Transforming B'luru public transport

Transforming B'luru public transport

The much-delayed Phase I of Namma Metro is nearing completion and services will probably start this month. The inordinate delay has been agonising for citizens and has cost taxpayers dearly. With the numbers falling way short of projections in the east-west line, it remains to be seen whether Namma Metro can achieve its ridership and financial targets once the entire Phase I operations begin.

Thus far, the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) has been the sole provider of mass transport service to citizens. According to the BMTC website, it owns 6,193 vehicles, operates 74,292 trips and earns revenue of Rs 3.93 crore per day. Assuming a trip cost of Rs 15 and considering the overload during peak hours, the data suggests buses run half empty except during the morning and evening rush hours.

Taxpayers who fund both Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) and BMTC would like capacity to be fully utilised and not wasted. Hence, it is imperative on the state government to propose and implement some radical ideas that can entice the citizens to willingly give up their private vehicles and opt for public transport. Here is a four point plan to improve Bengaluru’s public transport to increase ridership, enhance efficiency, boost reliability and maintain affordability.

Route rationalisation : Once Phase I of Namma Metro is complete, many BMTC routes will run parallel to Metro lines. Rather than compete, BMRCL and BMTC must complement each other. It is essential that BMTC considers a drastic reduction in trips plying on Metro routes and deploys its buses to parts of Bengaluru that are yet untouched by public transport.

Moreover, last mile connectivity is of paramount import­ance to riders of Namma Metro. So, BMTC must focus on this and enhance frequency while Metro can become the life line for citizens who commute long distances and across the city. Metro too must increase both its frequency and its number of coaches. Current frequency of a train every 10 minutes during off peak hours and just three coaches are inadequate to handle the rush once BMTC routes are optimised. Over-crowded trains and buses will only make citizens opt for private vehicles.

Free Bus Day through Corporate Social Responsibility funds: Freebies are an excellent way to attract new customers. With more than 30 lakh registered two wheelers in Bengaluru, it is crucial for the BMTC to try to attract some of them to utilise its services in order to fill capacity. Corporate India is looking to spend CSR funds in more meaningful ways.  

Around Rs 4 crore per day is required for this laudable effort and many companies in Bengaluru will come forward to fund this amount once BMTC initiates the process.  

Sponsorship of bus day will pay rich dividends to companies and will certainly be deemed as an outstanding CSR activity since direct beneficiaries are the poor and the middle class people. And the city itself will immensely benefit in the form of lesser pollution and achieve success in keeping private vehicles off the road at least for one day during the month.

Keep fares low

Crucial to success of both BMRCL and BMTC are low fares. Metro has already signalled a fare increase after completion of Phase I. Current BMTC fares are exorbitant and most citizens find owning and operating a two wheeler on par with spending on public transport. With App-based taxi services competing for passengers and offering introductory low fares, it is difficult for someone to opt for services of BMRCL and BMTC.

Hence, the state government must impose a surcharge on vehicles registered in Bengaluru and transfer the entire revenue to the BMTC in order to slash current fares by a minimum of 60%. To keep Namma Metro fare low, the state government must bear the interest cost burden or find innovative ways of financing like cess on petrol or selling properties to make BMRCL debt free.

Invest in new buses and routes: The BMTC must continue to invest in new buses and more environmentally friendly electric vehicles. Current vehicles are cranky, jaded, diesel guzzlers and are a burden on operational costs. Namma Metro will require two decades or so for to complete a network that Bengaluru needs.  

Hence for now, the BMTC must link outskirts of the city with direct services. Start of Phase I and proper route rationalisation will render many BMTC hubs like Yeswantpur, Vijaynagar, KBS, KR Market, Jayanagar, Doopanhalli redundant. With offices spread across outskirts of Bengaluru, it is important for BMTC to recognise the 21st century commuting needs of office goers.

For Bengaluru to continue to be the economic engine of Karnataka, it is essential to have a public transport system that is affordable, efficient, frequent and reliable. Cranky infrastructure and ever increasing population of private vehicles is forcing more and more misallocation of precious taxpayer’s resources in construction of flyovers and tunnels.

A public transport system that provides an exceptional commuting experience is the answer to many of Bengaluru’s woes such as traffic, pothole free roads, noise and pollution.

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based money manager)