According to reports, the UN has chosen Ahmedabad’s Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) as a showcase project to highlight that addressing climate change is not a burden, but an opportunity to improve the lives of people.
The 51-km BRTS will be highlighted as a ‘lighthouse project’ as part of the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Momentum for Change Initiative at the Doha round of negotiations to be held later this month. The initiative was launched by the UN Secretary General at the 2011 Durban round of the UN-sponsored climate change negotiations. The “lighthouse projects” are an attempt to “transform the impression of slow progress in negotiations, into a positive can do environment that recognises action and progress”.
As people need to travel longer distances to work or for leisure, there has been a rapid rise in the vehicular traffic, especially as public transport systems in India’s cities have been unable to cater to the rising demand. There is an annual 15% rise in the passenger-km that Indians travel, and a 10% increase in the sale of vehicles particularly cars to meet the requirement, according to official data. Transport has become one of the chief sources of rising emission.
Rising pollution, congested cities, larger imports of petroleum resulting in rising prices of petrol and diesel has prompted cities such as Ahmedabad to look for ways to address the crisis on the roads. The Ahmedabad BRTS, which began as pilot project on a 12.5 kilometre stretch in July 2009, has emerged as an example of how a planned commuting system can help reduce emissions and improve air quality as well as have a positive impact on urban development.
“The city of Ahmedabad, which flanks both banks of the Sabarmati river, has many bridges. About ten years ago, we had a pollution situation that made visibility poor. You just couldn’t see the bridges. The pollution was so bad that if you were driving on the bridge or waiting at a red light your eyes would water. So around 2002-03, the city moved to CNG, which improved matters. The next step was to improve public transport,” said Akhil Brambhatt, deputy general manager, Ahmedabad Janmarg Ltd.
The Ahmedabad BRTS or Janmarg is part of this effort. In the three years of its existence it has expanded to 51 km. Some 20% to 22% of commuters, who were using two-wheelers to commute, have moved to the bus system. The Janmarg’s success comes even as Delhi’s attempt at introducing a BRTS failed. Ahmedabad learnt its lesson from the nation’s capital’s mistake. “We took a lot of care in the route selection. Our slogan was simple-avoid busy roads but connect busy places,” Brambhatt explained.
For the first three months, the Ahmedabad BRTS was run as a free service. People used the service out of curiosity and well because it was free. The doors were opened to suggestions, and many of these were incorporated into the working of the system. Even when it became a paid service, the charges were low. Brambhatt points out that the minimum fare of 3 for a 2-km trip is among the lowest in the country. The minimum fare in Delhi is 5.