Working inside, living outside

Buses heading towards Tumakuru are not affordable for thousands with low wages. Trains are cheap but their schedules do not match work timings. Many hop on to whatever vehicle is available.

What keeps Bengaluru buzzing, steaming ahead despite its multitude of urban issues? Beyond the most obvious 1.3 crore confined to its dynamic boundary, lakhs flock to this city every day and return home by night. For them, Bengaluru is one big work area, too costly to live but worth every minute the toil on those hopelessly crowded trains and buses.

Notoriously unpredictable, the long distance trains are not these workers’ first commute option. But do they really have a choice when dedicated suburban trains are so few and far between. Packed like sardines in peak-hour rush, they collectively wonder why their cries for more trains, more services, more tracks fall on deaf ears. They wonder why their demands get nothing beyond electioneering stunts.

Rudimentary options

Despite massive strides in transportation technology, their commute options remain basic, skeletal and rudimentary. As these millions stream in from KGF, Bangarpet, Bidadi, Ramanagaram, Tumakuru, Kanakpura, Doddaballapur and beyond, the city continues to look inwards ostrich-like. 

To understand their plight firsthand and track their daily ordeal, a DH team hopped onto a train heading out to Bangarpet. The crowds that thronged the Baiyappanahalli and Whitefield stations in humungous numbers told a story of misplaced transport priorities. Struggling to find at least a foothold were thousands. Among them were IT employees, postal workers, daily wagers…

For Manjunath, an employee at the General Post Office, this was a daily routine. Every evening, he would get to the Baiyappanahalli Railway Station by Metro and wait for the 5.25 pm train to head to his house near Tekal, the station after Malur. “But this train is always late,” he says. “It comes only around 6-6.30 pm, delaying all other trains.”

Costly bus rides

Trains, delayed or on time, are his only option. The KSRTC and private buses that head that way are too costly for a commute that takes over two to three hours. ISRO employee Mohan Kumar, who travels from his office in Murugeshpalya near Old Airport Road to Malur, knows it too. He avoids going anywhere near the crowded private bus stand right at the mouth of the K R Puram cable-stayed bridge.

But why do Manjunath, Kumar and Ramesha, also an ISRO employee from the Karthik Nagar unit, endure such commute struggles? “The cost of living within the city is way beyond our means. It just doesn’t work out. A lot of people have tried searching an affordable place to stay. Those with families can never manage,” rues Kumar, as the trio head homewards inside the overcrowded coach.

Dynamics of rent

Many of these daily travelers either own a home in Malur, Tekal and the outskirts of Bangarpet, or pay nominal rents. That is a far cry from the Rs. 15,000 to 20,000 one-bedroom houses in K R Puram, Baiyappanahalli and surrounding areas. “Add to the high cost of food. We have to pay Rs 150 for a decent meal in Bengaluru. In Malur, you can have a lavish lunch for Rs 30,” says Manjunath.

It is a no-brainer that the lives of these daily commuters would be infinitely better with a full-fledged suburban rail network. But why restrict the path only to the neighbouring towns and districts? Why not a high-speed rail network that allows people to travel even longer distances and travel much faster?

Hi-speed rails

This is the hypothecation proposed by Ashish Verma from the Department of Civil Engineering, the Indian Institute of Science. “A high-speed rail connectivity within Karnataka, while decongesting Bengaluru city, can create more economic opportunities. Such a network will help people stay in Mysuru and travel to Bengaluru in 30-45 minutes,” he elaborates.

Does this entail dedicated tracks? Not really, says Verma. “In Germany, for instance, the same track is used for both hi-speed trains and regional connectivity. This is a viable option at less cost.”

But, he warns, a high-speed road corridor will be an unsustainable mobility option. Implication: It would be an invitation for those with motorised personal vehicles to use up more fossil fuels, and in the process, further congest Bengaluru roads.

Tumakuru links

Train as a cheaper, faster option than bus is what drives the public narrative even on the Bengaluru – Tumakuru route. For the thousands who live in and around Tumakuru town, Arsikere, Tiptur and beyond, the few passenger trains and long-distance are the best bet to reach workplaces in Bengaluru.

Their reliance on trains is so robust that a collective campaign had resulted in a dedicated Tumakuru-Bengaluru fast passenger in August, 2013. Regular commuters on this line are so committed to rail travel that they celebrate the birthday of this train, every year.

High potential

But they aspire for more. As Karanam Mahesh, secretary of the Tumakuru Bengaluru Railway Prayanikara Vedike, informs, “There are over 60-70 KSRTC buses operating about 250 services between the city and Tumakuru. The Tumakuru Railway Station has been upgraded with a platform exclusively for Bengaluru trains. There is a very high potential for more suburban trains.”

The immediate need, as the Vedike president Rama Kumari points out, are for trains that stop at stations beyond Tumakuru. “There is also need for trains that leave Bengaluru around 6 pm and halt at Tumakuru. This will benefit a lot of people.”

The potential beneficiaries remain the same: Government employees, students, college lecturers, bank employees, daily wagers and factory workers. The demand never dips.

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