Karnataka Budget 2018-19: Some positive steps, but still prioritises mowing vehicles over people

Karnataka Budget 2018-19: Some positive steps, but still prioritises mowing vehicles over people

Karnataka Budget 2018-19: Some positive steps, but still prioritises mowing vehicles over people

This year's state budget appears to have continued the trend of focussing on road widening and flyover construction.

An amount of Rs. 440 Crore has been earmarked for constructing 12 overbridges and underbridges to create four signal-free corridors in the city spanning 51.36 km. While such measures are thought to reduce congestion, they provide relief only in the short run, and are likely to have an opposite effect within the first few years of operation; as improving the capacity of roads soon causes similar increases in utilisation of such roads, negating the effects of such capacity enhancement.

Given that Bengaluru's vehicular population has more than quadrupled since 2001, the solution lies in weaning people away from private vehicles through an improved public transport. A good example of a city realising this truth is Seoul in South Korea, which built more than 100 elevated corridors in the 1980s within the city, only to start demolishing them two decades later. As an urban renewal strategy, Seoul tore down 15 elevated corridors within the city since 2002. While the 2018-19 Karnataka budget has dwelt substantially on expansion plans for the Bengaluru Metro, there is little mention of increased support to BMTC, which is the mainstay of public transport in the city.

The government plans to provide free local bus passes to all 19.6 lakh students across Karnataka to travel to and from school/college. While this is a welcome measure – as it will encourage more students to use public transport instead of two-wheelers – it is not clear how the state-run transport corporations will be able to support this additional cost without additional funding support from the GoK. Given the precarious financial state of these transport corporations, the lack of information on the continuation of fiscal support to them by the government is worrying. If the Motor Vehicle Tax exemptions granted to these corporations for the 2017-18 Financial Year are not continued, they will be subjected to significantly higher operating costs, as Motor Vehicle Taxes for buses in Karnataka are among the highest in the country. This will leave little to no funds to the corporations to invest in improving service quality.

In other news on the bus front, KSRTC will get 10 double-decker buses for inter-city transport. The feasibility of double decker buses for inter-city transport remains questionable as there has been no successful model in the country for running these buses over such long distances yet. The state plans to upgrade 30 bus stations, 8 bus depots, and 325 bus shelters, but does not talk about allocating land for new depots and terminals. The lack of a clear land use plan for improving public bus infrastructure is disappointing.

On a more positive note, measures such as development of 250-km long pavements in Bengaluru and investment in pedestrian path improvement and development of cycling infrastructure in tier-2 cities at a cost of Rs 25 crore to encourage increased cycle distribution schemes and commuting by pedestrians have been mentioned in the budget.

These are welcome steps towards reducing the dependence on motorised vehicles and are much needed. Based on the success of the TenderSure project in Bengaluru, the government, in addition to completion of 49.39 kms, has earmarked Rs 1,000 crores (Rs 500 crore from the Centre under the Smart Cities project) for development of 25 major roads under the same model, which will also increase walkability in the city. There is also a mention of a Public Bicycle Use Program to be launched in Bangalore, based on the success of the bike sharing program in Mysore.

Paradoxically, there are also plans to construct multi-storeyed parking lots at 5 locations in Bangalore. It is unclear as to how the usage of these parking spaces will be charged. This priority appears misplaced, as it is bound to incentivise the usage of private vehicles. The government providing parking space to accommodate private vehicles is synonymous to the government providing a room for a customer who has bought an air-conditioner. Instead Bengaluru should focus on establishing a central parking authority to manage (and appropriately price) the overall parking for the city.

Overall, there has been greater focus on designing road infrastructure for moving vehicles. This re-emphasises the fact that a city such as Bangalore needs a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) to devise a long-term Transportation Plan for the city. This Plan should prioritize projects and fund initiatives to move people to sustainable modes of transit, thus helping the government meaningfully reduce congestion and improving air quality.

Pawan Mulukutla, Head, Integrated Transport, WRI India

Budget allocations:

Urban development: Rs. 17,196 Crore
Transport sector: Rs. 2,208 Crore
Infrastructural development: Rs. 601 Crore
Transport and infrastructure, % of total outlay: 1.7%

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