Where are the buses?

 

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars.

It is where the rich use public transportation”

A sound public transportation system is definitely one of the big signs of a developed city. All the big cities in the world have really comprehensive public transportation systems. The efficiency and effectiveness of these systems vary from city to city but their presence is definitely not in question. You can take New York, London, Tokyo, Mumbai, Delhi as examples.

Apart from metros and mono-rails and other such big ticket projects, buses make up a huge part of the public transportation system in any city. They are lifelines of intercity transport. They have a much smaller carbon footprint. They are really helpful in reducing traffic congestion in the city. They are also a very good way to connect all the areas of the city in a much more inclusive way. Their routes are flexible and hence can be tweaked based on need.

Ahmedabad had 25 lakh+ private vehicles in 2015 and that number has been going up by 10%-15% every year. Ahmedabad got the Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) in October 2009 which covers a pretty big part of the city. There are now more than 250 buses and 150 bus stops which are part of this system. It covers over 89 kilometers in the city. [1]

A map of its routes shows how it covers most areas of the city.

[Map taken from here.]

BRTS was started as and is talked about as a path breaking project for public transportation in the city yet its impact on the city’s public transportation has been limited to say the least.

The two big reasons are:

  1. It has replaced some of the existing routes that Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service (AMTS) buses used to operate on so they have not really added capacity to the system.
  2. There is no integration with the other public transport systems which means that it cannot provide last mile connectivity for commuters without any additional hassle.

Apart from the BRTS as well, Ahmedabad has 1227 regular AMTS buses and 250 BRTS buses. [2] Ahmedabad has ~56 lakh residents so it means that there is one bus available for every ~3800 citizens or  26.3 buses per 1 lakh citizens. India’s average is 11.8 buses for every 1 lakh citizens. Gujarat’s average is 14.6 buses per 1 lakh citizens. [3]

You can see from the data that Gujarat is slightly better than the national average and Ahmedabad is doing a lot better than even Gujarat’s average but overall the numbers are still really low. For comparison, Thailand has 8.6 buses per thousand citizens, South Africa has 6.5 buses per thousand citizens.

Along with all this data, Ahmedabad has an extremely low number of electric vehicles or citizens who commute using cycles. Hence, everyone who is not using a bus is probably using their own two wheeler or car or auto-rickshaw. All the major alternatives consumer a lot more energy than a bus.

Solution:

Make it easier to use buses as public transport.

How do we do that?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Increasing the number of buses in the city – Most of the times, it is the non-availability or low availability of buses that forces people to choose other means of transport. Increasing the number would also mean that the pressure on each bus, to accommodate the high demand, goes down. Unless we massively increase the number of buses in the public transport system, we cannot put curbs on the purchase or movement of private vehicles.
  2. Improve the quality of buses – Buses which are old and are in barely working condition should be replaced or repaired. Electric buses should be piloted. The interiors of the bus should be made more comfortable so that bus riders can have a pleasant journey.
  3. Introduce a Universal travel pass – It would let anyone use any public means of transport without having to buy tickets for these different modes. The pass should be something that can be used in BRTS, AMTS and maybe even state run electric vehicles.
  4. Improve the routes – If the routes are planned more scientifically, buses will be able to cover more areas and reduce the number of overlaps with services like BRTS.
  5. Increase taxes on second car ownership – This is slightly intrusive but is a necessary detriment for the protection of the environment. The money collected from this should only be used for improving the public transportation system.
  6. Use buses as moving billboards – Buses have huge potential to be advertising boards. They are huge. They move among traffic so are more visible than big boards which are on the side of the roads. They also cater to a specific type of audience which lends itself to more targeted advertisement. This is to generate revenue for the above mentioned expenses.  

All of these things combined would definitely improve the public transport system in the city. This will be a preemptive attack on the growing traffic problems in the city. It would also have massive environmental benefits in the long run. It is important that Ahmedabad avoids the traps that Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru have fallen into. Thinking of and implementing solutions at a later stage is going to be dangerous.

 

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