The twin cities of Hubballi-Dharwad, the second-largest urban cluster in Karnataka, have transformed the travel experience of commuters along a major city artery by introducing a new central corridor exclusively for public buses.
The state-of-the-art, in addition to being safer for women.
New airconditioned buses now run every few minutes along the 22 km long route, halving the hour-long commute by express services. Regular buses too have shaved 15 minutes off their earlier time.
Not surprisingly, within a year of its launch, bus ridership along the critical corridor has grown to 90,000 passengers a day. One in five passengers has switched from other modes of transport, and commuter satisfaction has soared from 56 to 85.5 percent.
Importantly, the corridor has proved to be a cost-effective alternative to expensive metro systems. Built at an expense of Rs. 970 crores (US$150 million) - or roughly Rs. 44 crores per kilometer ($ 6-7 million) – the BRTS has worked out to less than one-tenth the cost of a metro.
. It has been declared the ‘Best Mass Transit Project’ by the Government of India.
Hubballi-Dharwad’s focus on people and emphasis on quality bus services rather than on just the construction of road infrastructure, has shown the way forward for other Indian cities
Proving the naysayers wrong
Hubballi-Dharwad’s success has proved the naysayers wrong. While 11 Indian cities began implementing Bus Rapid Transit Systems (BRTS) with great enthusiasm a decade ago, the idea - which originated in Latin America - gradually lost steam across the country, despite successes in Indore and Ahmedabad.
This was for a number of reasons: national funding for BRTS projects dried up, the projects proved to be more complex to implement than previously thought, and Delhi’s decision to abort its own experiment raised questions about the concept’s efficacy.
So, what did Hubballi-Dharwad do differently?
First, the corridor was planned along a major city artery where 70 percent of commuters used city buses. However, public buses made up less than 10 percent of the passenger vehicles plying along the route. It, therefore, made sense to widen the four-lane highway into an eight lane one, and reserve three to four central lanes for public transport.
Part of a complete transport solution
The corridor formed part of a larger city-wide public transport solution that kept commuters’ needs in mind. It seamlessly integrated a number of different elements: the construction of a dedicated right of way for buses to ensure faster travel; the introduction of new air-conditioned buses with easy boarding to ensure comfort; smoother fare collection; convenient links with city, inter-city and rural bus services; an integrated intelligent transport system (ITS) that provided passengers with advance information on bus arrival times etc.; and a state-of-the-art traffic signaling and management system.
Project preparation was robust. Funds to acquire the land, build the eight-lane corridor, and procure a fleet of new buses were sanctioned beforehand. Engineering designs and operational plans were also drawn up in detail before the project commenced, and extensive consultations were held with multiple stakeholders. Thus, despite the large number of commercial, institutional, and religious structures along the way, as well as the numerous complaints, court cases and requests for design changes, the project was completed in a record five years’ time.
One nodal agency mandated to deliver
The establishment of a fully staffed special purpose vehicle (SPV) with the clear mandate to design, implement and operate the BRTS made implementation smoother and quicker. All key stakeholders held equity in the SPV - the state government, the municipal corporation, the urban development authority, the bus company and the road development corporation - bringing all the players on board.
Strong technical support
The strong association of CEPT university, Ahmedabad, from the project’s conception to its operationalization, proved invaluable. With extensive experience of designing and implementing BRTS in Ahmedabad and Surat, the university was a great resource. In addition, various project management consultants were mobilized to supervise the construction and implementation of the complex intelligent transport system.
High-level commitment throughout
Throughout the project, the Karnataka government provided strong support and commitment through the Directorate of Urban Land Transport. It ensured that the project was fully staffed with teams that had the necessary skills in engineering and project implementation, land acquisition and resettlement, as well as in environmental management and in the planning and management of operations. Critically, all financing was approved upfront, resulting in minimal delays in implementation.
Hubballi-Dharwad’s focus on people, not vehicles, together with its emphasis on the provision of quality bus services rather than on the construction of road infrastructure, has shown the way forward for other Indian cities. This is especially so for the mid-sized towns and cities that are looking for cost-effective solutions that provide rapid mobility for the growing numbers of people who travel along their increasingly congested roads.