This article was originally drafted by the Strategic Foresight Group for the newsletter “Asian Horizons” as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Searchlight Process. For more Searchlight content on futurechallenges.org, please click here.
Bhopal, a growing city in central India, with 2.3 million inhabitants, mostly poor and working class, has transformed its transportation in recent years. The city has launched aggressive plans to improve road conditions and public transportation, which are now being studied by other cities. If Bhopal sets a trend, an acute problem faced by India’s growing number of small cities may be relieved. The Bhopal Municipal Corporation has implemented a complete mobility plan for the city. Currently mini buses and tempos make over three million trips every day carrying working class passengers. The plan organizes the city’s routes in such a way that all forms of public transport can operate without competition and improve safety standards. Significant funds have been allocated for the development of the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). BRTS operates on a public-private partnership basis with a special purpose vehicle. The municipal corporation has established Bhopal City Link Limited to purchase buses and awarded the contract to a single private operator to run the service for five years. The municipal corporation has purchased over 200 buses for this purpose. Thus the local government can take care of the capital costs without running the business, which is left to the private sector on transparent conditions.
Route rationalization is a major factor in the mobility plan. The segregation compiles trunk routes, standard routes and complementary routes, each with their specific functions. In addition to the present stock of 200 buses, there is a proposal to purchase 200 more buses with resources from a scheme of the central government. A major issue had been uprooting of trees during construction of bus routes. This has been so far addressed by planting 6000 tree saplings for the 300 trees demolished. The BRTS is equipped with a global positioning system and LED monitor in every vehicle providing relevant information. The project has resulted in decongestion of streets from private vehicles, efficiency in traffic management and improvement in environmental conditions. Bhopal BRTS follows the successful example of Ahmedabad in Western India. Small cities such as Nashik and Satara are exploring affordable public transport options, mostly through private initiatives. Bhopal is also planning a metro railway for the city and nearby villages covering a distance of 50 kilometers. It will be eventually extended to Indore, another medium-sized city in central India. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, which has been much praised nationally and internationally, has been commissioned to prepare a feasibility report for Bhopal Metro and may later provide technical assistance. The report is expected to be ready sometime in 2012. At the current rate of expansion of BRTS, the proposed Metro, and other programs for public transport, commuters in the central Indian city are expected to be relieved of their woes by 2015.