From Ferry Tale to Ferry Go Round

Ferries. No, not Fairies. And most certainly, not them Purple Faeries.

Water transport is something that defines most coastal cities. New York has one of the most comprehensive Water Transport networks. In India, Kerala, with its backwaters, has a huge Boat-based transport network. Kochi even has an integrated, Road-Rail-Water Transit Hub in the form of the Vytilla Mobility Hub.

Now, when I talk of water transport in this article, I’m talking of Boats and Catamarans. Higher-end vehicles like Hovercrafts will be dealt with separately. I am mainly talking of passenger traffic, since I’m looking at it from an Urban perspective.

Union Minister for Shipping, Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari has repeatedly called for greater emphasis on water-based transport.  This resulted in the passing of the National Waterways Act, 2016. The fundamental reason behind this being the fact that it is cheaper. However, there are multitude of other reasons that work out in favour of water-based transport over road or rail.

Ferries, can run faster than trains, which run faster than buses. Ferries can carry a greater load of people than buses and and in the long run are more reliable. Will the Electronic Boat recently launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it’s high time, India took up water based transport seriously.

Now, the focus of this post is going to be on four specific cities; Mumbai, Chennai, Pune and Ahmedabad, mainly because of my experience in them. They can emulated to other cities too, such as Hyderabad and Bengaluru.

The Kerala State Water Transport Department owns and operates boats and ferries as well as the infrastructure. The Maharashtra Government started planning for this in the right way by getting the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation and Maharashtra Maritime Board to set up the necessary infrastructure, while private agencies would operate the services.

Mumbai

BEST Ferry across the Manori Creek.
BEST Ferry across the Manori Creek. Image copyright Nichalp, CC-BY-SA 2.5 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Mumbai, as stated earlier, has several rivers flowing through the city, as well as in the vicinity. The Mithi, Oshiwara, Poisar and Dahisar lie entirely on the island, while the Ulhas River flows around the island.

Barring the stretch which passes under the runway of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, the Mithi, once dredged, cleaned of toxic sludge, as well as encroachments, can provide connectivity from Terminal 2 of the airport, Marol, and Seepz Village. Similarly, the Oshiwara can provide connectivity from Oshiwara Depot to Oshiwara Station, the Poisar from Poisar Depot to Malwani, and the Dahisar river can connect Ram Mandir in Borivali to the Dahisar Bridge Bus Station. The major hurdles on this stretch would be clearing encroachments, widening the river, dredging it, and ensuring that pollutants don’t enter it. Another major hurdle would be to demolish low lying bridges and have them replaced by higher ones.

The Ulhas river, which meanders through the Pune, Raigad and Thane district, empties into the Thane Creek. The towns of Kalyan-Dombivali, Karjat, Neral, Badlapur, and Ulhasnagar lie on the banks of the Ulhas. In rural pockets, the Ulhas provides water for agriculture. The rest of it, is filthy, much like the Mithi. Back in 2014, a Shiv Sena MP has asked the MMRDA to conduct a feasibility study for Water-based transport from Kalyan to Mumbai and Virar using the Ulhas river. If planned properly, this can link the far flung town of Karjat to the Versova Bridge via the above mentioned cities and Reti Bunder, thus making travel in the MMR easier. This has been notified as National Waterway 53.

Periodic maintenance of these water bodies will also help prevent another 26th July in future.

Today, the only existing mode of transport is in the form of boats and catamarans connecting Ferry Wharf and Gateway of India to Elephanta Island, Rewas, and Mandwa on one side, and Madh Island, Marve, Manori. The former is operated by private bodies while the latter is operated by BEST.

Chennai

The city of Chennai, has two major rivers and one canal linking these two. The Cooum river runs on the north of the city, the Adyar through the Central portion,and the Buckingham Canal connects to two while also providing connectivity to Kakinada in the North and Cuddalore in the South.

The Cooum, passing through the fringe areas of the Core city, such as Poonamallee, Maduravoyal, Koyambedu, Anna Nagar, Kilpauk, Egmore and Park is polluted for most of the year. The Adayar, passes through less denser areas such as Ekkaduthangal, Adayar, Mylapore, Guindy, etc and is less polluted.  It also passes beneath the Runway of the Chennai International Airport. The Buckingham Canal, meanwhile is relatively cleaner in the Northern fringes of Chennai, and south of Thiruvanmiyur. The section between the two, mostly passing through Central Chennai is pretty much unnavigable because of two reasons: Chennai Central station sort of sits on top of the Canal; The pillars of the MRTS line almost eat away the canals width.

The remaining section of both rivers and the Canal can be utilised for transport in and around the city of Chennai.

The Cooum, by virtue of running parallel to both Poonamallee High Road for most of its part and partly with the Egmore-Beach Railway track, can decongest both the road and the track, as well as the upcoming Metro. The Adayar can connect the Airport, Nandambakkam, Ikkaduthangal, Little Mount, Kotturpuram, Adayar, and terminate at the Theosophical Society.

The Buckingham Canal, on the other hand, can connect Ennore, Wimco Nagar with Basin Bridge on the North, and Thiruvanmiyur to Lattice Bridge, Kannaki Nagar and Sholinganallur in the South. Part of this is part of National Waterway 4.

Like Mumbai, Low Level Bridges would need demolition, the entire water bodies widened and reinforced, and dredged. Periodic maintenance would prevent Chennai from being inundated like in 2015.

Pune

The city of Pune has three major rivers flowing through it, The Mula, The Mutha and the Pavana. The Pavana flows through Northen Wakad, and Chinchwad before merging into the Mula at Kasarwadi. The Mula flows north of Balewadi, separating Pune from Pimpri-Chinchwad at Aundh and Khadki. The Mutha flows from Warje towards Deccan and Shaniwarwada, separating Old and New Pune. The Mula and Mutha meet each other at Sangamwadi from where they flow as the Mula-Mutha.

All three rivers feature a few low lying bridges, most predominantly on the Mutha, which would need be demolished.

The Mula can provide connectivity from Hinjewadi, Wakad, Balewadi, Aundh, Khadki, to Sangamwadi. The Pavana can connect Punawale, Ravet, Chinchwad, Sangvi and Kasarwadi. The Mutha can connect Warje, Kothrud, Karvenagar, Erandwane, and Shaniwarwada. From Sangamwadi, they can provide connectivity to Koregaon Park, Kalyani Nagar, Mundwa, etc.

Ahmedabad

Sabarmati Riverfront Project.
Sabarmati Riverfront Project. Image copyright Harshit Gohil, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Possibly the best city in India in the matters of Riverine management, Ahmedabad stands out in an interesting way. It is possibly the only city in India without low level bridges, and doesn’t need dredging.

The Sabarmati River, which originates in the Aravalis of Rajasthan, runs dry for most of the year. The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project, under the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, involved construction of a concrete wall and concrete basin for the river within the city limits, to control its course, as well as facilitate easy maintenance. Part of the river width was reduced to provide for a Promenade and a Riverside Project. There are barrages at regular intervals on the river to regulate the flow of water. The river receives its water via a canal which brings water from the Narmada river at the Sardar Sarovar Dam. This Narmanda Canal flows under the Sabarmati River at their meeting point.

The Riverfront extends to The Torrent Power Park in the North and near Khodiyarnagar in the South. Plans are afoot to further extend it up North to Gandhinagar via GIFT City. There are two Boating Stations on the banks, used for joyrides on the river. This can be converted into a serious transport station, which in future can be extended up to Gandhinagar.

 

This article was mainly to highlight inner-city, river-based transport options. The benefits of running transport ops are it would help keep the river clean, and keep water flowing, thus, reducing chances of deluges.

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Bums on the Saddle

Since time immemorial, cycles have been a very important mode of transport. They are used for various purposes, from acting as a “business hub” in terms of acting as a point-of-sale for tea vendors to the main business vehicle in rural areas. They are used as the main transport vehicle by many, especially in rural and semi-urban areas. In urban and metropolitan areas, they are viewed as a lower class mode of transport.

Cycles acting as a Business Hub. A vegetable Vendor in Sathyamangalam, TN, uses his cycle as his shop.
Cycles acting as a Business Hub. A vegetable Vendor in Sathyamangalam, TN, uses his cycle as his shop. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

In the recent past, several cities in India have tried to popularise cycling in several ways. Among them are Pune, Bangalore and Ahmedabad. While some have succeeded and some have failed, it is worth relooking at cycling for the various benefits it offers.

A board indicating a Cycle Track in Pune.
A board indicating a Cycle Track in Pune. Image copyright Mahendrapatnaik, under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported licence on the Wikimedia Commons.

Pune got cycle lanes around 2008 while the city got a massive overhaul for the Commonwealth Youth Games, under the JnNURM pattern. A few cycle tracks were laid in and around Kothrud and Shivajinagar, while majority of the cycle lanes were laid from Katraj to Swargate to Hadapsar alongside the first BRTS line. These cycle lanes are usable, but they are usually blocked by traffic, pedestrians, or sometimes, hawkers and homeless people.

Bangalore got cycle lanes in 2012. These lanes are prominent in and around Jayanagar, especially under the Metro. These lanes were basically just a section of the road marked with a solid white line with the image of a cycle painted on it, thus not having a physical barrier separating it from regular traffic like the ones in Pune. The net result, they turned into parking spaces for cars.

Mysore too got cycle lanes, but unlike Bangalore, they were physically separated from motorised traffic.

However, a year prior, in 2011, prior to the opening of the first Reach of Namma Metro, Bangalore also got a Public Shared Cycle system, jointly operated by the BMRCL and BBMP. The system was operated by Kerberon Automations under the brand name Atcag. Each cycle was tracked by GPS and required users to pay a one time registration of ₹1000 for a smart card and then use the card as a prepaid card while using the cycles. The first hour was free, after which a nominal rate would be charged. There were 9 cycle stations in the city.

Ahmedabad got a similar system named MyByk, operated by Greenpedia, with cycle stations across several Janmarg stations.

Cycles for use by everyone inside the Infosys Mysore Campus.
Cycles for use by everyone inside the Infosys Mysore Campus. Image copyright Prateek Karandikar, CC-BY-SA 4.0 Unported, on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, the success of the public share and ride system is entirely debatable, mainly due to the subscription based nature of the service. The system followed in IT parks like Infosys, or college campuses like the IITs, where a cycle is picked up from the stand and left in another is impractical in public because cycles will get damaged or stolen because the rider is not being held accountable for their actions. Thus, the system of charging users and tracking the cycles, both with GPS and tying it to a user is a necessity.

 

Now, the main section. How do we implement an effective cycling plan across major cities. For this purpose, I plan to use the Pune Metropolitan Region of Pimpri-Chinchwad and Pune, as well as a part of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region consisting of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane.

Creating cycle tracks and lanes is one thing, but making it safer for cyclists is more important. Cyclists are on par with Pedestrians. Both are treated badly and often traffic doesn’t bother stopping for them, even with the appropriate traffic signals showing.

 

Our first target, the PMR.

The Pune Metropolitan region offers immense potential for cycling as a mode of public transport. This, coupled with the fact that Pune has been the undisputed Cycling Capital of India for a long time makes one wonder why the government has not done much to promote cycling. For starters, all the BRTS corridors, from Nagar Road, Nashik Road, Aundh-Ravet Road, Vishrantwadi Road, et al must be given proper cycle lanes. Once this is done, cycle parking must be provided. This can be easily achieved at major bus terminals such as Kiwale and Vishrantwadi, but needs to be given a serious thought at other areas. It can be done with relative ease at Kalewadi Phata and Dange Chowk, both of which have a split flyover, providing the much needed space for the parking. Similarly, parking must be offered at major PMPML bus stations, such as Kothrud, Balewadi, Nigdi, Chinchwad, Corporation, Pune Railway Station, Swargate, Hadapsar, etc, as well as Railway stations like Shivajinagar, Kasarwadi, Akurdi etc. Along with this, last mile connectivity should be provided for those using shared cycles. Docking stations must be provided in residential pockets to encourage their use.

And now, for the MMR.

The situation in the MMR is pretty similar to the PMR. Cycle stations can be provided at all of BESTs Depots, Bus Stations, major junctions such as Rani Laxmi Chowk, Khodadad Circle, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Chowk, NSCI Worli, as well as under the various rail-based stations. Cycle stations can be built around the Railway stations as part of SATIS, or under Metro and Monorail stations on the Median with an additional staircase of elevator for cyclists to use. In Thane, Navi Mumbai, it can be implemented along several select areas near Hiranandani along Ghodbunder Road, and at all CIDCO railway stations. It would be a massive boon to have it at CBD Belapur Railway station given the connectivity it will soon receive. A cycle station can be set up under the CBD Belapur flyover as well. Similarly, stations must be built at all present and upcoming Jetties, Ferry Wharf, Gorai Jetty, Belapur Hoverport, etc. Other major areas where they can come up are at SEEPZ in Andheri, Powai, etc.

Bangalore and Chennai

Both these cities should seriously consider providing cycle stations at bus stations, railway stations and Metro stations. This might help fulfill the BMTC Park and Ride Concept.

 

Now, for the bigger problem. The Cycle Stations themselves. How should they be built and operated:

Ideally, each ‘Cycle Station’, should consist of two parts: One for the public cycles, and for people riding their own.

The former is not a problem, since each user requires a Smart Card. Thus, authentication and security are sorted as both are connected to the card.

The latter, however might turn out to be a bit of a problem. Unlike a regular Pay-and-Park system, Cycles need a little more. Stealing a car, or a motorised two wheeler, is not too easy, whereas here, it is as easy as lifting a box off the ground and then pushing it out. So how do we solve this problem? Simple, we provide a locking mechanism on the cycle stand. But how would you make it work? There are two methods I see for this:

  • The Old Fashioned Way: Hire a guard or attendant. He gives you a receipt for the parking charge, you park it in the stand, lock it with your own lock and go. You can have a pass system for this. For those who don’t have a lock, provide one against payment of a refundable deposit. Say your parking charge is ₹20 for a day, you charge ₹50 for a chain and lock, upon whose return, you get your money back. You can have a daily-weekly-monthly pass system for this as well. It’s a win-win situation. Print the cyclists photo and a photo of the cycle, specify the date and time details for the pass on a sheet of paper. Just cross the date if it is a daily pass being sold by the vendor. It is as simple as a conductor selling a ticket. But do we really want to go down this path? Especially with Digitisation and eGovernance coming up?
  • The High-Tech Way: Install cameras for security, but yes, do hire a guard. Every user needs to have a smart card, for single transactions, they can get a token or a single use paper RFID token. The user comes in, locks the cycle with a lock built-into the stand, swipes their card on the sensor and leaves. The money for the parking is deducted from the account balance of the card. For the ones who don’t have a card; keep a machine like the Automatic Ticket Machines at Metro Stations. User slots in the time they intend to park for, insert the money, collect the RFID token or printed ticket, lock their cycle and go. On return, they return/slot-in/swipe the card or token and take their cycles out. This can be a good starter with the BEST prepaid card as the Smart Card.

There is a lot of thinking, planning, redrawing, mapping, innovating to be done to implement this. This will potentially improve and increase the number of cyclists on the roads, which might help reduce traffic jams. We all know how healthy and enjoyable cycling really is. Let us share the joy with those who may not know.

 

Do post your feedback in the comments below:

 

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