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One Year Later: Lessons From a State-of-the-Art Bus System
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Ahmedabad's BRT. Photo courtesy of CEPT.

We spoke with Prof. Shivanand Swamy about Ahmedabad’s Janmarg bus rapid transit (BRT) system one year after its creation. Ahmedabad, located in Gurajat, India, is home to about 4.5  million people with expected population growth of 75 percent by the end of the next decade, according to an Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) report [PDF].  There are 1.45 million vehicles in the city with the rate of ownership growing at 7 percent per year. The new BRT system, considered a best practice for BRT in South Asia, provides services of about 90,000 bus trips per day on 45 buses. (This figure is a steady increase from the system’s start a year ago, at 20,000 riders per day.)

Ahmedabad's one-year old bus rapid transit system. Photo from CEPT.

Ahmedabad's one-year old bus rapid transit system. Photo from CEPT.

Swamy, associate director of the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), was the principal technical consultant for the project, along with ITDP. A number of agencies were heavily involved in the planning and design of the bus system including Ahmedabad Muncipal Corportation (AMC), the Gujarat Infrastructure Board, the Urban Development Department of the Government of Gujarat, Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority and Ahmedabad traffic police. CEPT worked most heavily with AMC in what Swamy termed a “symbiotic relationship that continues over time.” EMBARQ, the producer of this blog, also conducted an in-depth review of the Janmarg system in August 2009 and provided ongoing advice to CEPT to help reinforce critical design concepts.

Swamy says the key components of the system’s sucess are three elements: leadership, ownership and partnership. The BRT was locally planned and governed.  The planning of the system is a process that’s constantly revisited and continually shaped over time. And, Swamy says, the designs were not imported from elsewhere but adapted “for local, social, economic and political realities.”

To give some context to the bus system in Ahmedabad, the city is a ring-radial city, meaning five major roads ring the city and 17 roads move radially from the center.

Ahmedabad's public transit network, showing the major components. Map by ITDP.

Ahmedabad's public transit network, showing the major components. Map by ITDP.

The BRT system is “in line with the city road network” and “has been designed such that it cuts across the city east-west and north-south [with] a ring in the intermediary zone that enables movement across areas.” The network connects the center of Ahmedabad to central railway and regional bus stations, linking outlying industrial areas and newer residential developments in the east with the three radials and major institutions, universities and hospitals.  Currently the network is 89 kilometers long.

The Middle Way

The buses of Janmarg’s BRT run on a median strip in the center of the road because private properties on the road require curbside access and the buses need to stop every few hundred meters and can only enter or exit at junctions.  The lane is dedicated to the BRT system and its use of  a median strip recognizes the unique use of India’s streetscape for vending and walking.  As we mention in a previous post on TheCityFix about the BRT system, police will keep vendors from encroaching on the system. (It’s also important to note that hawkers contribute to a vibrant street life and should be considered in the planning process of any transport or land use project.)

Another image of Janmarg BRT showing its use of a median strip in the road, curbs that meet at the exact height of the bus, and well-designed pedestrian walkways.  Photo courtesy of CEPT University.

Another image of Janmarg BRT showing its use of a median strip in the road, curbs that meet at the exact height of the bus, and well-designed pedestrian walkways. Photo courtesy of CEPT University.

An Open Dialogue

The development and evaluation process has been open from the beginning. There are weekly meetings that include key leaders of the project, Janmarg staff and planning teams. Global experts  have been visiting the city to provide feedback and there is an operations manual for monitoring services.

So far 95 percent of buses are on time (within 90 seconds) and monthly surveys are conducted to measure indicators for bus docking, system operators’ driving, bus stops, cleanliness, average speed and general user feedback.  Data collection is central to the maintenance and improvement of the system.

A full-fledged control center monitors the operations of the system, and all of the buses have GPS.

How is Ahmedabad’s BRT Used and How Does It Work?

About 55 percent of the trips on Janmarg BRT are work trips. Thirty percent of users use it to get to and from school. And, thus far, data show that a varying number of residents use the system for social activities.

Photo courtesy of CEPT.

Photo courtesy of CEPT.

The stations are located every 300 to 700 meters. The system, for the most part, runs from 6:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. each day. During peak hours, buses operate every 2.5 to 4 minutes and every 6 to 8 minutes during non-peak hours.  Also, the signal cycle at intersections and stops is relatively short to avoid traffic jams and better serve walkers.

Unique to India, the bus system provides special services during Navratri, a major Indian holiday. For more information, you can view a photo essay of the BRT system here.

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