There are optimists and then there are daydreaming optimists. For daydreaming optimists, an announcement of a project is good enough to imagine that all problems will be solved. They would really believe that metro-based mass transit system would solve major traffic problems in the city. Single project solutions are not sustainable solutions for the long run. This is not to say that metro project in Ahmedabad does not have any merits. But the field of urban planning and traffic problems need a multi-starrer cast and one hero is never good enough.
Rail-based transport systems are sturdy and long lasting. They can expand their passenger carrying capacities easily and they move at great speed. They are probably the best system in moving people across cities. When it comes to intra-city travel, they have certain limitations. Metro rail will have a limited geographical spread and secondly, it is the most expensive public transport system. Which city can afford a capital cost of Rs200 crores per kilometer and then equally high operations costs in the system’s lifetime? Given the cost and infrastructure inputs, the metro rail project will only be feasible on a few corridors in a city and it will never have a good geographical spread as other systems. Which means it will have expensive tickets and it will be prohibitive to use for the low-income groups. The low-income groups are the captive public transport users and without their patronage, the metro system cannot prosper. Will the metro project try to attract the dedicated low-income commuters?
Even in cities like Delhi, where the metro have a good coverage of 190 kms or more, buses carry many more passengers than the metro. This is also true for London where the metro network is about 450 kms but the buses carry more passengers. The regular buses are always going to cover the cities well and their tickets are going to be cheaper. Buses are both competitor and complimentary services to the metro. The metro system will work well on the high-capacity segments and it will have to be integrated with the bus-based system to get benefits of the other segments. Smart cities recognise this and create public transport system that is seamlessly integrated. In London, you can use one smart card to access buses, metro, light rail, suburban rail, ferries and taxies. In Ahmedabad, we have two bus services belonging to one municipal corporation struggling to share platforms, ticketing and routes. The exclusivity of the BRTS and apathy in AMTS is hurting the passengers the most. As a result, there are more and more people encouraged to use private vehicles.
If the proposed metro project is going to bring yet another kind of exclusivity then not only the passengers will suffer but also the system will suffer due to low ridership. Seamless transfers and integration of public transport systems multiplies the benefits for everyone. There is a great opportunity to make Vasna, Paldi, Town hall junction, Wadaj and RTO junction as multi-modal transport hubs interlinking the regional bus, AMTS, BRTS and the proposed metro along with the auto rickshaws and taxis. From building one successful project, our cities will have to transit to make one successful system. Integrating projects and developing a system requires a great political and administrative acumen. A city, where success is measured based on systems and not based on projects, is a smart city.
(27th July, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 5)