What BMTC must focus on to become an alternative to private transport in Bengaluru
October 8, 2017
Pic Credit: Citizen Matters (used here without formal permission)
This note is an addendum to very pertinent discussions around multi-modal interconnectivity and integration that transpired at the Round Table and specifically to thoughts and comments shared by M. Nagaraju Yadav, Chairman, Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) who made time to stay the full 3-hour length of the proceedings.
BMTC is the lifeline of Bengaluru. Its buses deliver 5 million (50 lakh) passenger trips everyday. This figure of passengers carried is close to half the population of the city. Without BMTC, we would all be dead, in a manner of speaking, as the city's already beyond-clogged roads would need to carry this huge number of people in vastly more motor vehicles.
In comparison Namma Metro does not yet carry even one-tenth that number of people a day along its currently functional 2 lines. And reports are that their service is already 'at capacity' until much needed coaches are added and frequency of their trains is increased.
BMTC is therefore "the" monopoly public transport agency in the city. A citizen has no choice but to use BMTC if she/he cannot afford to (or chooses not to) use personal motor vehicles, autos and taxis, to get around. This situation will remain so, for at least another 10 years, and maybe for much longer, depending on the growth trajectory of the city and the Namma Metro network.
Commuter surveys conducted by transportation interest groups and agencies consistently highlight high/unaffordable fares, long wait times, irrational routes and numerous other commuting challenges with existing services of BMTC, and the city's over dependence on them.
This note suggests that BMTC must look beyond its own flattering ridership statistics - which are, in fact, guaranteed by its monopoly status and not earned by its own merit - and that BMTC needs to look beyond the uni-dimensional view of merely increasing the number of buses in service (which undoubtedly it also does need to do to meet needs) - to become a more "viable" alternative for transporting people in the city and reducing congestion on the roads.
Its goal must be to entice people to abandon their cars and private transport vehicles and take the bus. In the words of the enlightened mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa, "a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation."
Operational Efficiency and "Commuter Experience" (or convenience) are the key to getting people to migrate from personal vehicles to public transport
Anyone who actually even tries depending on BMTC for just a few days, understands very quickly the operational inefficiency in the services it provides. Here are a few areas that need intense attention:
1. Route rationalization
a. Aggregate and consolidate passenger traffic at changeover hubs
With the exception of services along the Outer Ring Road and a few connecting peripheral parts of the outer city, there seems to be old thinking within BMTC (maybe dating back to the 1960s and 70s) that the city is best serviced by long, snaking, direct routes from remote corners of the urban sprawl to one of the old hubs in the city centre (KBS, KR Market, Shivajinagar, mainly). This causes tremendous congestion as well as redundancy on main roads converging on the 3 central hubs.
BMTC has failed to look at a route model where traffic can be consolidated/aggregated at change over points instead of running all the way to the hubs. While it would require significant capacity creation, expansion at change over hubs - this needs to be seriously studied and considered.
For example, using Shanthinagar as a change over point to consolidate traffic from the Sarajapur/Attibele, Jayanagar/Banashankari ends instead of running all these buses all the way to KBS (or KR Market/Shivajinagar). Very high frequency Shanthinagar to KBS shuttle services could then be run much more predictably. Some services would still need to run all the way - to benefit those who do not wish to change or move heavy luggage around.
b. Provide circular or feeder shuttle services to service spread out areas and bring passengers to high frequency trunk routes
BMTC does very poorly in providing circular or feeder shuttle routes to service widely spread suburbs. These services should connect spread out, local areas to main trunk roads along which there are much higher frequency services already operating and can be further augmented.
For example, areas such as, say, HSR layout which are spread across several kilometres along an east-west direction has no internal bus connectivity at all. A frequent (even minibus) service running every few minutes along a couple of opposing circular routes within and connecting all parts of the layout and touching, but not merging onto the Outer Ring Road (ORR), or getting close to, but not entering the main traffic stream at, Silk Board - would make immense sense. This might apply in various other areas such as interior Yelahanka, Bommanahalli, Padmanabhanagar etc connecting to Bellary Road, Bannerghatta Road, ORR, Hosur Road, etc.
c. Redesign Metro Feeder services
Metro feeder services are very poorly designed. While BMTC claims these are running up losses, this is not because "people are not taking them", they are unprofitable because they are running the wrong routes.
For example, the entire Girinagar-Padmanabhanagar, area - should have Metro feeders running from those areas until say National College metro station and turning back. It would see huge ridership and carry people to the Metro line.
Metro Feeders should certainly not mimic the 'long and snaky' philosophy of cutting across the city. And even more so - must not run below or along the Metro line itself as some routes currently do. Numerous other such rationalizations of Metro feeder services are needed and citizens have masses of ready suggestions for these from their daily, direct experience.
2. Frequency rationalization and monitoring
Any regular bus user in Bengaluru is altogether too familiar with sight of four or five buses of the same route number going by, either together in a pack, or, within a couple of minutes of each other - most running empty. After this parade of empty buses - the next bus can take 20-30 minutes to show up - and then of course is overloaded to suffocation.
This has less to do with traffic conditions than with indiscipline and lax management of trips and routes. This even happens at peak commute hours. 500D, for example, on the Silk Board to Hebbal stretch is a good example of this in the morning hours - say around 7-730am where up to 10 buses run - mostly empty.
Old fashioned thinking about what constitutes a 'late hour' also has to change. After 9pm (when there is surging traffic and people still very much getting out of work places in today's Bangalore) you will find almost no bus trips on the hyper-busy Banashankari to Marathahalli stretch of the ORR. You may have to wait 20-30 minutes before you see a bus - and may have to rely on "pirate" transport (private vans and taxis offering to carry passengers) - unless you wish to jostle with the surging, accumulated crowd by the time your BMTC bus finally shows up.
Why does BMTC have to have the highest fares in the country? Why does BMTC have to be a profit making enterprise? The real cost of not having cheap, affordable , convenient mass transit - via lost productivity, stress, pollution and health care - far outstrips the cost of subsidizing public transit.
Improving the "Commuter Experience" (Convenience)
BMTC's commuter experience, to say the least, is an area that needs rather intense focus and improvement. A better commuter experience would be a pivot point for actually moving people to use public transport.
As things stand, it is largely those who can't afford personal transport who rely exclusively on BMTC while everyone else clogs the road with personal vehicles and avoids the 'inconvenience' of taking the bus. Given this asymmetry of 'status' there is little pressure that is brought to bear on BMTC to address commuter convenience and the commuter experience.
IT corridor buses maybe a statistically small exception to this asymmetry - but all of these too suffer from the same challenges.
Here are just a few areas which are abysmal in terms of commuter experience and need focus to correct.
Bus shelters and access
BMTC may choose to blame this on BBMP, BDA and other civic agencies - but that is merely passing the buck. The net commuter experience is miserable and a huge disincentive.
5. Problems of ticketing and change
Constant, daily, conflict with harassed conductors, on every ride, over change is a great source of unpleasantness and stress. Language issues also play up in these situations. Many commuters give up and revert to private vehicle usage just for this reason.
BMTC has a head-in-the-sand attitude towards adopting/deploying change machines at TTMCs/hubs, experimenting with IOU tickets on an optional basis for those who will accept these in-lieu of change, and so on - all of which have been used for decades in most other parts of the world to address these problems. This besides being excruciatingly slow at introducing pre-paid smart cards which should be available on sale and to recharge even in small shops.
6. Commuter Friendliness
BMTC's harassed, overworked and under-trained staff are a huge disincentive to many commuters. They refuse to stop buses at designated stops, roll the bus forward even while passengers are boarding or getting off, sometimes deliberately make commuters run for 10 or 20 meters behind the bus to get on, refuse to open rear doors inconveniencing passengers, refuse to be helpful to those who do not speak Kannada, stop buses one or two lanes away in the middle of traffic, skip stops entirely and drive by those even waving the bus to stop. This list is endless.
BMTC's record in improving and tackling this very real organizational and motivational problem is poor, to say the least. Its complaints email address is probably underused by commuters because of a perception that no action will be taken.