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The late, last bus to safety
Rasheed Kappan, Oct 17, 2015, DHNS: 8:33 IST
One quick glance at her watch, and Shalini Gupta knew she had not a minute to lose. The last BMTC bus to her home was just round the corner. Missing it would unleash a nightmare, a hellish, unsafe ride with absolute strangers. Her heart beating fast, she raced down the stairs!
In countless work centres across Bengaluru, this fear of night commute is a gripping reality. The savage rape of a female call centre employee in a moving van recently has injected a sense of urgency in addressing this issue. But is BMTC up to it? Are private players equipped and ready to fill the gap?
BMTC bus frequency takes a nosedive post 10 pm. But this is precisely the time when the City’s late working populace needs public transport the most. Desperate to reach home, they settle for expensive auto and taxi rides. Can they rely on these alternatives for long?
It is not the workers alone. Bengaluru’s huge floating population lands up at the City’s transport hubs at odd hours. Don’t they need reliable commute modes 24/7? The City’s nightlife did get extended till 1 am. But how do people get back after that? No, the BMTC buses aren’t there. Neither is the Metro ready.
Unsustainable night-time passenger count, that’s the BMTC alibi. Why not then run smaller buses/maxicabs that would make more economic sense? That might just answer the last-mile connectivity issue as well since more compact vehicles could access those narrow roads.
Citizen’s groups such as the Malleswaram Swabhimana Initiative (MSI) have tried getting public transport customised to local needs. But, as MSI secretary Rekha Chari informs, such moves have been in vain. She recalls, “We wanted a few shuttle buses to help senior citizens go to nearby markets and shopping areas. But BMTC said they don’t operate such small vehicles.”
Disturbed by the recent gangrape, MSI seeks more buses in the night. But before doing that, Chari suggests the BMTC could undertake surveys to understand how many women passengers rely on public transport during different time periods. Her idea is simple: Need-based bus routes and frequencies.
The bus timings should be widely publicised and displayed well at all bus stops and stands. “They should, of course, stick to the timings. Only then people will feel secure that they can rely on public transport even at night. I would even prefer special buses for women in the night,” Chari notes.
But for these changes to happen in BMTC, it should go beyond profitability concerns, reasons Muralidhar Rao from Praja-RAAG, a bloggers thinktank on urban issues. “If they talk profitability, they should be open to competition. Why should they have a monopoly? Bring in private players and set up a regulator such as KERC, TRAI or the one in Mumbai for private power players,” Rao explains.
Allow, regulate private operators
The government’s role, he says, should be to provide services where private sector doesn’t come in. But if the State cannot do it, get professional private players to operate buses. “No private player would want to operate on losses. Allow them to fix higher tariff, but regulate them through a regulator,” he suggests.
Having served as co-chairman, Commuter Comfort Task Force during S M Krishna’s chiefministership, Rao, however, believes that the Transport Corporation is reluctant to make operational changes that would benefit the commuter. As proof, Rao cites the ‘killing’ of the “Yelli Iddira (Yi)” initiative, which Rao and a partner conceptualised to track BMTC buses using GPS technology and SMSes.
Launched 10 years ago, much before the mobile apps revolution, the Yi scheme had garnered over a thousand users. With on-line GPS data provided by BMTC, Yi helped commuters track the location of Volvo buses. Commuters just had to send an SMS to a mobile number. Soon, the reply would be sent with the number of buses on the specified route.
GPS tracking for safety
Today, with a much advanced mobile technology, a Yi-like scheme could easily help track the GPS-equipped buses. Night commuters could spot a bus in their vicinity and plan their travel accordingly. As Rao points out, “If a commuter can track the few buses available during night, the problem can be solved” If taxi aggregators Ola and Uber could do it, why not BMTC with all its resources?
BMTC says it has another problem with introducing more night service buses:
Coordinating with police to ensure safety. Yes, this is an issue at isolated bus stops and drop locations, especially for woman passengers. Senior police official Soumendu Mukherjee feels it requires a concerted effort from all stake-holders: the police, BMTC, and co-passengers.
Due to manpower constraints, the police cannot be expected to be in every nook and corner. “You cannot have dedicated patrolling on trunk routes where the buses ply. Co-passengers need to be vigilant and alert police control rooms quickly. Yes, the poorly lit streets and less number of passengers do pose challenges. Have SOS numbers and alert systems. That itself is a force-multiplier,” says Mukherjee.