As citizens of Ahmedabad are rejoicing that their city is the first in India to have a metro rail, a BRTS (Bus Rapid Transport System) and local AMTS (Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service), I am tempted to request all of you to wait for one critical number to prove that it is worth celebrating the arrival of metro rail in the city.
To really adjudge success/failure of a public transport system one has to study how it impacts private vehicle sale numbers in the city, and the bitter truth is, the last such adventure in public transport, the BRTS has failed on this count.
Ahmedabad has almost one private vehicle to two persons with two-wheelers outnumbering four wheelers by ten to one.
Regardless of public transport modes added to the city, vehicle sales, especially of two-wheelers have grown consistently every year suggesting that people have not moved to BRTS to make it a viable option vis-à-vis real estate it occupies.
If we apply climate-based logic, there is a simple explanation for this.
In a city where mercury soars above 40 C for nearly three months of a year, walking can never be a round-the-year last-mile-connectivity option. So, people are bound to prefer point-to-point transport provided by a two-wheeler over a public transport journey even if it requires only a short walk to a station.
We are not Europe and hence we are unlikely to see a shift.
While I seriously hope that we use new mobile App based aggregating technologies and integrate all forms of public transport to take the last-mile connectivity to a level where walking in really reduced, the truth is, it is a difficult challenge for a city like Ahmedabad to make public transport as convenient as a two-wheeler.
I sincerely wish that our policy-makers accept this reality and also start looking at smoothening two-wheeler based mobility instead of day-dreaming about public transport replacing them.
If we look at our transportation planning, two-wheelers hardly find any special mention, but the reality is that they drive the city and contribute to not just traffic but traffic problems at a scale far larger than all the stakeholders put together.
As two-wheelers are real movers and shakers, they also contribute to traffic jams, more so because they are really mobile. As they can break lanes and traffic rules with ease, two-wheelers prevent orderly lane-driven traffic movement across Ahmedabad, making commuting using any medium a nightmare that is getting worse by each day.
But I look at the vehicle statistics, a very interesting thought hits me hard.
If we look at transportation capability, a BRTS bus is actually partially solving problem that approximately 30/40 two-wheelers solve completely with ease, but if we look at road space utilised by BRTS bus to do so, it really starts looking completely absurd.
Every time I drive past the empty BRTS lane, I can imagine the astronomical number of two-wheelers that could have occupied the same amount of premium real estate and transported hundreds of times more citizens.
As we now have metro and hence a system that can connect distant places really rapidly, it is about time we reconsider BRTS as it has failed to justify the space it occupies.
I really feel that, even as a one day experiment, city administration should consider reserving BRTS lanes only for two-wheeler movement (and maybe parking too) and see how it impacts the movement flow across the city.
We need to realise that the traffic problem is not static and it will grow exponentially if more and more private vehicles are added to the roads. We need to think of something radical if we want to prevent a transportation collapse in the city.