Surat BRTS: Customised transit facility

Customised transit facility

After Ahmedabad and Vadodara, Surat is the third Indian city to have successfully implemented a bus rapid transit system (BRTS). The BRTS project, which was approved in 2008, was launched under the banner of “Sitilink” with the aim to establish a network of 125 km within city limits. The need for a BRTS was propelled by a plethora of factors. Broadly, increasing urbanisation and motorisation were major compulsions.

The absence of an efficient public transport system not only increased the frequency of traffic jams but also catalysed pollution to unacceptable levels. The BRTS project was devised as a long-term plan aimed at making it the go-to transit facility by increasing mobility across Surat. The network has been planned to develop missing road links and it includes new river bridges, canal roads and rail overbridges.

Managing mobility

The Surat BRTS project was sanctioned under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), and is being implemented by the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC). The project is to be executed in three phases at an estimated cost of Rs 11 billion. Of the three phases, Phase I was fully commissioned in April 2015 and this is providing seamless transport facilities in designated areas. The traffic situation is expected to improve further after the completion of two river bridges and the commencement of other phases.

Today, Surat has a two-layer bus-based transit system, that is, city bus services and the BRTS. The plans provide for rapid transit facilities along high intensity corridors (both existing and potential) which are also to be supplemented by complementary and feeder services. Further, a third layer, “High Mobility Corridor – Walled City Ring Service”, is under consideration. This 12 km corridor overlaps with the BRTS across 2 km.

The city is proposing to integrate these three bus-based systems to form a seamless bus transit system. This is expected to shift a significant proportion of the existing personal vehicle trips to the public bus system.

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Key features: Phase I

Phase I of the project has been developed in two corridors – Corridors I and II – spanning a total length of 30 km. Corridor I has been develoxped connecting the Surat-Navsari road for a total distance of 10.2 km. Corridor II has been developed to provide connectivity between Dumas Resort, Canal Road and Sarthana Jakatnaka spanning a length of 19.7 km.

The development of Phase I has been undertaken at an estimated cost of Rs 4.69 billion. This cost includes Rs 782.1 million for road works on Corridor I, Rs 109.1 million for the construction of bus stops, and Rs 61.3 million for miscellaneous works. It took about six years for the implementing agency to undertake the development of Phase I and the output has been nothing short of impressive. Corridor I of Phase I was operationalised in early 2014 whereas Corridor II was operationalised in April 2015. According to Professor Shivanand Swamy, Executive Director, CEPT University “SMC laid great emphasis on the development of a BRT network through implementation of new roads and augmention of capacities and public transport. In addition, the street sections were developed to meet pedestrian, non-motorised transport and mixed traffic requirements”. With the commissioning of Corridor II, the travel time between Citilight and Kamrej has been reduced to just 30 minutes  and this has provided a viable alternative to the highly burdened Ring Road. However, Phase I was delayed due to several reasons including the Forest Department denying permission to cut trees on the route and also the presence of slums on the proposed route.

SMC had initially awarded a seven-year contract to Chartered Logistics Limited and Chartered Speed Private Limited for the procurement, operations and management of air-conditioned (AC) buses. As per the plans, the operator was required to supply a fleet of 10 buses. The fleet size has now been increased to more than 40 buses with another 30 buses planned to be added in the near future. At present, a fleet of nine AC buses operates from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at a frequency of 10 minutes on Corridor I and 36 automatic door buses ply on Corridor II. The availability of comfortable buses and the frequency of bus availability has been a major factor behind the acceptance of the bus system in the city. Moreover, the state-of-the-art bus shelters provided on the corridors has further made the system more traveller friendly.

An important feature of the Surat BRTS is the use of an intelligent transport system for improved mobility, connectivity and accessibility. The system includes sliding doors, passenger information and area traffic control system, automatic fare system, etc. At present,the passenger information system has been installed in buses, and at bus stops and terminals. Moreover, GPS and GPRS modules have also been installed in the buses, which allow for two-way voice and data communication. These two systems are integrated, whereby the data is collected at the operations control system. In addition, a fare collection data centre has also been put in place. Data from all the sources such as on-board e-bus ticketing, off-board ticketing and pass issuing centre is transmitted to this centre.

The introduction of electric vehicles and bicycle sharing are also on the anvil to add value to the city’s smart mobility programme.

Another interesting feature of the Surat BRTS network has been the development of the canal area of the city as a part of the bus network. Overall, about 13 km of the canal area between Sarthana Jakatnaka and Umas has been developed as the world’s first waterfront BRTS. There are two dedicated bus lanes on either side of the canal and this has provided a stimulus for redevelopment of the entire area. Prior to this, the centrally located canal was a waste collection area with no transit facility; this was associated with lack of land use and degradation of surroundings. Land prices and quality of life were negatively affected. However, with the redevelopment of the canal area, the land is now being more productively utilised helping authorities in channelling traffic better.

To add value to the canal area, various facilities such as kiosks, gardens, children’s play areas, etc. are also being planned. In order to promote property development, the state government has allowed for a purchasable additional FSI (floor space index) along the BRTS corridors. So far, more than $34 million has been collected in the form of increased land value capture, which has been deposited in the Urban Transport Fund for the implementation, operation and management of the BRTS. This has helped the local government in providing reliable services, while retaining an affordable fare structure.

Going forward

Prior to the launch of the BRTS, the citizens of Surat relied heavily on shared autorickshaws and government buses, which were overcrowded and provided unsatisfactory transit facilities. The development of the BRTS has notably increased road utility and capacity and thereby ensured sustainable mobility. Further, with the commissioning of Phase II and Phase II of the BRTS, the entire city will be connected with a public transport system which will help ease traffic woes to a large extent. SMC estimates ridership to reach 0.41 million per day in 2016 and 0.61 million per day in 2021.

Given the enthusiasm with which the two operating BRTS corridors have been accepted in Surat, the entire system is likely to be a success story. The experiences of Surat, Ahmedabad and Vadodara should encourage the uptake of the BRTS in Pune, Hubli, Dharwad, Visakhapatnam, Jaipur and many other cities. The progress has been substantial enough for the BRTS to be adopted widely and it is likely to become a common feature in Indian public transit systems over the next five to ten years. “BRTS can provide a sustainable solution to meet the mobility needs of Indian cities. Past experience suggests that it is not necessary to plan BRTS to serve the existing travel patterns and lines, it can also be developed to alter land use and travel patterns, in order to ensure greater mobility” says Professor Shivanand Swamy