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Intelligent transport solutions can transform cities

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DNA India
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The state of urban transport in a city largely decides its livability index.

Most metropolitan cities are reduced to urban nightmares, thanks to their flawed urban transport model. Recently, I attended a lecture by Mark Gorton at Ahmedabad Management Association (AMA) on transformation of cities through intelligent transport solutions. Among cities with good urban transport systems, he cited the cities of Copenhagen, Singapore, Amsterdam, Munich, Tokyo, Guangzhou, of late New York and surprisingly, Ahmedabad too.

He argued that traffic damages environment and cripples the living environment for everyone, particularly the children. The transportation strategy in most cities is automobile-centric and ignores needs of cyclists and pedestrians - the two most non-polluting users of roads. Two-wheelers and four-wheelers move very few people, occupy more space, congest and pollute more. Hence city policy makers keep on widening the city roads and build more and more flyovers and bridges in order to reduce chaos and move traffic faster. However, increasing number of personal vehicles leads to more traffic congestion and pollution.

Cities that have a good transportation system primarily focus on improving public transport, encouraging cyclists and walkers and adopt proper land use policies, while discouraging personal transport through several disincentives. Hence, good cities develop efficient mass transport systems like the BRTS or a metro rail and develop cycle tracks and walking paths. Certain cities like Seoul impose hefty parking charges like Rs300 per hour, while in Indian cities, including Ahmedabad, parking charges are a measly Rs15 per hour. Further, poor enforcement allows vehicle owners to park just about anywhere without paying anything. London and several cities charge congestion fees during peak hours. Another strategy is to introduce several no-vehicle areas and allow only pedestrians, thereby attracting more people and increasing trade.

Against this backdrop, where does Ahmedabad stand? With an area of 466 sq km, Ahmedabad has more than 26 lakh vehicles on its roads and adds 400 more of them every day. The city has earned the enviable distinction of being the first BRTS city in India. Currently nearly 1.3 lakh people travel on more than 90 specially-designed buses on a dedicated BRTS corridor of 45 km. In Phase-II, it is planned to complete 88 km of BRTS tracks by 2012 and in the final phase, BRTS will extend to 125 km.

A Metro link connecting Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad is under advanced planning. The city's bus services AMTS currently runs 700 buses and is planning to increase it fleet to 1200 by 2012-end and further increase its coverage. If more and more commuters take to public transport, it will remove traffic congestion and pollution.

We need to develop a culture and movement for cycling and walking to work and disallow unauthorised parking by increasing parking charges and penalties.

Several no-traffic areas like the proposed Bhadra project are needed. More than anything, Amdavadis need to adhere to traffic rules on their own. These would further enhance Ahmedabad's livability status as the most-preferred city in India.