By Sudhir Gota

CAI-Asia Center through the SUMA program and in cooperation with ITDP has provided support to the development of the Ahmedabad BRTS. We have been tracking news articles and online documents related to the development of the Ahmedabad BRTS for some time. The collated information and its review (july 1st week) showed very interesting results.

“Ahmedabad BRTS” search in Google yields approximately 5620 results. Interesting to note here is that of those results, Ahmedabad BRTS is mentioned approximately 220 times by English News agencies.

One of the important lessons learned by experts and stakeholders by Delhi BRTS experience was the role of media and the need to have sustained positive media campaign. Public awareness needs to be started at the grass root levels from project inception stage considering various social issues influenced by the project and this needs to be carried out during the project implementation and the probably with greater intensity during the project operation for few years. It is to be noted that transport projects in developing nations suffer from “ribbon-cutting” syndrome. This syndrome refers to use of media by political class for scoring political points by unveiling massive concrete structures as magic bullet solutions. People used to such media publicity often link immediate relief provided by such solutions as success without thinking of long-term impacts. On the other hand “public transport improvement” projects lack such immediate improvement effect as it generally has impacts over the longer run considering its intrinsic link with behavior aspects. Considering such impacts a different media campaign approach is needed by authorities.

In order to investigate the role played by media in highlighting various public transport issues, CAI-Asia Center surveyed English news agency reports on Ahmedabad BRTS. It is to be noted that this survey is limited to English news agencies and not the entire spectrum of media reports which would be a major limitation of the study. Regional NEWS agencies played a bigger role then English media in Indian cities as the readership levels of regional language newspapers are higher. Nearly 221 English news reports from the year 2005 were collected and analyzed. Of those 221 news reports, 68 news reports were neglected as the Ahmedabad BRTS was not substantially discussed.

The news reports were evaluated using various parameters such as:

1. What were the various issues highlighted?
a. Non Motorized Transport
b. Infrastructure,
c. Economic and financial issues,
d. Bus related articles,
e. Political
f. Environment related articles
g. BRTS and Metro single article
h. Social impact issues
i. Land-use issues
j. Security issues
k. Road safety
l. General articles on BRTS (it captures BRTS awareness, institutional aspects, launching dates etc.)

2. Positive and Negative Reports – Whether news reports highlighted positive or negative issues. The point to be noted is first – if the news captures positive image or negative image. If the news generates negative image – what is the reason behind it? Is the report biased against the BRTS system as a whole or is reporting some implementation issues which is not perfect or in other words is the criticism “constructive” or outright “negative”.

The evaluation showed some surprising results:

1. What were the various issues highlighted?

a. It was surprising to note the high frequency of articles on physical infrastructure (18%). The media also highlighted the general issues in more detail such as “what are BRTS”, “international views”, “institutional aspects, launching dates etc. The media did well in raising BRTS awareness by giving several prominent ‘eye-catching’ articles. In the infrastructure – flyovers took the major share of articles indicating the traditional focus of media. Bus/rolling stock featured in many articles raising the expectations of people. Traffic management issues or construction caused congestion allowed media an opportunity to highlight these issues.

b. The “co-benefits” agenda was not highlighted by the news agencies. There were surprisingly no articles as such on quantum of air pollutant reductions, benefit of BRTS on climate change. There were two news articles that slightly mentioned CDM and BRTS but no substantial discussions. Issues on impact of BRTS on poor and vulnerable section were also not highlighted. There was a single article on BRTS being accessible to the visually impaired. There was also single article on women and few resettlement issues. The officials could have highlighted the impact of improved bus services on the “captive section”. Hawkers did not receive any attention. The non-motorized section also did not receive much media attention with only 4 pedestrian-cyclist oriented articles. Even with shaded exclusive cycle lanes with Ahmedabad being cycling city of India, not much media attention has been focused in this direction. Road safety was one issue which was again not highlighted (5 articles). General security of BRTS and its insulation against terrorist attack attracted two articles.

c. Land value increase due to liberation of floor-area ratio (FAR) also attracted some attention from media (2%). Media also engaged in allowing BRTS and proposed metro in single articles for catching viewer’s attention. The surprising fact was use of BRTS in political articles (3%) with both ruling and opposition packaging the news for their benefit.

2. Positive and Negative Reports – The news reports were majorly positive in nature (62%). The majority of negative reports were “constructive” in nature. The criticisms focused on physical infrastructure issues which are common in many projects in developing countries. The author found many criticisms constructive and devoid of bias (86% of total criticisms were constructive in nature). It is important to note that media in developing countries act as watchdog and it is their role to bring about the shortcomings to government and political officials. Only 7 articles out of 153 could be categorized as “not justifiable” criticism.

The analysis shows that media has played a responsible role till now in highlighting the issues related to BRTS, educating the people and providing constructive criticisms. But the benefits of BRTS like its impact on environment, NMT and climate have not been highlighted properly. The authorities need to emphasize the impact of BRTS on quality of life and package it as an urban solution rather than being a system with buses and infrastructure.