“What more could I ask for!”
That was the reaction from one of the riders on India’s newest Bus Rapid Transit system, Rainbow, the first corridor of which was launched this weekend in Pune. The sleek new BRT system will serve the neighbouring cities of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad in western India and will give residents the benefits of a strong mass rapid transit system.
The two cities are facing problems that challenge many municipalities in rapidly urbanizing countries. Increasing use of personal motorized vehicles, fuelled by the growing purchasing power of the middle class, is leading to excessive congestion and air pollution. The lack of reliable public transport has made matters worse. After years of these concerns mounting, the Rainbow system comes as a glimmer of hope for the region, offering a viable alternative to private car use.
The first corridor of Rainbow opened in Pune on 30 August and will offer free rides for a month to seek feedback from commuters. The Pimpri-Chinchwad corridor joins the network on September 5. Both corridors run through residential and commercial areas, connecting people with schools, offices and hospitals. From day one, the corridors are expected to carry 60,000 commuters daily. Rainbow will not only transport riders reliably and quickly, but also with increased comfort and ease thanks to the system’s BRT features, including dedicated lanes, closed stations with sliding doors, transit maps, informative displays and level boarding.
However, it has not been a smooth ride for BRT in Pune. In 2006, Pune experimented with a BRT system. The 13 km pilot corridor was the first in the country. However, the system failed to implement many standard BRT features and met only moderate success. Today, those routes are largely served by traditional bus service again.
Learning from this experience, and from the successful BRTs later commissioned in India and around the world, leaders were determined to get the system right. The Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad municipalities implemented the infrastructure, while PMPML, the two cities’ public transport service provider, will manage operations. ITDP provided technical guidance for the design and implementation of Rainbow. For PMPML, a significant challenge was how to retrofit a BRT system on an existing bus system. ITDP made that task simpler though a massive route rationalization effort, resulting in more frequent service and a more effective use of the system’s buses.
While both Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad received financial support for implementing the Rainbow BRT from the Government of India under the JNNURM scheme, Pimpri-Chinchwad was also assisted by the World Bank under the Sustainable Urban Transport Program (SUTP). Citizens hope that this network will bring a mass transit system closer to their homes and provide relief from traffic congestion.
Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad are just getting started. The new corridors are the beginning of a plan for a 140km BRT network, projected to carry nearly 900,000 passengers daily. This will be one of the largest planned networks in India. With a strong system in place and big plans ahead, the residents of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad have a bright future.