Why bus priority lane?

Why bus priority lane?

The bus priority lane is being experimented on the ORR between Silk Board and KR Puram. DH FILE/ANUP RAGH T

Bengaluru has half the population (1.2 crore) as Mumbai, but double the vehicles (80 lakh).

The single biggest reason is mass pubic transport: 75 lakh people use trains in Mumbai every day. There is no such thing in Bengaluru. The BMTC bus is the only real mass transport today (36 lakh passengers per day) as the metro is still in the infancy stage (4 lakh passengers per day) and the suburban train is still on paper.

When the metro and suburban trains become fully operational in Bengaluru, we will have a full-fledged public transport system. But that is years away. The bus is the only realistic option available in the short term.

BMTC, with just 6,500 buses, used to carry 50 lakh passengers per day a couple of years ago. The numbers gradually declined to 36 lakh today. The average speed of the bus has come down drastically and they cannot complete as many trips as they used to.

It is a vicious cycle. If the bus takes more time, more people will use their vehicles instead. If more vehicles join the roads, it takes even more time for the bus. This already happened in our city.

A bus occupies the same physical space as two-and-a-half cars, but carries a load of 40 cars. Yet, the 6,500 buses have the same access to road space as the 16 lakh cars and 60 lakh two-wheelers.

Think of the Bengaluru airport — if they used cars instead of buses to transport people from gates to the airplanes, there will be utter chaos and the airport would come to a grinding halt. That’s how phenomenally efficient buses are.

The metro and suburban trains are fast because they have dedicated infrastructure. Unfortunately, they will take years.

That’s why the bus deserves a larger share of road space, so they can go faster than say, a car.

But how do you give more road space to a bus?

In Ahmedabad and Hubballi, we have the Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS), where the center lanes are dedicated for a bus corridor. It is difficult to build that infrastructure here.

The next best option is the Bus Priority Lane (BPL), where the left lane is dedicated to the buses. Other than BMTC buses, ambulances and fire engines, no other vehicles are permitted. Violations will attract a fine of Rs 500. This is currently being experimented on the Outer Ring Road between Silk Board and KR Puram.

This will increase the speed of the bus, rewarding those who use public transport and create a compelling incentive for those driving their cars and watch the bus go faster. 

It is difficult to implement such a project because many organisations are involved — BMTC (bus provider), BBMP (owns the roads) BTP (traffic police for enforcement) and DULT (design). It is commendable that they are collaborating and we, as ordinary citizens, have a big role to play as well.

If you agree that this a good idea worth trying, you can help by dispelling myths and cynicism. These are early days and there will be teething issues like any other massive public project.

The good news is all the agencies are engaging the public and even holding consultations. They are trying to learn and improve and even made changes based on the feedback. BMTC launched an effective social media campaign and their officials are seen on the streets distributing pamphlets. 

We keep saying the government “must do something”. The bus priority lanes is that special something. Let’s make it work.

(Srinivas Alavilli, Citizens for Bengaluru)