Monday, March 28, 2005

Wanted: Integrated transport to ease chaos in Bangalore

Wanted: Integrated transport to ease chaos in Bangalore
By Swati Ramanathan
The Times of India

Traffic conditions in recent times have dramatically altered Bangalore’s image from a dream city to a daytime nightmare. We’ve over 20 lakh vehicles, with 780 additions daily. Yet, over 60% of the population is dependent on the bus system. BMTC has 3,700 buses running on 400 routes and making 52,423 trips a day, and there is still more demand.

Putting in place an integrated public transport system is critical for Bangalore for three reasons:

First, public transport is the primary means of connectivity for 60% of the population. Lack of access cuts people from opportunities, services like education and health. Second, those who own private vehicles must have incentives to use public transport instead. Public transport is eco-friendly, energy-efficient and promotes a healthier urban lifestyle. Third, it replaces the current erroneous practices of focusing solely on flyovers and road widening. A traffic study by IIIE, along the Tumkur, Hosur, Bannerghetta and Mysore roads, shows that the traffic on these roads has doubled in the last five years and now exceeds road capacity.

In such a scenario, the Metro Rail proposal for Bangalore has found official sanction. Before we rush ahead, let’s examine public transport from an integrated perspective. What defines a successful integrated public transport system? Seven critical parameters are required: comprehensive connectivity; convenience; affordability; frequency; reliability; safety; and aesthetics. Bangalore’s Metro Rail proposal needs to be viewed through this framework. Let’s assume high-quality aesthetics, reliability, frequency and safety, and focus on the remaining three factors:

AFFORDABILITY
Metro Rail is planned to cover 36 km at Rs 6,000 crore, a 50% jump over the initial estimate of Rs 4,000 crore. BMRTL estimates 800 building demolitions to make way for the Metro. Some financial information: how will ticket fares be sufficient to repay loan, what happens if ridership volumes are not as per projections, or if project delays increase costs? The metro system in Beijing takes only 11% of public transport volume. Curitiba and Bogota are using rapid bus systems at a cost that is 5-10% that of the metro and provides greater connectivity around the city. Japan is investing in monorails at 25% cost compared to the metrorail.

COMPREHENSIVE CONNECTIVITY
Currently, the Metro Rail focuses on BCC areas alone. Much of Bangalore’s growth will be in the surrounding eight municipalities. How will Metro Rail connect these growth areas. Similarly, what is the rapid transit access to the international airport? Utilising existing rail network is logical and cost-saving. The Railways have infrastructure along five radials from the city centre. How has this been factored into the overall transport design? What about connection with the KSRTC/BMTC bus depot network?

CONVENIENCE
The proposed route runs 36 km through 22 of the 100 wards. Hence, few homes and workplaces are going to be walking distance from the station. How will the metro overcome this disincentive for use? Are parking facilities for private vehicles planned at major stops?

A critical point is the revision to the Comprehensive Development Plan of Greater Bangalore. It is imperative that the revision integrates the plans for public transport, since it will dramatically define land use and zoning and issues of density.

Careful deliberation on an integrated public transport plan will save us possibly making a costly mistake. One that will inconvenience us intolerably in the present and haunt us permanently in the future.

(The author is co-founder of Janaagraha and is involved in issues of urban planning)

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