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Filling the last-mile gap
Bangalore, Rasheed Kappan, July 13, 2013, DHNS: 2:53 IST
Finding a workable transport mode to connect the bus stop to the house could make Bangloreans rely less on personal vehicles
Shanthala dreaded her last mile walk. Alighting the BMTC bus at 8 pm on the main road, she had to wade through a poorly lit, severely pot-holed street, before making that final dash to her house. Danger lurked in every corner, yet she couldn’t afford those “double meter” autorickshaws passing by her.
Last mile connectivity, that is every Bangalorean’s big ticket commuter problem. For the lakhs who depend on public transport, this is one common grouse, a reason big enough to drive them towards owning a personal vehicle. Because, they want to reach home safely, quickly and yes, conveniently.
Autorickshaws could have mitigated the problem, provided they promised an alternative that was economical, safe and reliable. But this is too much to expect from the poorly regulated fleet of autos that flood the streets here. Out to make a fast buck, the drivers here are often demanding a high price, even far beyond the rates permitted for night hours.
Thinking aloud, transport experts have talked about a structured bus-auto integration with innovative concepts such as ticket carryover and revenue-sharing between BMTC and auto drivers. But this could be a workable idea only if the drivers are guaranteed daily or monthly revenues in return for sticking to zones that cover a few bus stops. That guaranatee of availability would make it reliable for the commuter. Ticket carryover would mean the autorickshaw fare is integrated in the BMTC ticket, thus negating the need to bargain. For BMTC, this arrangement could be a game changer, boosting passenger turnout and revenues.
Not many are so keen on autorickshaws though. Shared autos or otherwise, autorickshaws, they say, will only increase the congestion on the last-mile roads that are typically narrow and untarred and deep in residential areas. Walking is the best option, provided such roads are turned as pedestrians-only lanes. But if there is no other go, the last-mile vehicles could be electric, deliberately slow-moving and less noisy.
Before Bangalore exploded in size and population, the bus connectivity was mainly from the hubs of Shivajinagar, City Market and Majestic area to different localities, some nearby, some distant. But the city’s expansion and emergence of several other transportation hubs such as KR Puram, Whitefield, Kengeri on the outskirts and Jayanagar and Koramangala within, changed all that. Connectivity between these newer hubs makes eminent sense in decongesting the Central Business District (CBD), point out the experts.
Many Bangaloreans want the BMTC to concentrate less on connecting every area to the old city hubs and instead focus on local loops and feeder services. Concepts such as Big10 need to be expanded. The Big10 buses are run on a direction-based concept where the commuter takes the next (high frequency, every 15 minutes) bus in his / her direction of travel, and if necessary, makes a change over to another bus to reach the destination. The service terminates on different points on the radius of the city core, thus avoiding congestion of the CBD.
Large capacity buses serve the BMTC trunk routes well. But not the interiors, where the roads are too narrow to accommodate even one-way traffic. In many parts of the newly added BBMP areas, the roads are in so bad a shape that the entry of a single wide-bodied bus triggers massive traffic jams. The alternative, then, are the smaller, minibuses and vans.
Minibuses operated by BMTC as Metro feeder services from the handful of Namma Metro stations between MG Road and Baiyyappanahalli have found many takers, although the schedules and routes are yet to sink in. Such experiments need to be expanded, and the routes decided after consultations with the using public. Route and schedule rationalisation should be an interactive process, based on user trends.
Consultations with the public could be revealing for the BMTC. There are several localities in the city that are not more than three kilometers apart, but not linked at all by frequent buses. Take for example, Jeevan Bima Nagar and HAL in the city’s Eastern part. While the connectivity to HAL, Marathahalli and beyond from Shivajinagar, KR Market and Majestic area is adequate, there are hardly any buses from HAL to Jeevan Bima Nagar. The distance is barely 2.5 kilometers. People have to either walk or rely once again on the auto driver, provided they have deep pockets!
A loud thinking among transportation experts is about involving private transport operators to fill that last mile gap. Here’s one expert advice: Give interested private players the option to choose their route, ensure that there is no route clash between two operators and that the main roads are largely avoided. But these operators need to be regulated too. Vehicles would have to meet stringent safety and other conditions.
Yet, there could be issues with these private players. For instance, the motive of maximising profits might stop them from operating vehicles during off-peak hours when the passengers are less. They could start violating route restrictions, defeating the very purpose of the last-mile link-up. Monitoring their movements would prove to be tough.
Private or public, a workable multi-modal transport system is the key to solving the issue, reiterate experts. If affordable, autorickshaws could have eminently filled the crucial last link. Since this is not so, at least for now, many people have started combining their personal vehicles with public transport. So, they take their two-wheelers to the main road, park the bike at a common place and board the bus to their offices. On their return, the bikes ensure that the last mile is covered adequately. This arrangement too is largely unstructured. Parking spaces for personal vehicles are not earmarked, raising questions of safety. This is particularly so in the outlying areas, where there is the added threat of attacks on lone riders.
LINKING ADJACENT AREAS
There are several localities in the City that are not more than three kilometers apart, but not linked at all by frequent buses. Although the areas are well connected to the main hubs of Shivajinagar, KR Market and Majestic, they have no proper, frequent BMTC bus service to localities that are at a bit more than walking distance.
PUBLIC-PERSONAL VEHICLE COMBO
Many people have started combining their personal vehicles with public transport. They take their two-wheelers from their house to the main road, park the bike at a common place and board the bus to their offices. On their return, the motorcycles ensure that they have a hassle-free ride back home.
SMALLER CAPACITY BUSES
Large capacity buses serve the BMTC trunk routes well. But not the interiors, where the roads are too narrow to accommodate even one-way traffic. In many parts of the newly added BBMP areas, the roads are in so bad a shape that the entry of a single wide-bodied bus triggers massive traffic jams.
INTRODUCING MORE MINIBUSES
BMTC could boost connectivity hugely once it introduces more mini buses as planned. On its agenda are vehicles that could accommodate about 28 seats, and have adequate standing space for more passengers. These vehicles could negotiate the interior roads that are typically narrow and congested.
A structured bus-auto integration with innovative concepts such as ticket carryover and revenue-sharing between BMTC and auto drivers could be explored to link up that last mile. But auto drivers might have to be guaranteed daily or monthly revenues in return for sticking to zones that cover a few bus stops.
INVOLVING PRIVATE OPERATORS
Private transport operators could be involved to fill the gap.
Interested private players could be given the option to choose their route, provided it is ensured that there is no route clash between two operators. But the private vehicles would have to meet stringent safety and other conditions.