worked out as a solution aiming to increase the public transport share from a poor 7% to an ambitious 40% by 2015.
Development of BRTS
The most recent and comprehensive initiative under these efforts has been the BRTS development. Under the visionary leadership of the State and consistent efforts of the city authorities, BRT was implemented in Ahmedabad as the first full BRT system of India. BRT system in Ahmedabad is based on the principle of equitable sharing of road space and an inclusiveness that encourages all segments and groups to board the bus. Based on national and international experiences, for which in-depth studies and tours were undertaken, it was outlined from the outset that BRTS would be a state-of-the-art, holistic, people-friendly, sustainable and complete system. AMC partnered with CEPT University for technical support to implement a plan for BRTS which included not only a dedicated rapid bus system but also an improved AMTS feeder system and provided for non- motorised transport, thereby catering to the 17% of the population that either walked or rode the cycle. The first 25kms stretch of BRTS became operational on June 2009.