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Public transit for the lower and middle-income people in Khulna City of Bangladesh: Balancing efficiency and equity

Md. Abu Bakar Siddique
Associate GIS Officer, The JiVitA Project, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health [email protected]

Providing a transit service that is sufficient and efficient in equal measure requires careful planning. This paper examines the use of public transit by lower and middle income people. Following a case study it presents the existing socio-economic characteristics of the lower and middle income group people of Khulna City in Bangladesh in terms of trip generation. Role of public transit and efficiency and equity of public transit are also discussed. The case study shows that the middle-income group generates relatively more trips than other income groups and they are mostly dependent on public transit. Again, lower income group can’t afford personal vehicles. Therefore, efficient and equitable public transit is essential for the development of any city.

From the early stages of human settlement, transportation has been considered one of the basic components of human civilization and development. Establishment of ancient cities of the world near riverbanks is a manifestation of it. In earlier times, mass transportation was through rivers. Inland transportation depended on walking and animal drawn vehicles. Therefore, cities were compact with small areas and civic services and facilities were located within walking distance. However, with the advent of motorised transport, cities began to spread. Mobility of human life increased and developments took place rapidly.

The present population of Khulna City is about 843,991 out of which only 32% owns personal vehicles. The city dwellers are dependent mainly on public transportation system. Town service bus is the cheapest option among all the available public transportation modes. However, non-motorised vehicles dominate the city’s transportation sector. In this city, 68% of the total households have no vehicle of their own and only 2% have car/jeep. Only 6% home to work (HW) trip is produced by bus, car and jeep. Majority of the city dwellers belong to the low income group. About 50% of the city dwellers make trips on foot (KDA, 2002). On an average, people travel one kilometer daily to reach their work places (KDA, 1999). A survey found that 76 percent of the trip makers in Khulna City never or hardly take the bus for commuting. These people were asked why they did not select the bus for their trip. Most of the people have more than one reason for not selecting a bus trip. The respondents of zones which have no bus routes, with the highest response of 27 percent, answered that “bus is not available in the selected route” (Rahman, 2004).

Public transportation situation in Khulna is worsening by day. People often chose rickshaw/auto rickshaw for commuting instead of town service bus, even though the fare is higher than that of bus. To provide people an efficient transportation system and reduce expenditure incurred, this situation needs to be improved. Using a case study, this paper will focus on the mobility concerns of the lower and middle-income groups in Khulna City. The study area comprises all parts of the city. The paper documents the opportunities, constraints, potential and guidelines for introducing public transit service in some potential routes of Khulna.

The author of this paper has considered the following objectives to complete the paper:

  • Explore and explain the socio-economic characteristics of target group people in terms of trip generation.
  • Analyse the potential of public transit for lower and middle-income people.
  • Provide some guidelines for introducing efficient and equitable public transit.

Sample size and data collection: This is an explanatory research based on both household interview survey and ridership interview survey. Data were collected with the help of a self-administrated questionnaire, both open-ended and close-ended, which was brought to respondents by a surveyor. Dividing the city into 37 clusters, 222 samples from the households were surveyed and from among the 24 existing bus stops, 60 samples from 12 bus stops were surveyed.

Defining lower and middle income people: The case study shows that mobility needs of different income groups are different and therefore, a successful public transit system should be targeted at the population that has the greatest potential to benefit from it. There is no universal definition of various income groups. This is classified according to socio-economic characteristics of an area. Therefore, income ranges of lower and middle-income people are different in different places. The group comprises of middle class with a monthly income between BDT 3000 BDT and BDT 15000 per month approximately (US$ 60 and US$300) and the poor class with a monthly income < BDT 3000 (<US$60) per month approximately (Hasan et al., 2002). Following the case study, this paper’s author considers the people with a monthly income between BDT 8000 and BDT 15999 as middle-income group. All people with a monthly income lower than this range are considered as lower income group and the rest are high-income group.

Data analysis:
Responses to household and ridership questionnaire were recorded in nominal and ordinal scales with the help of SPSS 12.0. Statistical analysis was performed using SPSS software. Maps were generated using ArcGIS 9.10 and ArcInfo Workstation 9.0.

The role of public transit
Developing public transit has historically been based on two different and often conflicting objectives: to provide a basic level of mobility for all persons, especially the transportation disadvantaged and to provide an effective substitute for the private car in order to reduce automobile travel and its associated externalities, including traffic congestion, air pollution, and “urban sprawl” (Meyer and Gomez-Ibañez, 1981; Hodge, 1995; Fielding, 1995). Both objectives have significant importance in Khulna City.

However, public transit plays a vital role in the economic vitality and quality of life of the community, such as ):

Economic development: Supporting the local economy by connecting consumers for:

  • Shopping
  • Entertainment
  • Recreation.

Workforce development and education: Improving education opportunities and our workforce by connecting students and workers for:

  • Employment
  • Job Training
  • Welfare to work and other social service programme
  • Education

Quality of life: Improving the environment and quality of life for all residents by connecting people for:

  • Reduced traffic congestion and improved air quality
  • Health care
  • Worship and faith-based activities
  • Social Activities
  • Family, friends and the entire community.

Equality and social justice: Providing equal opportunities and transportation for all people to access our community regardless of age, income and ability.

Socio-economic characteristics in terms of trip generation
In the household interview survey, interviews of household heads were taken and all information regarding family members was collected. Most of the trip makers were between 15 and 45 years of age. Among the respondents, 35 percent trip makers were 15-29 years of age, 29 percent were 30-45 years of age, 16 percent were 46-60 years of age and 18 percent were 8-14 years of age. Only two percent of the trip makers were above 60 years of age. From the study, it was found that students constitute the largest portion of the total respondents of different occupations. About 30.9 percent of all respondents were students. Housewives formed the second highest group with 27.11 percent. Other occupation groups were service holders at 21.59 percent; businessmen 15.43 percent, retired persons 2.19 percent, unemployed persons 2.04 percent, workers 0.44 percent and others 0.29 percent.

In the study area, home-based trips constituted the most travel demand. It was found from the survey that in the trip purpose composition, “home to work place” was 26 percent, “home to educational destination” was 22 percent, and “back to home” (from completing any purpose trip) trip was 47 percent (Figure 1).

Household members 7 years of age or less were not considered as they do not generate individual trips. In most cases, their trips are made with other senior family members. Trip production rate differed greatly following different ages and sex groups. On an average, males travel more than females (Hoque, 1983).

This survey shows that trip production rate varies greatly in different occupational groups. According to Figure 3, workers of all types produce highest trips and their trip production rate is 3.42 trips per day.

Trip production is directly related to the income. More trips will require more costs. Hence, households having higher income will have higher trip production rate. Figure 4 shows that trip production rate increases with the increase of household income.

Transit efficiency
Efficiency of public transit indicates its attractiveness to potential users. A wide variety of indicators are used to measure the efficiency of public transit. However, only a few of them were considered for the study. Following are the indicators considered for evaluating transit efficiency of Khulna City:

  • Waiting time
  • Travel time
  • Travel cost
  • Comfort
  • Availability of public transit

Town service buses have a fixed time schedule imposed by Khulna Metropolitan Bus Malik Sammity. However, the study found that most of the times town service buses do not maintain this schedule. As a result, passengers have to wait for buses. In order to identify the waiting time faced by passengers, a question was included in the questionnaire. The answers about the waiting time are summarised in Table 1 according to their trip purpose.

Table 2 shows the daily transportation cost of incurred by respondents of various income groups.

Transit equity
The allocation of transit services between rich and poor is directly connected to social and economic situation. Mainstream planning has paid insufficient attention to the redistribution of economic and political power that is at least partly responsible for these patterns of uneven urban development. The tradition of equity planning, on the other hand, has been centrally concerned with reducing such urban inequalities.

Norman Krumholz (1982:163) has eloquently defined equity planning as an effort to provide more “choices to those…residents who have few, if any choices.” In his tenure as Planning Director for the City of Cleveland, Krumholz formulated his notion of equity planning to counteract what he perceived to be the inherent unfairness and exploitative nature of the urban development process, a process that excluded the poor from the suburbs and concentrated them in declining inner-city areas. A key factor in isolating the poor was the lack of adequate public transportation. Equity planners have also worked to improve public transit service for those who depend on it for access to jobs, shopping, school, and other services. Following are the indicators considered for evaluating equity of public transit for the study:

  • Substitute mode of bus distance of bus stops
  • Availability of bus route

In many cases, cost of different modes of transportation is higher than that of bus. Public buses of Khulna also create extra delay in travelling. Very often they stop here and there to take extra passengers for extra income. This also makes the journey very much congested and lengthy.

Map 1 shows the area covered and portion of various income group people serviced by existing transit network. Most of the middle and lower income group people are not served.

Why don’t people in Khulna City use public bus?
In the study, 68 percent of the respondents hardly or never made a bus trip. They were asked reasons behind this. These reasons are shown in Table 3. Most of them cited unavailability of bus route.

Different modes used to avail bus facilities
All the areas of the city do not have bus service available within easy walking distance. As a result, people need to walk considerable distances in order to avail bus facilities. Sometimes they need to use other vehicles like rickshaw, van etc. Map 2 shows the coverage of existing bus service by minimum area of influence. The map represents a 500 meter buffer from existing bus stop location.

Table 4 shows the mode used to avail bus facilities and their relative distance for those who make the bus trip from home.

To solve these problems, a transit network has been developed. Map 3 shows the proposed transit network for Khulna City.

Transit enhancements tend to improve the mobility for non-drivers, particularly the lower and middle-income group people who don’t have the ability to buy their own vehicle. Fare is one of the dominant features of public transit service for lower and middle-income people. As there is no scope of installing light rail in Khulna, public transit can be the most efficient and least expensive transportation mode. An efficient and equitable public transit reduces traffic congestion by attracting travelers who would use other non-motorised vehicles. The challenge is to use resources as efficiently as possible to serve middle and low income people. However, a clean and safe transit system is fully under the control of transit management and should be viewed as a necessary condition for all public transit.


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