I had a good conversation with my friend Neha whom I met after long. We were meeting to discuss her interest in doing something for the cleaning of Mithi river but since she had shifted to Pune it was natural to catchup on how she finds life there. She was quite unhappy with Pune as a city since it seemed to lack the energy and vitality which is so endemic to Mumbai. Probing further the number one reason turned out to be the absence of good mobility options, which could enable her to move around the city more freely for work, hobby or leisure. In the absence of a public transport system like in Mumbai she was left restricted to her home and work most times having to decide on every meeting and interaction outside of this from the lack of mobility options.
Being from Mumbai she was used to having a functional and comparatively speaking great public transport system in place, which can absolve people from the need to own a vehicle or two-wheeler to drive around. There is great trunk network in terms of the railway system which can be accessed in 30 mins from anywhere to go long distance and within the local areas the taxi, autorickshaw and bus network is dense and excellent. There are ten areas for improvement that I can point out for Mumbai but when one gets an external perspective it makes you appreciate all that is going right (and which we unfortunately are not investing in for the future).
She works in a technology company and is stuck to her office transport. A company bus comes to pickup at 7:30am and drops back by 6pm. Timings are fixed and have to adhered to if you do not want to miss. How much more boring can things get? There is absolutely no bus service or train or metro to access the office. auto rickshaws do not charge as per meter and are not easily available. Traveling by fleet taxis like Ola or Meru or Uber on a daily basis is too expensive. And she cannot drive a two wheeler and does not want to own a car.
In Mumbai she never had the need to own a two wheeler or car and consequently does not even know how to drive either. Rickshaws in Pune are badly governed in most parts and can charge unreasonably.
The bus network in Pune is pathetic. She was critical of the need to have spent public funds on BRTS since there is no congestion on Pune roads. And if money had to be spent on the project then it should have been completed and made functional. The public bus service is more like the state bus transport service and nothing which anybody in the middle class and working in the technology or ITES place would work in.
People like to go for art exhibitions or dance or theater performances or just loiter in favourite parts of their city, which need not be the closest from their residence or go for dinners and lunches or for a hobby classes or be part of advocacy group meetings or meet friends or shopping and more. In the absence of affordable and convenient mobility options a lot of these activities which contribute to a more fulfilled and improved quality of life are left as a preserve of only those who can afford to move around in personal transport or cars. The options maybe better for the lower socioeconomic bracket since they may choose bicycling (where too not many women) or using public bus service but the frequency is not that good.
Mobility provides opportunities for economic opportunities and a more full filling life and it should be among the fundamental priorities of any city government. Left unattended mobility will be left for only those who can afford it and it will lead to an overall deterioration of the cities economic ability and cultural profile.
At a time when the government is of speaking of Smart Cities it would be worthwhile to have a mission mode focus on first providing the basics of a good affordable public transport system in the 65 cities chosen as part of JNNURM. My recent article Leadership for Smart Cities
As part of some additional information for writing this post I searched “map of route density of buses in London” and came to this interesting link
A similar search for Pune brought this interesting link
About BRTS and dedicated lanes
Her remarks on BRTS reminded me of the continuous difference of opinion that I have with some members in Mumbai Transport Forum – our sustainable transport community in Mumbai – that as far as buses we need not worry much about providing dedicated lanes or BRTS alone to increase the use of buses by people.
My contention for buses in Mumbai is that we need to focus hard on the aesthetics, comfort (which means AC as well), hygiene, use of IT for predicting times, far improved bus stops and bus priority measures through signals or other means. We need to increase bus frequency on all trunk routes, even it means buying more buses to compensate for the higher turn around time of buses due to congestion.
Once we take care of this a sizeable amount of people who are currently anyways idling in their cars will shift to buses, preferring to reduce the burden if they are the ones driving or for cost reasons. A lot of those using taxis or auto rickshaws for longer routes would also shift.
In the Pune context there are just no worthwhile buses on the road at all. People will be interested in dedicated lanes and speeds for the buses if they first see the buses on the road, which they can use. Putting a BRTS corridor in place without first not investing in improving the fleet and quality of the existing public bus service is like going for cake before bread or putting the cart before the horse.
Images from Mumbai