Saturday, September 19, 2015

Two bus systems roll under one roof, but not talking to each other!

There are two bus systems in Ahmedabad – one, the six-year-old bus rapid transit system aka ‘Janmarg’ and two, the six-decades-old AMTS run bus services popularly known as ‘red bus’. Both of these bus systems belong to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation but they have different models of operations. AMTS is operated in a conventional municipal way by shared power between officials and politicians whereas a special purpose company owned by the government operates the BRTS. Both the systems operate parallel to each other – BRTS gets to use the special dedicated corridor where as the AMTS buses runs in the mixed traffic. AMTS carries about 8 lakhs passengers every day whereas BRTS carries about 1.3 lakhs. Both bus systems run competing with each other. They have separate management, different ticketing, different fare model, different bus stops and different way of reaching out to customers.

Cities around the world, which have efficient transport systems, work very hard at integrating various public transport modes rather than keeping them segregated. Integration of public transport modes means traveling across different public transport modes through one ticket, platform sharing, revenue sharing and bringing every public mode into one brand which people can identify with easily. More importantly, public transport integration is good for business! When two (public transit) companies start sharing the customers, their business gets multiplied. ‘Transport for London’ is one brand identity and it actively integrates various modes of transport – buses and express buses, light rail (DLR), heavy rail (metro or underground), suburban rail and even the boat service across Thames. One can travel across these modes using one ticket or smart card. Each system actively shares information about other systems and make the life of the public transit users comfortable. No wonder London’s transport system is one of the best in the world!

It is often difficult to get two different government agencies to talk to each other but when two entities are under one roof, integration should be easy. But it seems that it is not the case in Ahmedabad. Since the inception of the BRTS, an unnecessary schism is developed between two bus systems. BRTS was projected as an exclusive service whereas AMTS has suffered because of the lack of innovations, years of neglect and accumulation of vested interests. However, a slow process of ‘talking to each other’ seems to have started between AMTS and BRTS. Apparently,now 46 AMTS buses are going to be using about 4 BRTS corridors. But the use of the BRTS corridors by the AMTS buses is not the most useful way of integrating the two systems.

There is a need for a comprehensive strategy of integration between two bus systems in Ahmedabad. Both require continuing investments in planning, operations and maintenance. It is very difficult for the public transport to make profits but if a ‘smart’ business plan is shared between two systems then both can benefit from each other. This essentially requires ‘taking to each other’. And the biggest challenge in our cities is to get people-government-authorities to talk to each other. Keep talking to each other is the only way for public systems to be strengthened, well coordinated and integrated. Let us hope that we will soon see integrated ticketing, sharing of platforms, sharing of revenue and complimentary operations between these two ‘not talking’ bus systems in Ahmedabad.

(14th September, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 5)

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