For a comprehensive and naturally practical development process, a productive urban transport framework like Mass Rapid Transportation System (MRTS) is fundamental. An intelligent urban transport framework matters to India on multiple aspects. Right from improvement in the standards of living, a proficient urban transport offers competitive inclusive growth, taking the development beyond the boundaries of urban regions for and improves the monetary profitability of our enterprises. As a matter of fact, Mass Rapid Transportation frameworks (MRTS) is one of the methods of urban versatility, taking the development to the fringes beyond the city limits and widely opens new economic opportunities to the hitherto underprivileged sections of the society.
The distinction between many MRT concepts is fluid and there are many commonly used approaches to distinguish between different modes or features of the various MRT systems. For a better understanding of the different modes, four basic forms of mass rapid transport systems are distinguished here viz. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Metros, Commuter Rail and Light Rail Transit. All these forms of MRT operate with high passenger capacities and speeds.
- The Urban Challenges and Context:
- In India out of the total population of 1210.2 million as on 1st March, 2011, about 377.1 million are in urban areas. The net addition of population in urban areas over the last decade is 91.0 million. The percentage of urban population to the total population of the country stands at 31.6. There has been an increase 3.35 percentage points in the proportion of urban population in the country during 2001-2011. A significant reduction in the share of agriculture and allied activities in the GDP as well as employment generation was noticed over the past decades and the need and opportunities for generation of employment has evidently shifted to urban centers. Thus, the urbans centers are fast emerging as the “Engines of economic growth”. The mass migration to cities can also be attributed to the attractive pull factors of urban areas from improved access to food, healthcare and education and perceived prospects of a better life. Further, the weaker and economically insignificant sections of the society, while depending on the urban centers for their sustenance, are not in a position to afford the urban living. These sections need to have access to affordable and efficient transportation systems to become a part of the inclusive development.
- According to the High-Powered Expert Committee (HPEC) appointed by the Ministry, there is a huge requirement of investment in urban infrastructure and understandably, sums of these magnitudes cannot be located only from within the budgetary resources of Central, State and Local Governments. A compulsion has, therefore, arisen to access financial resources from the market, and induce the private sector to participate in urban development programmes as a policy. In the past three decades, PPPs have been pivotal to the rollout of significant infrastructure projects around the world, with many governments favouring the model. This private-public mix can take many forms involving the ownership and design, building, financing maintenance and operation of facilities. Traditionally, a PPP model is expected to bring in more innovative and advanced technology, in various stages of the project implementation.
- United Nations in its Bruntland Report (Our Common Future) of 1987, defines sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs. Thus, development involves a progressive transformation of economy and society. As such, environmental sustainability in the development of our urban center is a significant requirement to begin with.
- Transport Planning is an essential component of town planning. However, there are lack of a comprehensive and proper technical body for required transport planning inputs. Also, the governance structure for the transport sector may not be adequately equipped to deal with the problems of urban transport. Multiplicity of organizations, independent legislations and inherent conflict in the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders actually impede in the process of planning and implementation of major schemes aimed at development.
- Technology Challenges and Opportunities:
- Transit has the potential to help ease congestion and various innovations could make transit agencies more efficient in their day-to-day operations, enhancement of safety for passengers and operators, reduction of costs and help make transit more feasible for everyone. The key to making transit more attractive is to continuously bring about change and introduce innovations to the organization. Compared to private companies, public agencies tend to be more risk-averse. Thus, introducing innovations poses challenges.
- Depending on the innovation, nature of the organization, and existence or lack of presence of a champion, potential adopters of the innovation will invariably face barriers. In addition, public procurement policies and practices, which are predominantly process and rule-oriented, selection process based on lowest bidding, inhibit the introduction of new concepts, technologies, and practices. For the entrepreneurs, they have little or no incentive to take risks when they face high entry barriers and relatively low assurance on the resulting from the introduction of new products.
- A new urban agenda is necessary in ensuring that cities not only become environmentally viable, but go beyond that to positively enhance and optimize the ecosystems which provide them with goods and services. The solution lies in thinking beyond the traditional approach of providing the basic infrastructure and amenities and, instead, aiming to improve & excel rather than merely sustaining the requirements.
- All MRT systems require interchange with other forms of public transport systems and other popular modes of transport like cars, bikes etc. Some of the most popular MRT systems integrate other transport hubs like railway stations and airports, important bus terminals, parking hubs, pedestrian interchanges. Hence, a key success factor of an MRT system is its ability to interchange with other popular modes and forms of transport.
- More importantly, transit agencies’ focus and spending should shift as technology – social media, mobile computing, navigation & Global Positioning systems and data analytics, have opened up new & advanced ways to improve service and consequently popularity and ridership.
- MRTS Innovation Case Studies Across the World
- Providing an integrated transport system combined with affordability is another key success factor. Curitiba, Brazil offers an urban success story with the BRT dating back to 1970s. Curitiba is one of the best MRTS systems where for a same flat fare a passenger can transfer from one vehicle to another at any of the terminals, covering over 90% of the city.
- A poor connectivity and integration with other modes of transport with MRTS will result in a disappointing ridership as seen from the Bangkok’s story of Bangkok Mass Transit Authority.
- City of Portland’s (Oregon, USA) transit system gets a lot of national attention partly because of its investments in different forms of transportation, which are well integrated and for how it uses technology. The agency was an early leader in the use of smartphone apps for trip planning. It was also one of the first transit agencies in the country to let riders use their smartphones to pay fares and getting bus location information in real time.
- France’s Lille Metro has been chugging away with futuristic innovations since 1983. This northern France enclave, which hugs the border with Belgium, was the first public transit system anywhere to widely implement the driverless VAL
- Miami-Dade Transit system in Florida provides 300 interactive digital waypoints (known as Connect305) that not only offers waiting travelers with Wi-Fi, but they also continuous updated transit arrival times and provide transit officials with key data to assist in running operations smoothly.
- When it comes to addressing the special needs of the patrons with disabilities, the public transport system in Geneva, Switzerland has scored an extra mile, beyond the traditional system like kneeling buses, ramps for wheelchairs and verbal announcements for stops, by equipping every bus with a blue or yellow button that, when pressed, turns off the automatic door closing system.
- Mass transit authority in Veinna, Austria deploys goes beyond the transit apps that provide real-time travel updates, scheduling, and trip planning. Their WienMobil app joins with other transport options including bike sharing, taxis and car sharing—then displaying a variety of routes while combining different modes and offers planning by distance, time, cost and interestingly, even carbon footprint.
- Technological Innovations:
As MRTS systems across the globe have deployed technology, most of the focus and spending has been directed toward providing infrastructure — the buses, trains and rails — and associated costs. The role of information technology is relatively small as a tool rather than as an overall strategy. But this thought process is beginning to witness changes as popularity of mobile computing, social media, Navigation and GPS systems, data analytics, advanced communication systems, wide adoption of mobile data — as well as other forms of automation — have opened up new ways to improve quality & standards of service and, hopefully, attract more ridership.
The adoption of technology should primarily focus in the following broad areas.
- Technology solutions that target new urban riders beyond the traditional ‘affordability /low cost segment’ users. Technology solutions to be designed by using data and available technology to make the transit services to be on time, clean and fast, to make the transit appeal to a broad ridership especially to the evolving urban class.
- Increase the deployment intelligent systems to streamline and improve ticket collection, scheduling and routing of transit services. Authorities monitoring the MRTS should gather not mere GPS location data, but also know exactly how many people are riding a particular vehicle at a particular time. When this data is analyzed in real time using data analytics tools, officials can efficiently predict precise requirement of vehicles at precise times and locations and also can control when they arrive at a stop. Intelligent transportation systems can help control peak hour rushes without any risk of collisions.
- Adoption of social media for two-way interaction to increase transparency and accountability, and at the same time improving the monitoring of MRTS. By leveraging the social media, the twin objectives of keeping the riders informed and mining social media for ways to improve services can be achieved.
- Integration with multiple service providers applications, beyond just transport services like parking solutions, food delivery services, cab sharing applications, sale/offers details of ‘around me’ locations, weather information, emergency services and health services, traffic advisory systems and so on will increase the customer experience beyond the travel experience.
One of the principal barriers to innovation is “resistance to change”. While the technology has been evolving on a continuous process and its availability also poses no barriers, adoption of technology in an innovative way is the challenge. Some of the common institutional barriers include
– Lack of resources — funding and people;
– Lack of management support to implement new ideas;
– Lack of an organizational infrastructure;
– Inflexible regulations, incentives, and rewards; and
– Resistance to risk-taking and change
While Innovation is a continuous process involving active feedback processes, technologies drive innovation in such popular systems like MRTS systems which have positive impact on millions of people in their day to day lives.
 World Bank BTS Skytrain Case Study, 28-Feb-2019, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTTRANSPORT/Resources/336291-1152796664200/2749337-1153152935396/spicer-c4-btsc-case-study.pdf
 7 Amazing Public Transit Innovations Around the Globe, 28-Feb-2019, https://www.zipcar.com/ziptopia/city-living/seven-amazing-public-transit-innovations-around-the-globe
 Transportation Technology Transfer: Successes, Challenges, and Needs By Barbara T. Harder, Robert J. Benke, National Cooperative Highway Research Program