Diving deeper into the ease of the commute, he emphasised that last-mile connectivity is very important. Every time a Metro train stops at a station, a few hundred people alight at the same time. The Metro is designed to transport them together, but there is no plan to convey these people who have alighted at the station to their final destination. According to him, if there is 50 km of a Metro in a city, there should be 150 km of BRTS. Since the cost/ km ratio of BRTS to Metro is just 1:15, BRTS should be implemented first, and Metro later. Unfortunately, the reverse is currently in vogue. He urged that more resources should be allocated to modes of transport that contribute to more trips.
Around half of all pedestrian trips are made by women, often with children. Our Indian attitude towards road safety includes ignoring red lights and crossing roads willy-nilly, posing great risk to life and limb. To reduce this threat, Krishna Prasad cited the Paris city experiment, in which speed limits within the city were reduced from 60 miles/hour to 50, and eventually to 40. Accidents were found to have reduced drastically. Unlike European and American cities, Indian cities have mixed traffic; a bus, a bullock cart and a BMW are all in the same carriage way! Hence, he recommends a maximum speed limit of 30 miles/hour for Indian cities.
Parking is not a right for everyone owning a vehicle. Mobile app-based smart parking is the solution to the daily hunt for parking space. Car-owners need to be encouraged to shift to ridesharing, for which the government needs to frame laws and policies. A Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority needs to co-ordinate all modes of transport to ensure that India too follows the global trend of gradually fewer vehicular trips.
Setting the tone for the panel discussion, the moderator Nirav Shah, Partner at PwC, gave the example of different cities that have their own urban mobility problems. Speaking about Mumbai – where this conference was held – he explained how the bulk of traffic moves from the north to the south in the morning, and in the reverse direction in the evening. This is because offices and government buildings are concentrated in the south of the city, while residential suburbs are in the north. There are morning and evening peaks in traffic, but the supply of transport remains relatively static. Mumbai needs to account for the increased demand uptake and plan the supply of transport accordingly.
“If we want to move people from private to public transport, we will have to give them better, more reliable, and efficient options”.
He said, “If we want to move people from private to public transport, we will have to give them better, more reliable, and efficient options”. He also questioned whether we can change when people have to be moved or if we will have to change the land-use pattern of the city itself. Mumbai needs to redistribute its commercial and residential pockets to be closer to one another, and change office timings in certain areas to avoid peaks, ensuring that its public transport capacity is better utilised.
A congestion charge could act as a deterrent to private vehicles. Tel Aviv uses technology to implement dynamic tolling , by calculating the number of vehicles in each lane and plotting alternative routes as well. Tolls increase during peak hours. But if a vehicle is ferrying more than three people, the toll is waived off; these influences individual travel behaviour and incentivises shared mobility.
He also spoke of the Colombian city of Medellín, which is similar to Indian cities in terms of population density, informal dwellings and urban sprawl that pushes residences to the periphery of the city. With a population of around 30 lakhs, it implemented a BRTS, but only in the heart of the city. Capacity utilisation was less than optimal, because it didn’t solve the problem of ferrying people from the periphery to the central business district, and hence didn’t reduce travel time. The authorities then designed a cable car route from the periphery to the centre, with stations that overlapped with BRTS stops, enabling seamless transport from homes to offices. BRTS usage shot up, and a two-hour commute was reduced to minutes. A large part of the funding came from carbon credit offsets earned from deploying cable cars, an environment-friendly solution. Shah emphasized that like Medellín, Indian cities need to find unique solutions pertinent to their specific problems.
The Ahmedabad BRTS project is a successful model that can be replicated by other cities. Recently, it used technology for better route planning and route rationalisation, automated ticketing and mapping of buses. This led to more efficient dispatch of buses and informed commuters about the Expected Time of Arrival (ETA). Consequently, ridership increased, collections increased and the BRTS saved Rs 40 lakh per week. In many Indian cities, public transport does not break even; the Ahmedabad model shows technology can help make public transport financially viable.
Shah said that for a modal shift to occur, we need to envision a person’s entire journey, from his home to wherever he has to go, at any time of the day. Can it be planned in an integrate fashion, especially when it comes to fares? What are the options available to him? How comfortable and reliable are they? Only when we have done this, standardised our roads and found solutions tailored to each city’s unique transport woes can we think of shifting to futuristic modes of transport such as autonomous vehicles.