Most of the state governments and city administrations are not yet ready to accept the fact that bus-based systems can help solve the traffic and mobility problems of urban India. This is what Madhav Pai, Director, EBARQ India and Centre for Sustainable Transport, and publisher of the ‘Bus Karo’ Project, feels.
Bus Karo Project is a guidebook published by Centre for Sustainable Transport (CST) India that serves as a useful reference for cities and states in India on new bus transport solutions, operating buses and monitoring their performance. The Centre does this by providing information on global case studies, recommendations and specific methodologies. The chief contribution of Bus Karo towards providing the solutions is that it records experiences in implementing innovative bus transport solutions in India – experiences that would otherwise be difficult to capture. It also identifies the key success factors of city-wide bus system reforms. The guidebook provides an outline for analysing and documenting future public bus service projects in India.
Speaking about the Bus Karo Project in an interview on the blog, thecityfix.com, Pai is reported to have said that there is a dearth of investment in bus-based public transport solutions. “Most urban transport projects are about expanding and improving road infrastructure to accommodate the burgeoning private vehicle population. Urban policy makers seem to be more attracted to glamour projects such as metros and monorails. Such investments may be better than, say investing in more highways, but they are not the best use of limited resources.” For cities that do not have public bus services, Bus Karo explains their role in developing an efficient urban transport system, and serves as a ‘how-to’ guide on developing and establishing such bus-based services. For cities that already have public bus services, the guidebook provides case studies and details of international cities such as Sao Paulo and London, where reforms in the public bus services have improved quality of life in the cities.
Successful bus system reforms cannot be implemented without the concerned authorities being convinced that bus-based systems provide a viable solution to urban mobility problems. According to Pai, when Sao Paulo’s mayor Marta Suplicy initiated bus reforms to improve bus transport, reform and investment proposals were developed, and implementation was begun during her term. But after her term, the implementation slowed down considerably, and many proposals were scrapped.
A critical factor in successful bus system reforms is a strong local planning institution which is capable of combining expertise in cutting-edge and relevant transport planning practices with the knowledge of local conditions and peculiarities. An example of this is the important role of the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) University in setting up the Ahmedabad BRT. Strong leadership and the willingness to push through important reforms, which may seem unpopular at the present moment, is also a significant requirement. Most cities in India, and the developing world in general, currently lack such technical expertise. Till such expertise becomes available and local planning institutions emerge, NGOs will have a crucial role to play. NGOs such as EMBARQ, with success stories in Ahmedabad and Indore bus projects, have shown the important role they can play in transport projects in cities.
Pai notes that new technology products such as smart cards and on-board GPS devices have been shown to considerably improve bus services worldwide. In the Indian context, though bus improvement projects have identified the use of such smart and intelligent products as an important factor, there have been very few examples of technology solutions having been actually implemented – both for smart cards and GPS devices on board public buses. There is a need to document Indian experiences with such new technology products, in order to record both – the lessons we learn and the mistakes we make, opines Pai.