A shelter for advertisers

Advertisement seen on Maharani College bus stop Palace road in Bengaluru on Thursday 02nd August 2018. Photo by Janardhan B K

A shelter for advertisers

Moved by a fervent plea to shed the car and take public transport, you head to the nearest bus stop. Desperate to catch the first, fastest bus, you look around for a schedule. But you find nothing, not even a chart in that dirty, dilapidated, unlit, unsafe structure they grandly call a ‘bus shelter.’

Utility thrown to the winds, the shelters are nevertheless big on billboards. Advertisements scream out of these structures, leaving absolutely no space for critical bus information boards.

Who skewed these public spaces so hopelessly in favour of commercial interests? Why are the suffering commuters so blatantly taken for
granted?

BBMP vs BMTC

At the heart of this reality are two public agencies, the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) that maintains these shelters, and the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) that runs the buses. One wants to maximize revenue from billboards, while the other desperately seeks control.

Designed to maximize ad visibility, the shelters force commuters to take the backseat, if there is one. “Since there is no way the commuters can see a bus approaching from the right side, they are often forced to come out. There is no other option without an information board,” notes Vinay K Srinivasa, Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike.

Infra upgrade

To boost its 1,000 strong bus shelter network in the city, BMTC had proposed to the BBMP to build 2,212 stops. The Palike has managed to add about 500 new structures till August 2018 under the Build, Operate and Transfer model (BOT model).

Tenders for these were floated under four categories in March 2017. Once completed, the 2,212 new shelters will replace the older ones that are in bad shape, informs a senior Traffic Engineering Cell (TEC) official of BBMP. The civic body earns Rs 4.03 crore as concession fee and Rs 4.9 crore as advertisement revenue from the existing shelters.

Poor maintenance

But a reality check shows this money has hardly been put back into the bus shelters to boost commuter comfort. Poor maintenance has left scores of them without proper seats, lighting and safety support. The bus stop locations too are not identified scientifically, leading to unwarranted traffic congestion.

Beyond quality, the shelters are also low on numbers. A 2015 study, ‘Street Quality Score’ conducted by Janaagraha concluded that the outer wards are poorly serviced by bus stops. Of the 1,750 km of streets surveyed, only 38% (665 km) had proper bus shelters. Ideally, a bus stop should be available every 500m on all main roads to be accessible to citizens within walkable distance.

Outer ward shelters

The study stressed that the outer wards deserved better attention, given the greater road length and larger area but significantly lesser bus stop coverage. Inner wards fared better. But here too, only 446 out of 844 km of the roads had bus stops. On Collector Roads that connect citizens’ homes with the rest of the city, a shelter was found only every two kilometres. This was four times the ideal walkable distance to a bus stop.

For years, the bus shelters have suffered from coordination issues between BBMP and BMTC. “What is best for commuters has been lost in the process. Raising advertisting revenue is the Palike’s motivation, while focus should also have been on the bus stop location and bus information systems,” notes urbanist and BBMP Restructuring Committee member, V Ravichander.

ITS integration

The Bus Information System should be integrated into a bus shelter design. He elaborates: “BMTC talks about Intelligent Transport System (ITS). Why not integrate this digitally with bus stops too? This is elementary. Design the shelters for commuter convenience, and standardise it for the entire city. Today, we have about 150 types of bus stands.”

But what about those arterial roads, where commuters are forced to wait without any shelter? This cannot be more obvious than on Ballari Road / Airport Road, opposite Esteem Mall. Thousands of passengers could be seen stranded on the roadside, awaiting buses that halt haphazardly, triggering big traffic pile-ups.

Location issues

Poor road planning, lack of adequate bus bays and unscientific positioning of shelters have played havoc on the roads. Commuters, particularly the elderly and disabled, are put to great inconvenience when buses do not halt at the designated slots. Drivers blame traffic, but by halting before or beyond the slots, they only add to the chaos.

Bus shelters should be located at least 100 metres away from a traffic junction, notes Additional Director General of Police and Commissioner for Traffic and Road Safety, M A Saleem. But a majority of the shelters, he points out, are not in the right location.

Three years ago, the Bus Prayanikara Vedike had suggested a smart way to make bus shelters safe, while providing a livelihood option for street vendors. Recalls Srinivasa, “We had asked for a stall to be attached to every bus shelter. This would ensure people at the spot even after day time, making women feel safe.” But this suggestion too has remained only on paper.

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