India, one of the most populous countries in the world, has experienced almost a fourfold increase in its population since independence 70 years ago. Urban India alone is expected to accommodate nearly 125 million new inhabitants in the next 15 years; that is roughly the size of Japan.
However, urban transport services and facilities have not kept pace with this unprecedented population growth. In recent decades, more and more people have welcomed private motor vehicles into their homes as cities fail to provide quality public transport infrastructure.
Short-sighted solutions such as building flyovers and widening roads increase dependence on personal motor vehicles for daily travel needs. The damage caused by this approach can be measured in rising road fatalities, degrading air quality, and unhealthy livelihoods.
In an effort to curb these adverse impacts, Ahmedabad, the largest city in the state of Gujarat, welcomed ITDP and other experts to reimagine bus-based transit in 2005.
The introduction of a bus system was not unconventional for the city; on the contrary, local buses plied on the streets of Ahmedabad but the quality of infrastructure and service conditions were dubious. Insufficient supply forced daily commuters to inch for room in overcrowded buses.
The city recognised the need for a quality bus-rapid-transit—ultimately buses are the most affordable, sustainable, and efficient way to carry a large number of people in the compact amount of street space. ITDP India’s partnership with Environment Planning Collaborative, and thereafter with CEPT University and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, resulted in the launch of Janmarg —India’s first high-quality bus-rapid-transit system.
Janmarg or ‘the people’s ways’, started operations in 2009, and has grown from a 12 km corridor to an 88 km network of bus-only-lanes. From its initial days, passenger numbers have increased from 18,000 to nearly 1.5 lakh people per day.
ITDP India along with other partners assisted the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation with physical designs, operational planning, and system contracting. To its merit, the system won six national and international awards in its first two years of operations; these included the Sustainable Transport Award in 2010 and ‘Best Intelligent Transport System from the Ministry of Urban Development’ by the Government of India in 2011.
The system adhered to bus-rapid-transit standards and principles. Dedicated bus-only-lanes were constructed in the centre of the road to ensure buses were not delayed due to traffic congestion and kept away from the busy kerbsides where vehicles were parked.
The journey on the Janmarg is much quicker because the BRT enjoys centre-aligned, bus-only lanes
Janmarg’s stations and bus fleet have a matching height for quick and easy step-less passenger boarding. This makes the system fully accessible to everyone, especially wheelchair-bound passengers and mothers with strollers. Off-board fare collection eliminates delays caused by passengers waiting to pay on board. With the right features in place, Janmarg has scored a Silver rating on the BRT Standard.
Since the station floor is at the same level as the bus floor, Janmarg BRT is easily accessible to individuals with limited mobility.
Janmarg set a national benchmark and inspired many Indian cities which, with guidance from ITDP, have created over two hundred kilometres of high-quality BRT to date. Janmarg itself was inspired by Bogotá’s TransMiIenio, one of the best in the world.
ITDP organised study tours for key public officials as well as future system operators to Bogotá. Public officials realised that a bus-rapid-transit system can bring many of the benefits of rail-transit systems — speed, convenience, comfort, image — while costing a fraction of the capital investment.
Janmarg started off well but has failed to achieve its full potential. Ridership has remained stagnant while the number of personal motor vehicles on the road has been growing unabated due to an absence of any steps to curb their ownership and usage. Enforcement of bus lanes is weak in some areas. Not enough steps have been taken to rationalise integrate informal public transport services provided by auto rickshaws.
Ahmedabad took bold steps to make the Janmarg bus-rapid-transit the backbone of its urban transport system. It won fame but lost some. The city can learn from its shortfalls and get back on the wheel.
Indian cities that dream of providing mobility to their citizens, boosting the local economy, and caring for the natural environment, must not miss the bus! Across the globe, citizens take pride in well-implemented bus-rapid-transit systems because of the convenience and efficiency it has to offer. The people of India deserve it too!