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Essay: Meena Kadri

People's Way: Urban Mobility in Ahmedabad


Bus
Dedicated bus lanes at Himmatial Park. [All photographs: Meena Kadri]

It's been more than a generation since the Brazilian city of Curitiba pioneered Bus Rapid Transit. Since then this cost-effective and flexible transit system — which repurposes existing roadways into bus routes rather than constructing capital-intensive new railways — has become a worldwide model for urban mobility in both affluent and developing nations. A new addition to the BRT network was recently launched in India. Last year the northwestern city of Ahmedabad opened the first phase of the Janmarg — the People's Way. Though still in its infancy, the system has already attracted favorable attention: early this year the U.S.-based Institute for Transportation & Development Policy awarded Janmarg its Sustainable Transport Award.

Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, is India’s seventh largest and fifth richest city; it's become a thriving commercial center — via industries including textiles, pharmaceuticals and construction — and its educational institutions attract a large student population. Currently almost five million residents are spread across 80 square miles; local officials estimate that 10 million will inhabit 450 square miles by 2031. Yet while parts of the city flourish, others continue to struggle with poverty. And like most Indian cities, Ahmedabad is grappling with the challenge of adapting existing infrastructure to increasing traffic. The city's roads have become clogged as ever larger numbers of private vehicles — cars, scooters and motorbikes – compete with buses, trucks, rickshaws, bicycles, pedestrians, hawkers, cows, camels and the occasional elephant. Such congestion, along with rising levels of air pollution, has prompted the national government to encourage cities across the subcontinent to explore progressive transit options, and a few years ago it selected ten cities to receive funds to develop BRT services (these funds would then be supplemented by investment from state and local governments).


Saree
Heading home after a visit to the popular Kankaria Lake.

"The BRT projects are at various levels of completion, but some of the implemented systems have attracted criticism,” notes Manish Trivedi, director of administration and finance for Janmarg. “In Delhi, for instance, the system is not well integrated with other transport, so people are only assured of making it partway to their destination. In Pune, things moved too fast without enough comprehensive planning, and the result is merely a modified bus service. Here in Ahmedabad, we saw BRT as the first strategic intervention in a long-term, city-wide urban vision.”

To get the process going, the local governing body, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, approached one of the city’s prominent universities, the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, to study options and propose solutions. Shivanand Swamy, a member of the senior faculty in urban planning, led the research team. The CEPT team quickly concluded that the existing municipal bus service didn't provide the kind of timeliness and comfort that would make it a good alternative to private cars.


PLAY SLIDESHOW Play


Focusing on socio-economic needs, the planners developed priorities: to provide poorer citizens good access to employment and education centers; to create a multimodal system of main and feeder lines that would serve both densely settled districts and more dispersed areas; and to safely accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. “We devised routes based on connections to key railway stations, industrial estates, recreational areas and colleges, with the goal of providing access for all Ahmedabadis," recounts Swamy. "We approached NGO’s for their guidance on access and inclusivity for the disabled and disadvantaged.” Swamy notes that the proposed 55-mile BRT network was organized to integrate with conventional buses and rail lines and also with automobiles, so citizens could use the different modes for various legs of intercity journeys. The planners also incorporated cycle lanes and footpaths — far from ubiquitous in India — and these have been extensively landscaped to provide shade. "We opted for full BRT mode, including predominantly dedicated corridors for buses, rather than mixed-use lanes, as in some cities," says Swamy. "Dedicated lanes are the key to making a bus system smooth and speedy — a real alternative to private vehicles."


Cyclist
Dedicated lanes provide rights-of-way for cyclists and pedestrians.

Working with local architects, Swamy's CEPT group hosted public workshops and coordinated input from technology partners and civic groups. Prior to launching, they created a bus shelter prototype and invited public feedback. The shelters that were eventually constructed reflect a focus on multifunctional simplicity: backlit signage doubles as lighting at night; the passive solar design features cantilevered slabs and cross ventilation; external seating is integrated into the structure. And to ensure that funds would be sustainable, the planners set up public-private partnerships to handle various services within the system, from the provision of the actual buses to ticketing. Ahmedabad's BRT is being implemented in phases, with about 11 out of the total 55 miles now in operation. The planning team continues to monitor criticism and identify challenges.

Janmarg officially started in July 2009, with three months of free ridership for all Ahmedabadis — a trial period to allow for solving glitches and for easing opposition sentiments. Indeed, in a city that juggles cultural tradition with globalized modernity, resistance to change runs high. On this count, the system scored a major success during Navratri, a nine-night Hindu celebration featuring folk dancing that is a highlight of the Gujarati festive calendar. To accommodate the large late-night crowds, extra buses were added — convincing many that Janmarg was truly a people-centric service. “Much of the success so far has been due to the fact that CEPT has been a trusted partner," says AMC's municipal commissioner I.P. Gautam. "They have been dedicated to ensuring that the project is about not just administering imported ideas but also adapting them for our city, our people.” And he notes that this user-centered focus has attracted attention from other Indian cities, "who are now seeking our advice.” Initial success has also earned the system an award from India’s Ministry of Urban Development, which cited Ahmedabad's in-depth consideration of local factors, and which has deemed CEPT a center of excellence in urban transport.


Temple
A Hindu temple that avoided planners' attempts at relocation.

Still, the creation of Janmarg wasn't an entirely smooth ride. Longstanding cultural and behavioral factors proved to be challenges. About 200 religious structures fell within the proposed bus network. It required sensitive negotiation with communities to work out a solution in which the structures were relocated, and even then, two Hindu temples and a Muslim memorial resisted the removal efforts and were eventually incorporated into the bus routes — constituting a kind of tribute to enduring tradition within progressive urban development. Cycle lanes — a new concept in Ahmedabad — are being misused by carefree scooter and motorbike drivers, while they've yet to draw a critical mass of cyclists. Hence student groups are holding cycle rallies to build awareness of the benefits of cycling and the provisions already in place to secure cyclists’ rights-of-way. Rickshaw drivers were initially suspicious of competing transport developments; but they are now satisfied that their contributions to city mobility have been incorporated into the system with dedicated parking spaces near BRT routes.

On board the buses the most applauded feature is the provision of at-grade boarding — a hallmark of the best BRT systems, whereby passengers enter and exit buses at raised station platforms, without having to climb or descend stairs. Not only does this improve accessibility for the elderly, challenged and very young; it's also been hailed as a plus point by many saree-clad female passengers. The span of income groups using the service is immediately evident and signals one of the BRT's biggest impacts in Ahmedabad. Even motorists are being lured by the efficiency of Janmarg. Raju Schroff, who owns a local factory, now takes the bus to work. As a result, he says, “My daily commuting time has been more than halved, and I arrive at work calm rather than hassled from being stuck in traffic.” Jagu Desai, a tribal laborer, affirms her appreciation of its speed and comfort, and she seems pleased that her views were as much of interest to me as Schroff’s. Voice announcements and LED displays in both Gujarati and English — also a new feature for public transport in the city — are appreciated by the diverse passengers. As bus operator Panchal Kirti reports: “Not only can deaf people watch and blind people listen but people who can’t read are not excluded from being informed. So everyone on board can relax till their destination is announced.”


Crutches
Arun Amrutla notes the enhanced access that Janmarg provides.

Ahmedabad's comprehensive planning has pushed well past the mere concept of BRT — right through to encouraging physical resilience and solidarity amongst bus operators. Driver Jintendra Patel recalls that the two-month training included daily yoga sessions. “Yoga helps maintain calm and focus while driving," he says, "and it counters the back problems that develop from sitting for long periods.” Consulting architect Meghal Arya applauds the breadth of the planning considerations, which accounted for users, providers and operators. “Janmarg is likely to raise the whole city’s value," she says, "but best of all it raises expectations about civic services in India.” Arun Amrutla, an Ahmedabadi man who has been crippled since birth, seems to agree. “Its so easy for people like me to get on and off the Janmarg buses,” he says. This kind of system, he continues, can truly change people’s lives — especially those who are physically and financially challenged. “Janmarg gives us access to parts of the city that we couldn’t access before — for education, employment or enjoyment — so today it's more our city now than it ever has been.”


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Comments (28)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Brilliantly written...superb photos,
-Vas
vasudev bhandarkar
04.19.10 at 09:59

excellent standard of both photos and narrative
Ross
04.19.10 at 10:06

Great job done..ahemedabad BRT has set up an example as one of the most efficient bus rapid systems implemented in India. Delhi BRT should learn something.......Prasenjit
Prasenjit Sarkar
04.20.10 at 12:49

Fantastic write up, Meena.
Sunandini
04.20.10 at 04:10

Hi, Meena, it has been grat seeing process BRTS getting built in Ahmedabad. Your article is well written and brings it to global platform.
Praveen Nahar
04.20.10 at 05:13

awesome. thanks for publishing this.

is it possible to find out more detail about the project (for instance maps of the different types of routes and how they overlap)? I'd be interested to know how this differs from Curitiba, and how long was the process? They got funds a few years ago, but were they studying possibilities and building consensus since 2000? Before?

Thanks!
faslanyc
04.20.10 at 01:04

Pune, like Ahmedabad has been trying to implement the BRT system, although the full enforcement is yet to happen. People are yet to understand that the extra lane demarcated on the existing road is not meant to be chokerblocked as usual.
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_4oBKlv5UVEA/SMt3BwrX04I/AAAAAAAABnQ/hxu03lj66jA/s400/Pnq+BRTS.jpg
g10
04.20.10 at 11:33

When is first stepped feet in Ahmedabad, there were rickshaws which ran on kerosene mixed petrol . The fuel changed to CNG gradualy , but this really bring a smile to my face. The introduction of the BRT seems to be taking Ahmedabad in a user oriented direction and creating better transport systems, unlike the reckless rick rides and people jumping and honkiing at you from all possible directions.
I hope to ride on one of the buses soon.
Thanks Meena for the informative and well put article.
Gunjan
04.21.10 at 02:01

Great to hear of the building/progress/challenges of the BRT in Ahmedabad, one of my favorite cities. Very nicely written & great photos. Thank you Meena for sharing.
Prashant Bhargava
04.21.10 at 02:28

@faslanyc: Indeed relevant questions.

You can see a stylised map
of the network here: http://bit.ly/diKsJF
and a lo-res, less stylised map here: http://bit.ly/90Z3R9.

I've asked the folk at CEPT to weigh in on your other queries about when various types of research commenced as they can give more accurate detail.
Meena Kadri
04.21.10 at 03:39

It is an interesting simple concept for dealing with a problem affecting various asspects from pollution, health , socaity and economy.
Ahmed Kutbi
04.21.10 at 03:49

All,
More details of the project are available at www.ahmedabadbrts.com. This includes maps, cross sections and photographs.

Around 2001, an Integrated Public Transit System plan for Ahmedabad was prepared. The BRTS project was conceived sometime in 2004-2005. Consensus building too started around that time through a series of stakeholder workshops. Construction began in early 2006 and the first 12km were operational by October 2009.

Right now, 18km is operational, with a further 6km to slated for operation by April 25 and 13km by June 2010.

Abhijit Lokre
04.21.10 at 06:53

Thanks for the info Abhijit.
@faslanyc: hopefully this helps with your queries.

And so others know – Abhijit http://bit.ly/aGrEUX
worked alongside Shivanand Swamy http://bit.ly/cYdXqU
who led the CEPT team in Ahmedabad.
Meena Kadri
04.21.10 at 07:13

"Institute for Transportation & Development Policy awarded Janmarg its Sustainable Transport Award"

Since ITDP worked on this project, this should come as no surprise!
Ranjit
04.21.10 at 09:04

Thank you. I look forward to looking to it more. Very cool project!
faslanyc
04.21.10 at 01:47

Great article. It'd be interesting to hear some more local reaction. Boston has tried a kind of BRT with the sliver line and nominally adding it to the subway network. It's a bit of a local joke, although I think it's fine. The biggest gripe is that it mostly lacks it's own right of way, which really just makes it another bus (so why add it to the subway network).
Morgan
04.21.10 at 02:53

ITDP was one of the jury members. GTZ, Embarq, CAI-Asia were amongst the other jury members. BTW, ITDP has not been associated with the project for over an year now.
Abhijit Lokre
04.22.10 at 01:39

As an expat Amdavadi, this is some of the best news about a lovable but often exasperating city. My compliments to the author and congratulations to Shivanand Swamy and his team on pulling it off.
Minakshi
04.22.10 at 02:51

Great story, well written and interesting to see how India is leading the way in workable integrated public transport options!
Helen Wilson
04.27.10 at 07:09

Well, written Meena, enjoyed reading the article thoroughly.It wouldn'be exaggerated if say, Mr Shivanand Swamy is to Ahmedabad, what Mr Enrique Penalosa is to Bogota -looking at -minute changes keeping local people's demand in mind are incorporated in the design to make it a successful and sustainable system. What say!
Niyati Rana
04.30.10 at 04:13

This is a great slideshow.

We've written about Janmarg on TheCityFix. I think you'd be interested to read it from an urban planner/transport engineer's perspective:

A Photographic Tour of Ahmedabad’s Janmarg BRT System
http://thecityfix.com/a-photographic-tour-of-ahmedabads-janmarg-brt-system/

And others:
http://thecityfix.com/ahmedabad%e2%80%99s-janmarg-changing-the-game-for-brt-systems-in-india/

http://thecityfix.com/five-months-of-ahmedabad%e2%80%99s-janmarg-setting-the-standard-for-brt-in-india/

http://thecityfix.com/more-on-ahmedabad%e2%80%99s-janmarg-brt-accessibility-and-signage/
Erica Schlaikjer
04.30.10 at 10:05

Excellent article, on which I've expanded here:

http://www.humantransit.org/2010/05/bus-rapid-transit-in-india-an-upbeat-view.html
Jarrett Walker
05.25.10 at 06:22

Great images..Will read later.:-)
George
05.26.10 at 05:32

Those interested in learning more about BRT should also look into Bogota's TransMilenio - it definitely build on many of Curitiba's innovations and was a primary model for Johannesburg's Rea Vaya BRT system.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UA4IR7PvO6I
Adriana
06.29.10 at 12:47

Hi there! I have gone through ahmedabadbrts.com but couldn't find any detail about the funding for brts and Janmarg. was it from JnNURM? Please help me out. Thanks
Ank
08.04.10 at 11:55

@Ank – as far as I know the project's funding was split between central government (JnNURM), state government and local government (AMC).

08.09.10 at 03:06

Well written and so well informed. Thank you for being the expert photo journalist.
Ranjana Bhargava
12.05.10 at 07:31

first of all thnx a ton for exploring the Mass transport system(BRTS) of my city i.e Ahmedabad.

* Its my daily routine now a days to take a ride in BRT bus and I love it.

*Traveling at the speed of 65 kmph in the middle of the city is fun.

Loves my BRTS and hats off to the planners.....
Thnks again to you.

Regards
Vrundan shah
Vrundan shah
01.21.11 at 08:50



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ABOUT THE SLIDESHOW

Photographs of the Janmarg, the new bus-rapid-transit in Ahmedabad, India, by New Zealand-based design writer Meena Kadri.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

New Zealand–born Meena Kadri explores the intersection of communication, culture and creativity from her consultancy Random Specific. Meena is currently a Community Manager on OpenIDEO.
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