Mar 30, 2012

Why public transport system should reach breakeven much before projected

Dilemma of perceived order and actual chaos

A case of typical buzzing metropolitan city of any developing country

Ever wondered while travelling in a suffocatingly overcrowded metro or local train that whether they might have shown similar huge footfall numbers in their design and financial reports? Don’t think so. Because they can’t!!

No guideline in the world allows such high density of footfall per unit area within any public transport system, because that is insane, that is inhuman. But unfortunately its happening, because huge gap of demand and supply. And we accept it, we don’t mind, we don’t question, we don’t have option, we not only accept it, we often praise it, of course public transport is a wonderful system of mass transit, but no wonder why a huge segment of population still prefer to travel by their own car, spending money and time like anything, just to get a private breathing space inside their personal car.

When it comes to transport numbers and financial projections for mass public transport system in overpopulated cities of developing countries, it’s usually purposefully flawed. Why? There is a catch. Metro and rail coaches are designed to accommodate a fixed maximum carrying capacity based on standards and international norms. Sounds good!! Because these standards consider the acceptable optimum and comfortable footfall/ ridership density as there thumbrule with some inbuilt tolerance for unexpected occasional growth in ridership and of course while doing design and financial projections for the MRT projects, consultants take these standard thumbrules as there basis for calculation with some contingency/ margin and they model there business plan as per this acceptable norms. They can’t show realistic overcrowded scenario in their financial calculations and projections because no financing agency/ bank/ partner will accept the model which is prepared by breaking the rule- like standard acceptable ridership density. Technically and morally they can’t propose a transport system which will be operating at an efficiency of 150-200% of its design capacity even if it is an inevitable case, because its unsafe, because it’s not acceptable on many grounds, at least they can’t disclose it in public domain otherwise there would be too much of hue and cry on the subject.  So when they come up with a financial projection with specified breakeven point, that breakeven point might not be realistic, it might be far beyond the actual realistic date. In actual overcrowded scenario more footfalls should help achieve breakeven point much early than projected.

It’s high time for those metropolitan cities which are struggling to provide an adequate and morally acceptable comfort level to its people, either in its transit system or may be in domain of housing and who repeatedly fail to provide the same due to unmanageable population growth and financial constraints, should recognize their constraints, and devise an operational methodology which is more realistic and suitable to their specific need.

May be they should accept inevitable higher population density and need to revise the ridership density thumbrule/ standards, reflecting real life scenarios of the city accepting their limitations, and should use the same in design and financial calculation. Understanding its limitations and inevitability of growth, may be a high density city needs a tougher and much robust metro and rail coaches with robust inbuilt facilities, robust air-conditioning system, higher air exchange rate, temper-proof interior, with more sophisticated audiovisual information system for fast and safe passenger exchange to avoid chaos due to confusion, may be they need better imbedded security system, may be they need to be educated in the school itself how to travel and behave in an overcrowded public transport system. May be they need to be educated in the planning schools to take into account real life scenarios while learning projections, maybe planners should be taught to challenge the validity and contextuality of thumbrules, established norms, methods and age old theories 
rather than simply imitating and following them in decades of inertia.  We will definitely have more and more sophisticated simulation tools for better understanding of the situation and more realistic projections, but we will still need human perception and judgment for a holistic planning which is beyond those formulas.

Some thoughts on socio-economic projections can be found here in another post titled “How reliable are socio-economic future projections?”

By- Anoop Jha

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