In Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, 96% of residents live within a 500m walkable distance of a bus network. But, as per Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML) schedules, one-third of these residents don’t have access to buses which are available frequently – every five minutes. Therefore, a lowly 12% of the trips made in the region are via bus transit.
Though a five-minute wait seems ideal, this figure is an aggregation of areas with high bus availability and low ridership and of localities with low bus availability and high ridership.
This begs the question, what good are extensive transit systems which can’t ensure accessibility and high frequency. These are some of the key arguments the People near Transit (PNT) report, prepared by the ITDP India Programme, raises with regard to access to public transit and surging personal motor vehicle dependency in the Pune Metropolitan Region.
From time immemorial, cities have been built upon transit. Be it citadels built around trading routes to present-day cities with interwoven networks connecting residents to their place of work, education, leisure, etc. Hence, transit and accessibility to these systems remain central to the development of societies.
Indian cities have been growing at a tremendous scale. This growth poses many urban transportation challenges and though tottering, public transit has stood its ground as an indispensable public utility. But as the automobile industry’s clout grows, more motor vehicles, of various kinds, offer “freedom” at the cost of congested roads and choked cities.
Whereas, accessible, affordable, and frequent public transit offers a guarantee for mobility, which also furthers the economic and social mobilisation of citizens.
Basically, the PNT analysis measures how well a city provides transit access to its residents. The USP of the analysis is that it works on secondary sources to formulate the assessment. Quite handy for Indian cities, as most lack primary data on transport operations and functions.
To start off, PNT requires basic data like ward boundaries and their population to establish demand. Next, details regarding the routes, schedule, and station placements of various modes — such as bus and rail — help ascertain accessibility and frequency of these modes. These data points, in a digitised GIS format, find accessibility levels of public transit and identify gaps in the system.
In the last two decades, the Pune urban agglomeration, including Pimpri-Chinchwad, has witnessed a steep economic and population growth. The IT (information technology) boom orchestrated a massive migration to Pune city. This advent doubled its population, but it pales in comparison to the city’s vehicle population — which grew by 700% in the period.
Adding to the congestion is the issue of urban sprawl. A symptom of urbanisation, urban sprawl is when cities grow unplanned towards their peripheries. It is estimated to cost Indian cities close to $1.8 trillion per year by 2050. Presently in Pune, this outward sprawl forces 48% of its trips to be longer than 5km. And in situations where public transit isn’t readily accessible or frequent, many residents — of areas like Shivane, Pirangut, Wagholi, etc., — are forced to use two-wheelers to commute.
Many high-density areas like Dhanori, Kalyani Nagar, Warje-bypass, Pradhikaran, Talwade, etc., fall under the category of transit deserts. These are sections which do not have access to frequent transit — a public transit available every five minute — within a 500 m walking distance. Here’s where the “ideal five-minute wait-time for a bus” takes a hit, as accessibility (or lack thereof) to public transit trumps the former.
At the onset of this piece, we spoke about how mobility is key for the economic and social mobility of citizens. Now, interlay the situation of the lack of accessibility with the need of the people residing in transit deserts. There are breadwinners who struggle for hours in transit to reach work and back; caregivers whose daily regimes pivot around that one over-crowded bus and missing which throws the day into a chaotic convulsion of catching up; and then children whose means to education literally hangs on the footboards of these overcrowded buses.
In Pune region, work trips account for half of the total trips. As per the PNT report, only 62% of employment centers have access to frequent public transit. Key employment areas near Mundhwa and Bhekrai Nagar are transit deserts. While 40% of school-children don’t have access to frequent transit services to their schools.
Transit interventions best work when they take into account the needs of every citizen. Despite being capital-intensive, the much-anticipated Metro Rail project, running through the twin cities, will be accessible to only 10% of people within a 500m walking distance. Even with the Rainbow BRT (existing and upcoming), rapid transit is accessible to only 25% of people.
Now, with 23% of low-income sections not having access to frequent transit, investing in rapid transit projects with high-cost and low returns (or ridership) is a self-inflicted “catch-22”. Neither is the Metro accessible nor would it be affordable to a vast majority of the public. As for the BRT, the lack of fleet expansion and network limitations bottle up the system’s potential.
The PNT analysis has some concrete and well-versed answers to the twin cities’ dilemma of improving public transit that works to serve all. These are:
- In sections with low access to public transit, specific corridors can be introduced to intersect high-density areas and high-frequency corridors. Subsequently, PMPML needs to rationalise routes to ensure accessibility to frequent buses is uniform across the board.
- Running smaller feeder services, in transit-deprived sections, ensure residents have access to the PMPML bus network. By extension, it also helps curtail the dependence on personal motor vehicles.
- BRT and PMPML high-frequency routes could potentially facilitate multi-modal integration by connecting to the Metro — hence improving the latters’ ridership. In fact, fare integration would ensure footfall as these transfers would be affordable.
- Densification under transit-oriented development (TOD) will help more residents get access to existing corridors in the future.
- Low density areas in TOD zone need local area plans (LAPs) to ‘infill’ them with densities. Similarly, high density areas in TOD zones need LAPs to improve street network and public spaces.
- By adopting PNT as a tool in preparing and revising the development plan and identifying mass transit corridors, cities can ensure better integration of land use with transport needs for the future.
The PNT report provides a thorough glimpse into the current capacities of public transit operations in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. At the same time, the analysis can pave the way for interventions that can maximise the density of city layouts, accessibility, and frequency of public transit; while minimising urban sprawl, transit deserts. To conclude, PNT is an instrument for change that holds the potential to shape public transit that serves maximum and pollutes minimum.
Written by Rohit James
Edited by Kashmira Dubash
With a spring in their step and a song in their heart, elated school children walk along a vibrant walkway and cross over the new zebra crossing to reach their school. Thanks to the efforts of the Chennai Traffic Police, Greater Chennai Corporation, civic action groups Thiruveedhi Amman Koil Street Residents Association (TAKSRA) and Karam Korpom, Chennai High School (Mandaveli), and ITDP India Programme, Sringeri Mutt Road in Chennai has been given a fresh lease of life.The quick tactical urbanism intervention, using temporary measures such as paints and traffic cones, has helped reclaim the street for pedestrians, especially the children who use this street to access the seven schools in the neighbourhood, providing them with a safe and lively walking experience.
The menace that was
The school authorities further shared that a majority of the students walk to school. However, the adjoining footpath is uneven and dotted with obstructions that force pedestrians to spill over onto the road and into the swarm of motorists, putting them at even further risk.
Even the residents echoed much of the same concerns regarding safety. With abandoned vehicles and unauthorised parking lining the stretch along the canal, the dead space had become a breeding hub for anti-social activities. A survey among the street users, conducted by the ITDP India Programme, indicated that two out of three users felt unsafe to walk down the Sringeri Mutt Road after sunset.
Tired of living in the fear of using their own street, resident associations came forward to kindle a new approach to driving change.
The transformation brought about by TAKSRA along with ‘Karam Korpom – Stop Abusing Public Spaces’, a group that reclaims public spaces through art, displays the power of community-driven initiatives. Their work has inspired neighbouring groups and other communities in Chennai to take up the mantle for reclaiming their streets. The makeover of Sringeri Mutt Road is yet another instance of residents rolling up their sleeves to revive a desolate area into a vibrant community space.
Turning over a new leaf
In the first step towards Sringeri Mutt Road’s makeover, abandoned vehicles were towed off by the Chennai Traffic Police. To liven the dead space, the walls on both sides were given a fresh coat of paint. Following which, students, volunteers, and even excited traffic officials were given paint cans and brushes to let their imaginations run wild on these blank canvases. Next, a quick, impromptu tactical urbanism intervention was conducted.
Within a matter of days, the stretch that once instilled fear was transformed into a safe and colourful walkway. Post-intervention surveys show that over 90% of the users now feel safer in using the street.
Tamil Nadu has constantly hit the headlines for the dubious distinction of leading the country’s road fatality figures. In 2017 itself, the state recorded an abhorrent 3,500 pedestrian deaths in traffic accidents. The traffic police, therefore, is resolute in taking steps towards improving road safety for all users – most importantly, children. Measures like tactical urbanism interventions are significant in helping the cause and hence, public support for such movements are imperative for scaling this up successfully to more areas.
The case of the Sringeri Mutt Road makeover is an encouraging example of citizens shaping their public spaces and doing their bit to make streets safer. These small-scale initiatives feed into the ongoing work of creating a city-wide network of streets that facilitate safe walking and cycling for all. With over 1,500 anganwadis in the city, the Chennai Corporation envisions to improve the mobility to all anganwadis and schools, thereby making a leap towards child-friendly cities.
Let’s hope that the transformation witnessed along Sringeri Mutt Road sets the ball rolling for more community-driven initiatives. Such quick, low-cost, and scalable interventions are bound to catalyze long-term changes across the city.
Written by: Aishwarya Soni; A V Venugopal
Edited by: Nashwa Naushad; Rohit James
Video Credits : Santhosh Loganaathan, Aishwarya Soni and TD Achuthan
When the Hubballi-Dharwad bus-rapid transit system (HDBRTS) began its trial run in October 2018, it offered a great sense of relief and excitement to commuters in the twin cities. Another group which welcomed the launch was of transport experts and enthusiasts, who had been anticipating the launch with bated breaths.
The 22-km project, which extends high-quality transit services between Hubballi and Dharwad, saw a four-year delay due to various reasons. Now months after the system’s trial run, doubts are being slowly put to rest as the HDBRTS inches closer to the coveted ‘Gold’ ranking — conferred as per the BRT Standard.
The BRT Standard and why it matters
BRT systems help in the fight to reduce transport-sector emissions and offer affordable, comfortable and convenient transit to all. The BRT Standard, an expert-reviewed scorecard, was developed to create a common definition of BRT. Considered a magnum opus in BRT design, the Standard is an evaluation tool based on international best practices. It looks to ensure corridors can uniformly deliver world-class passenger experiences.
Start with the Basics
As cities rush to develop bus-based rapid transit systems, many remain unaware of the characteristics of BRT corridors and how it can match metro systems. Hence, it is essential to get the basics right and then add features to improve the system’s high-quality. Here are the five basics that are fundamentals to a BRT system:
- Dedicated right-of-way – A dedicated right-of-way ensures buses can move quickly and unimpeded by congestion.
- Busway alignment – The busway is best located in the central section of the carriageway where conflicts with other traffic is minimal, especially from turning vehicles, on-street parking, property entrances, street vendors, etc.
- Off-board fare collection – Off-board fare collection improves reliability and reduces dwell time at station. The system can employ either ‘barrier-controlled’ or ‘proof of payment’ to collect fares.
- Intersection treatments – Since free-flowing bus movement is essential, intersection priority is a must. Improved signal phasing for the bus-only lanes ensures better bus movements.
- Platform-level boarding – Having the bus station platform level with the bus floor is key in reducing boarding and alighting times per passenger. It even ensures accessibility for all.
Beyond Basics: how BRTs can strike gold
The BRT Standard establishes best practices and features cities and systems which are exemplary in bus-rapid transit. The intention is to guide other cities and help them create their own identity and push the standards. So how does a city set the benchmark beyond just creating a basic BRT system? Here are supplemental elements which can help set a mark:
- Service matters, a lot
Like any service system, what matters the most is the BRT system’s ability to serve people. Hence, factors evaluated are based on how well it meets the demand, efficiency of service, and the extensive coverage it offers. Passengers can be served best when the system offers multiple routes within and beyond the corridor(s); has in place services such as express and limited stops; creates control center(s) to ensure smooth sailing; serves high-demand areas; and has extended hours of operations.
- Infrastructure which last longer, ensure sustainability
At the heart of it, BRT networks are infrastructure development projects which are weighed by how they stand the test of time. Add to it, operational efficacy and sustainability. BRT systems which look to improve mobility and decrease carbon footing use buses with minimised emissions; build smart infrastructure such as median stations to serve buses on either side and overtaking lanes to reduce dwell time and emission at stations; build and maintain roads which have extended lifespan.
- Stations, where comfort meets efficiency
Comfort, safety and efficiency ensure rapid transit systems (BRT included) are in high demand among the public. Stations can guarantee safety with well-lit, transparent structures with additional measures such as sliding doors and also being wide enough to accommodate passengers. The same goes for buses, with the addition of providing more doors to ease boarding and deboarding.
- Communication for a seamless experience
Studies show that customer satisfaction is linked to knowing when the next bus will arrive. Giving customers information, through passenger information systems (PIS), is critical to a high quality of service and a positive overall experience. That along with branding enables more footfall and awareness of the facilities and the system’s capabilities. A BRT system which has its communication game on board would have more passengers aboard.
- Complete BRT’s offer universal access, transit integration
The most important factor of a public transit system is universal accessibility. And then how it furthers that experience by way of integration with other sustainable transit means. BRT systems must complement universal access with integration to pedestrian and cycle infrastructure and other rapid transit forms.
Why Hubbali-Dharward BRT is making the right noise
Though Indian BRT networks have not fared as well as their international counterparts, the system has a chance at redemption with the Hubballi-Dharwad BRT. Still on a trial run, HDBRTS has been working its way across the twin cities and through people’s travel needs in a phased manner.
- Getting the basics right
The project includes segregated bus ways with stations in the median; accessible and comfortable bus stations with level boarding and external ticketing by way of automated fare gates, smart card, and QR code; two kinds of control centres, one which monitors the operations and the other for traffic management to ensure intersection priority.
- Expansion through integration a priority
The system’s initial priority is to ensure route rationalisation. They aim to achieve this by creating a strong network of feeder and trunk bus services. In fact, every bus plying in tandem with the system will be GPS-fitted, to provide real-time information that extends beyond the system and eases integration.
- Hit the ground running
Within six months of the trial run, HDBRTS is recording footfalls of around 70,000 passengers daily with 100 operational buses – operating till midnight. This figure is only bound to increase as the full strength of the system is reported to be 400 air-conditioned buses.
These factors along with the high-quality pedestrian infrastructure and universal accessibility are putting the HDBRTS on the world map. It even makes sense for other fast-growing Indian cities to draw inspiration from and use the BRT system to tackle their transit demands. It makes the case that though the system hasn’t succeeded as expected in India, there is enough cause and reason to tweak it to the BRT Standard.
To get more information on the ITDP BRT Standard, please click here.
Written by : Rohit James
Edited by : Kashmira Medhora Dubash
Read more on these series-
Ferrying over 35 million passengers daily in cities across the world, the bus-rapid transit (BRT) system has proven to be the balm for urban commute woes. Yet, its mention in the Indian transport circles evokes a lingering hangover of the system’s massive failure in Delhi.
Why Delhi chose to go the BRT way
By 2004, the Delhi population was caught in the upswing of urban migration and public transport woes — with the “Killer Blueline” buses on a rampage. It was also when experts had assembled to conceive the Delhi BRT system. A high-quality bus-based transit system, it aimed to deliver fast, comfortable, and affordable services at metro-level capacities.
Worldover successful BRT systems were set up with segregated lanes, stations typically aligned to the center of the road, off-board fare collection, and fast and frequent operations. The Delhi BRT network, however, met some but overlooked most of these benchmarks. This disregard and ensuing public outcry led to its failure and demise.
Here’s a look at what went wrong and why the discourse surrounding the Delhi BRT needs a tone check.
Losing face: media and public outcry
One of the point of contention against the Delhi BRT, among Delhi commuters, was the soaring travel time. But it was found that commute hours for BRT users saw a significant drop of 40%. The project affected motorists and it is these voices that rang louder in echo chambers created by media outlets.
This was followed by court cases which sought entry of cars to the bus-only lanes, contesting the value of “wealth creators” with that of bus users. In 2012, the Delhi High Court quashed the plea, quoting Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, “A developed country is not one where the poor own cars. It is one where the rich use public transport.”
The verdict wasn’t enough to calm the clamour for scrapping the initiative. The case offered insight to how misinformed media reports were able to pushback on a “basic” BRT setup, while throttling bus transit.
From BRT bus-only lane to free-for-all lane
To begin with, there were never dedicated BRT buses for the BRT bus lanes. So low-floor buses were brought in haphazardly to fill in this void. After resolving the initial confusion regarding the operation of the lanes, they were thrown open to buses of all sizes, utility, and forms. This led to congestion and bus bunching, as many of these poorly maintained buses would either breakdown or stall the low-floor “BRT buses”.
Even so, the Delhi BRT managed to carry 12,000 passengers per hour per direction, albeit at a grinding speed of 13 km/hr. An indication that the transit system was doing its job but lane congestion was clearly hindering its performance.
Commuters struggled without level boarding
One of the key USP of BRT transit is accessibility to all commuters — especially children, caregivers, the elderly, and the disabled. And the Delhi BRT missed the mark as it overlooked level boarding. Therefore, the network witnessed commuters struggling to board or alight buses.
Simply put, level boarding requires the bus station platforms and the floors of the bus fleet designed to match their height. This allows seamless movement and accessibility to commuters. In Delhi’s case the lack of dedicated BRT buses exacerbated the problem.
Anything but free-flowing
What does a city get when it builds an entire transport network on the premise of free-flowing transit, but ignores the free-flowing bit. The Delhi BRT it is! The system which was dedicated to prioritise and facilitate bus movement did anything but that.
With six-phase intersections, traffic management along the 6 km stretch was never worked out to improve bus movement. And this failure was evident as junctions lay witnessed to buses piling up by the dozen and commuters caught in the chaos of boarding or deboarding on the carriageways itself.
Stepchild treatment: Delhi Metro over BRT
Among Delhi BRT critics an analysis would sound incomplete without drawing comparison with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). A world-renowned and efficient transit system, the Delhi Metro has been catering to the needs of many a daily passengers. How many you ask? Around 23 lakh in 2019. Now, compare that to Delhi’s 40 lakh bus ridership — which has been wavering off-late given its state of neglect — and investing in a bus-based transit system seems a plausible move.
The Delhi Metro is doing a good job because of the autonomy and funding it receives. Whereas in Delhi BRT’s case, there wasn’t even a unified body to overlook the gamut of functions. This led to various obstacles, the most evident being lane enforcement. The BRT lanes were pretty much a free-for-all, with private vehicles and buses of all kinds fighting out in the meleè.
Now, let’s look at the disparity in cost. The 6 km Ambedkar Nagar to Moolchand (Delhi) BRT stretch, which included the BRT and walking and cycling infrastructure, cost about Rs 200 crore to build and a further Rs 150 crore to dismantle the bus lane. While the metro rail costs the exchequer Rs 550 crore per km for underground and Rs 250 crore per km for the elevated line.
Limited scope for a limited corridor
Planned as a four-corridor project, the Delhi BRT was caught in a limbo pretty early on. The initial 18 km stretch, from Ambedkar Nagar to Delhi Gate, was launched on a trial run of 5.8 km on April 2008. And that’s all that was left of it when the system was dismantled.
The limitation of the Delhi BRT’s potential can be directly attributed to the limitation in expanding the corridors and the network. Though bus speeds improved within the pilot stretch, they would sink as soon as buses would get out of the network into mixed traffic.
Lack of public acceptance due to lack of outreach
One of the key observations from the Delhi BRT debacle is that the public doesn’t take to rapid transit networks like ducks to water. The Delhi BRT severely lacked in public outreach and the system utilisation was affected due to this dearth.
The BRT in Delhi was introduced to challenge conventional bus commute, which barely offered comfort and convenience. Yet, little to no information about this transformation and usage of the system was disseminated among the general public, most importantly bus users. So naturally what ensued was chaos on the BRT stations and lanes.
With Delhi planning to revisit the BRT project, though elevated, these above points along with global benchmarks needs to be part of the conversation. The city has a chance to rewrite its transport history and revitalise a transit system which is time-tested and continues to serve a majority of its people.
In the second blog, of this three-part BRT series, we talk about the basics of getting BRT right and how Hubbali-Dharwad could be close to the gold standard.
Written by : Rohit James
Edited by : Kashmira Medhora Dubash
Banner Image source : DNA INDIA
Having successfully created over 100 km of Complete Streets with wide and vibrant footpaths, Chennai is now expanding its efforts! The city aims to create a master plan for a city-wide network of streets for walking and cycling, along with adopting Street Design Guidelines to guide all future projects.
“The engineering team in Chennai has already been involved in many street redesign projects and has a lot of ideas. The stage is set, now we just need to scale up the work and transform Chennai with a Non-Motorised Transport master plan,” said the newly appointed Commissioner of Greater Chennai Corporation G Prakash, IAS, at an internal kick-off workshop on 8 March, 2019.
The day-long workshop, held by the Greater Chennai Corporation with technical support from the ITDP India Programme, was set with a dual agenda. Firstly, it aimed to establish the vision for Chennai to create a Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) master plan and to identify the process to develop the same. Secondly, it aimed at the dissemination of information from the design guidelines to the engineers and officials from various departments of the city.
Through a hands-on and participatory exercise, participants were able to give feedback to improvise the guidelines. The workshop brought together over 60 participants, comprising of engineers and officials from different departments of the Greater Chennai Corporation.
All global metropolitans, including Indian ones, are waking to the realisation that it is imperative to prioritise walking and cycling while planning cities. To quote placemaking pioneer Fred Kent, “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”
“With over 100 km of streets reclaimed for pedestrians and cyclists, Chennai is certainly on the right track of prioritising people over motorised transport,” said L Nandakumar, chief engineer of the Greater Chennai Corporation, while presenting various street transformations and laurels the city has achieved over the years.
The need for an NMT master plan was highlighted by Aswathy Dilip, Senior Programme Manager at the ITDP India Programme, who spoke of the requirement for bringing a network approach in the planning of projects in the city. This will help scale up the existing projects, ensuring the street transformations are not scattered and instead done in a holistic manner. An NMT master plan will ensure the promotion of environmentally friendly modes that encourage healthy lifestyles. It will also contribute to social equity by improving accessibility to work and home for all cross sections of the society.
The proposed approach for the Chennai NMT master plan is in line with the Tamil Nadu Mega Streets Programme, that plans to redesign 1,600 km of roads across ten corporations in the state.
Chennai Street Design Guidelines
Over the past few years, Chennai has been taking great efforts to create safe, walkable, and livable streets that cater to all user groups. Known as Complete Streets, these are designed with wide and continuous footpaths, safe pedestrian crossings, dedicated cycle tracks (where applicable), conveniently placed bus stops, clearly designated on-street parking, organised street vending, and properly-scaled carriageways.
With many more streets in the pipeline to be redesigned by the Greater Chennai Corporation, the NMT master plan looks to drive this vision through with a set of guidelines to direct the design and implementation process. The main focus being to improve the user experience and ensure seamless connectivity. As a result, the state is planning to adopt the Chennai Street Design Guidelines—which draws from various Indian Roads Congress guidelines and also from the city’s own learnings from its street design experience.
The guidelines aim to create streets for all users. It is intended for urban designers and most importantly, government officials and citizens who look to inhabit better quality urban environment and bring back life into our city streets. For this purpose, the design guide identifies the different functions of streets and emphasises the need for complete streets that accommodates all.
Besides the step-by-step design process chart, the guidelines offer designers a checklist of information to be collected prior to designing the street. It also highlights the various elements that form a complete street. Through street and intersection templates, one can get a sense of how different elements come together to create different types and sizes of streets.
To better understand the concept of Complete Streets, the engineers, at the workshop, were engaged through a hands on exercise to use the guidelines to redesign a city stretch. As interest grew in the exercise so did the valuable feedbacks, which have been noted and the ITDP India Programme will work to improve suitably.
In 2014, Chennai set an example for the rest of the country by adopting the non-motorised transport (NMT) policy. It sent out a clear message: Chennai prioritised its people over cars. By creating a master plan for a city-wide Complete Streets network and adopting the Street Design Guidelines, the city is adding more feathers to its already illustrious cap. These moves reflect Chennai’s commitment to create safe streets that consider the needs of all users.
Written by A V Venugopal
Edited by Rohit James and Kashmira Medhora Dubash
“I wish they’d quit giving me cufflinks as souvenirs at these conferences,” said an ITDP transport expert after her return from another male-dominated transport conclave. Though such instances of sole woman representations at events is still a common occurrence, the culture is limping on its last leg. As more women transcend the ranks of various hierarchies (societies and workforce), cities are scrambling to pay heed to the needs and demands of the upcoming generations.
This Women’s Day we celebrate the lives and journeys of ITDP India transport experts who ventured into the sustainable transport sector to lend a voice to the many Indian women. Read more on why each of them chose to be a part of the change they wish to see everyday.
Mumbai wears many tags: The City that Never Sleeps, The City of Dreams, The Maximum City, etc. Another moniker that aptly defines the conditions prevalent in the city could be ‘The City of Traffic Bedlam’. Such is the chaos that reigns supreme on the city’s pigeonholed roads, with private motor vehicles playing the usual suspects.
In light of the ever-rising transportation concerns, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA)—the agency responsible for urban planning in the Mumbai region—is keen to explore the feasibility of congestion pricing to reduce traffic congestion. A stakeholder focus-group meeting was held on 6 March, to understand various perspectives of congestion pricing, as part of a joint study initiated by MMRDA in collaboration with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) India Programme.
A travel-demand management measure, congestion pricing aims to tackle the issue of road congestion, growing private vehicle use, and environmental pollution. Simply put, the approach will look to levy a charge on private vehicles for accessing a high-demand stretch or zone. These charges are aimed at discouraging usage of private vehicles, while improving and promoting public transport ridership.
A move long overdue
Mumbai has been renowned for its strong network of public transport systems such as the omnipresent BEST buses and the reliable ‘local trains’. But as middle-class ambitions grew, so did the car-craze. In the recent decade, private automobiles found safe sanctuaries in the homes and streets of Mumbai. Meanwhile, the BEST bus services continue to suffer due to declining fleet sizes and ridership; while the local trains, the city’s backbone, are bursting at the seams with unimaginable passenger load.
Greater Mumbai’s extravagant private vehicle growth and expenditure on related infrastructure cannot justify the paltry commute figures. Private vehicle numbers skyrocketed from 7.9 lakh in 2001 to 32 lakh in 2017! Even though they make up for only 12% of all trips, private vehicles occupy over three-fourth of road space, leaving the rest to the fringes. What happens when the 12% increases to 20% or even more? Constructing more roads or flyovers is not the answer – these are short sighted solutions that are expensive and unsustainable.
Decongest and get a move on
As per Uber Movement estimates, the average Mumbaikar spends 135% per cent more time on the road than their Asian counterparts. Thus, the move to congestion pricing is not about punishing the driver; it is more about ensuring people get to their destination faster and more affordably—with less environmental impact and less stress.
According to the MMRDA, congestion pricing will encourage a modal shift to public transport modes which is a healthy alternative for people and the environment. It is also understood that an effective congestion pricing strategy will increase average speed and reduce travel times by all modes, especially buses.
However, congestion pricing is a mere part of the bigger puzzle that looks to resolve traffic congestion in cities like Mumbai. “Mumbai should first try more simple traffic reduction measures like charging on-street parking and eliminating on-street parking from mobility corridors. That is slowing down buses. The buses run only about 160 km/day today, against 200 km just a few years ago. Buses have to run 200 km/day to be viable” says Harshad Abhyankar, Mobility Planning Specialist at the ITDP India Programme.
Presently, BEST buses share the carriageway with other vehicles and hence, their operating speed is adversely affected by traffic congestion. Haphazard parking increases friction on the street edge which further slows them down. Lower bus speeds generally result in fewer buses scheduled on routes, which only entices commuters to opt for the more ‘convenient’ option – their car or the two-wheeler. And this vicious cycle continues.
The move towards congestion pricing will allow Mumbai to explore the possibility of firstly, charging on-street parking to discourage the use of private vehicles, secondly, prioritising and strengthening the lifeline of the city – its BEST buses, and thirdly, investing in high-quality people-friendly infrastructure such as footpaths, cycle tracks, and dedicated bus lanes. For all of this to be successful, “a legislation that gives charge of all traffic reduction measures and related responsibilities to a single entity is desirable”, emphasised a participant at the focus group discussion.
No one enjoys being stuck in traffic. People stuck in traffic jams lose time, money, and their peace of mind. Congestion pricing is a measure to reduce traffic congestion – that is charging private vehicles for accessing a high-demand stretch or zone. The revenue generated can be levied to improve city bus services, and walking and cycling infrastructure – the more sustainable way of moving around. However, its application is an uphill task. The ITDP India Programme is excited to be working with MMRDA to learn from this initial meeting, further its understanding from international case studies, and explore possibilities of congestion pricing in Mumbai.
Move over traffic, Mumbaikars coming through (about time)!
Written by Rohit James and Kashmira Dubash.
Picture credit: Vincent Mivelaz, Flickr