In the past few years, growing urbanisation in Tier I cities in India has encouraged greater uptake of public transportation projects such as bus rapid transit systems (BRTSs). Hubli-Dharwad is on its way to setting up an efficient BRTS within the next two years. The project has been driven by a number of factors such as the large number of people travelling between the twin cities, citizens’ inclination towards using public transport facilities and the ever-increasing number of private vehicles in these cities. In fact, the number of private vehicles is growing at a rate of 14 per cent per annum. The negative impact of the increasing number of vehicles is evident from the degraded environmental conditions in terms of rising temperatures and unpredictable rainfall patterns in the cities.
The twin cities of Hubli and Dharwad in Karnataka are separated by a distance of 20 km. According to the Directorate of Urban and Land Development (DULT), Karnataka government, about 170,000 people commute through a fleet of 279 local buses every day. Of the total commuters, about 62 per cent travel to and fro between the twin cities. Along the 20 km stretch, while the bus system accounts for 7 per cent of the total traffic on the road, it carries more than 70 per cent of commuters.
To improve the quality of public transportation services, the city government conceptualised the Hubli-Dharwad BRTS project in 2012. The project is being implemented under the Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP). It aims at providing fast, safe, comfortable, convenient and affordable public transport and is being developed at a cost of Rs 6.9 billion. About 58 per cent of the total project cost is being provided by the state government and the Hubli Dharwad Municipal Corporation (HDMC). The remaining 42 per cent will come from the World Bank. Of the total project cost, about Rs 4.56 million has been earmarked for the project component share. Under this, more than 50 per cent will be invested in undertaking road works including the construction of bus stations, terminals and depots.
The project is being implemented by the Hubli-Dharwad BRTS Company formed by the Karnataka government in May 2012. HDMC has a 30 per cent stake in the company while the rest is owned by the Karnataka government. The entire system, spanning 22.25 km, will comprise a 21.35 km four-lane dedicated bus corridor from Hosur Circle in Hubli to Jubilee Circle in Dharwad and a common traffic stretch of about 0.9 km. So far, the company has successfully completed about 8.3 km of the network and the project is expected to be fully operational by mid-2017. Along the entire stretch of the network, interchange facilities will be provided to commuters for ensuring last- mile connectivity to every location.
Besides the corridor, the company will also undertake the construction of segregated central bus lanes, 26 median bus stops (13 each between Hosur Cross to Rayapur lake and Rayapur lake to Jubilee Circle) and two bus depots in Hubli and Dharwad respectively. The bus stations will be located between the BRT lanes and will cater to commuters travelling in both directions. Moreover, the project scope includes the construction of foot overbridges at 15 junctions.
To increase passenger convenience, two types of bus services – express and regular – will be provided. The two services will differ only in terms of the bus speed. The express bus service will run at a speed of 32.5 km per hour whereas under the regular service buses will ply at a speed of 27.5 km per hour. The company has appointed the North Western Karnataka Road Transport Corporation as the operator for both services.
Initially, a fleet of 130 buses will be launched, of which 100 will be normal buses and 30 will be articulated buses. The entire fleet will comprise Euro-4 model buses with low emission rates and will be air conditioned. However, the passenger carrying capacity of the articulated buses will be greater than that of the normal buses. Tata Motors Limited has been awarded the contract for supplying the 30 articulated buses.
The buses will be equipped with advanced information and technology solutions such as an intelligent transport system (ITS) and an automatic train control (ATC) system. The ITS will cover automated fare collection, global positioning system (GPS)-based fleet monitoring, vehicle scheduling and despatch and passenger information system.
For real-time tracking of bus movement, automated vehicle locator systems (AVLSs) will be installed. The data collected by the AVLS will be made available on the company’s website for enabling citizens to monitor the movement of buses and hence ascertain their exact location.
Further, an automatic fare collection system with smart cards, tokens and paper tickets are also on the cards. These will be issued at all stations and will be mandatory for obtaining access to the platform. To this end, flap gates will be installed to control access to the platforms.
Apart from these smart features, efforts have also been made to make the BRTS traveller friendly. The buses have been designed with a level boarding facility for elderly and differently abled passengers to ensure maximum usage of the bus system.
Besides, a resettlement action plan has been prepared for the project-affected population. The objective of the plan is to ensure that the project does not impose any kind of negative externality and is a win-win situation for all. The plan details the entitlements accruing to different categories of project-affected persons.
The project was originally scheduled to be operationalised by end-2015. However, it continues to face several roadblocks which are impeding its progress. Chief among these is the delay in acquiring 63 acres of land for the construction of the four-lane BRT corridor along with the two mixed traffic lanes on either side of the corridor. Work has been further delayed due to the landowners’ demand for higher compensation under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Besides, the implementation agency requires to obtain various clearances to shift utilities like water supply pipelines, cables, etc. In addition, as some portion of the corridor falls within the city limits, the width of the road has been reduced to 35 metres in these areas, whereas various studies and expert opinions reveal that a road width of 45 metres is considered optimal for smooth and hassle-free movement of buses. Owing to a lack of adequate road space, bus operators might encounter difficulties in operating buses in mixed traffic.
Upon completion, the BRTS will significantly reduce transit time between the two cities by decreasing road congestion. Development of the BRT corridor and allied infrastructure is further expected to catalyse comprehensive development of the twin cities by ensuring optimal land use. As the BRTS has been customised according to the travel needs of the cities, the project is expected to be received with great enthusiasm by commuters. It is also expected to reduce usage of autorickshaws and other private modes of transportation which have failed to provide sustainable transit solutions. Moreover, the BRTS will help the local government in providing reliable services, while retaining an affordable fare structure. Given the expected benefits from the project, its coverage has been extended to the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad.
To sum up, the success of the project will depend heavily upon the management of the BRTS in intra-city areas. If the authorities are successful in doing so, the Hubli-Dharwad BRTS will become the first BRTS success story in Karnataka.