Nearly 23 per cent of the two-wheeler owners, more than 25 per cent of the regular autorickshaw users and about three per cent of the car owners have shifted to BRTS

The dug-up roads, innumerable barricades to facilitate the construction of flyovers and thinning of the main thoroughfares made commuters curse the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) under their breath.

But some five years later, the same commuters are enjoying the comfortable ride on the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS), praising the foresight of the authorities.

The project was visualised by the city and the transport authorities, with the help of the Centre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT) University, the key planner, to cover the entire city. It will create a viable public transport system in the absence of local trains operating in the metros. Of the first two phases of the 88.9-km route to cover some important and busy localities, less than 25 km, covering two routes, have become fully operational, while work is under way on the other routes, including the most congested roads that cut through the heart of the city to reach the main railway station.

When the work started in 2007, the first two phases was estimated to cost Rs. 990 crore. But the first phase of 12.5 km itself, covering a part of the posh western parts of the city, consumed more than Rs. 400 crore. The authorities estimate that the overall cost could be more than double the original estimate. Yet, given the popular response to the BRTS, Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited (AJL), the special purpose vehicle created by the AMC for implementing the project under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), is confident that the project would not be affected by cost overruns.

 In fact, even on the limited routes now in operation, the AJL claims to have met the project cost in less than three years, after the first 12.5-km stretch was commissioned in October 2009. Surveys conducted by the AJL from time to time show that nearly 23 per cent of the two-wheeler owners, more than 25 per cent of the regular autorickshaw users and about three per cent of the car owners have shifted to BRTS. People claim to be saving nearly 70 per cent in time and 50 per cent in travel cost by taking the BRTS. Having already received a number of awards, including the ‘Best Intelligent Transport System’ Award of the Centre for three consecutive years, the Ahmedabad BRTS is drawing national and international attention. AMC Municipal Commissioner and AJL Chairman Guruprasad Mahapatra says experts from various Asian and African countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Tanzania, visited Ahmedabad to study the system so as to replicate it in their cities.

 The reason is that the CEPT, which received the Central government’s award of ‘Institution of Excellence,’ mainly for its BRTS planning, learnt from the mistakes committed by Delhi and Pune in implementing dedicated bus corridors. Thus, Ahmedabad has hassle-free travel: middle-of-the-corridor bus stations; smart cards for ticketing to avoid congestion; flyovers at important junctions; and mixed traffic. The AJL offered free rides to commuters for three months before commissioning the service to get suggestions, most of which it implemented.

It will still be several years before the BRTS, viewed as the backbone of the public transport system, is fully operational. In a hot city like Ahmedabad, where people are used to personal vehicles to commute, walking is not the favourite pastime. Parking points on all BRTS routes, where the commuters can park their personal vehicles, are needed along with adequate autorickshaw or municipal transport feeder services. Traffic congestion at mixed traffic junctions is another drawback, while the tickets need to be cheaper for those now using municipal buses: at present, fares are attractive to car and two-wheeler owners.