Bengaluru bus commuters release their wishlist to make BMTC work for all

Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike released a manifesto on Saturday, October 17th. Here goes the text of the manifesto:

Next to their workplace and home, Benglureans spend most of their time on the road, travelling. Bangaloreans spend a lot of time and money in order to travel for education, work and leisure due to the lack of an effective transport system.

Our transport system is so costly that some people cannot afford even the bus and choose to walk, even long distances. A reliable, affordable and comfortable bus system will ensure that the 58 lakh bus commuters in Bangalore will travel in peace and attract two-wheeler and car users to the bus, thus bringing down the overall traffic.

Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV) believes that the right to safe, affordable and comfortable mobility is a fundamental right, one that enables all sections of people to realise their right to work, to education and to a meaningful social life and leisure. We have been working on the rights of bus commuters for almost two years now. We felt it was important to bring out a manifesto of bus commuters, highlighting the needs of all bus commuters in one document.

This manifesto is based on specific work that we conducted, such as a sample survey of bus commuters and BMTC workers, conversations with the same group, and a bus festival called ‘Janasnehi Bussigagi’ that we organised.

We invite all commuters to use this to push Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the Karnataka State Government to act on this manifesto. We also invite political parties to read this, reflect on the bus commuters needs and their role in bringing about a paradigm shift in the way Bengaluru sees the bus system.

Affordability of BMTC buses

• BMTC bus fares and passes should be affordable to all sections of the population
• Fares must be based on the earnings/paying capacity of the bus commuters and not on input costs for BMTC
• Bus fares should be revised once in three years only, in tune with periodicity of the revision of minimum wages as done by the labour department
• These will ensure that the cost of using a bus is cheaper than using an auto and two-wheelers thus encouraging more people.
• Implement “50 paise per km” ticket rates as follow

o Rs 5 for distances up to 10km
o Rs 10 for distances up to 20 km
o Rs 15 for distances over 20km

• Implement minimum-wages linked bus pass rates as follows

o Rs 25 daily pass
o Rs 250 monthly pass (5% of government-declared minimum wages, roughly Rs 7,000)

• Provide free bus passes and subsidised ticket rates for people with disabilities, senior citizens and students
• Ensure that all areas within BBMP limits are served at regular (black-board rates) and not red-board rates

Coverage and reliability of BMTC

While coverage and reliability have improved in the core city over the last few years, these remain a problem in the outskirts of the city, areas to where the poor and middle class are being increasingly pushed. Similarly, coverage is inadequate in core city areas that are poorer and have narrow roads. Reliability also is a problem as –

(a) there is never a guarantee that the bus will be available and
(b) the traffic is so high and buses take longer to navigate the traffic, so we might be delayed.

BMTC has the power to fix the first factor:
(1) by increasing the number of buses as demanded, one does not worry about the time-table since we will get a bus very few minutes;
(2) even for the existing buses, if they are given a reasonable time table and work to ensure that they meet the time table, buses will be more reliable.

BMTC’s airport service navigates the same city traffic, is run by the same agency, yet it manages to keep time unlike other BMTC services. If this spirit is applied to all routes, buses will be reliable.

Similarly, the government must take measures like high parking fees and congestion taxes to reduce the number of cars and two-wheelers on roads so that traffic reduces and bus travel become faster.

These are our demands in terms of coverage and reliability –
• Increase coverage to the outskirts of the city
• Cover all slum-rehabilitation sites – Laggere, Kudlu, Sulikunte etc
• Integrate BMTC services with local train stations where available
• Use mini-buses to cover interior areas like L.R.Nagar, D.J.Halli, L.B.Shastrynagar, Goripalya, Srirampura, Azadnagar, Padarayanapura etc
• Provide sufficient ordinary (non-Volvo) services on routes where Volvos have replaced ordinary services
• Discontinue Atal Sarige. Instead provide services at low fares for all commuters
• Increase peak-hour frequency in a way that it is in-line with the growing demand
• Extend services in the early morning and late night to ensure that powrakarmikas, call-centre workers, garment workers, restaurant workers and others can be covered
• Continue with route rationalisation in a more transparent manner that involves the bus commuters in planning of new routes and services
• Re-design roads around major bus-stops – Majestic, K.R.Market and Shivajinagar to ensure that the time taken to enter and exit the bus-stands is minimal
• Conduct a city wide survey among bus commuters and non-commuters to assess whether the BMTC network adequately covers all parts of the city and identify which areas are under-served

Infrastructure required for effective BMTC system

A bus system cannot be effective if the support structure of bus-stops, bus-terminals and roads are not functioning well enough to serve the commuters. Today many bus-stops are nothing more than a vague place on the road where buses might stop. This needs to change.

BMTC bus-stops 

• All bus stops in Bangalore must have – shelter, lighting, seating, dust bins and information on destinations which are directly connected from the stop
• Major bus-stops like Corporation Circle must have free public toilets as well
• Bus-stop locations near road intersections have got shifted further away due to the building of flyovers, signal-free corridors and underpasses, which inconveniences bus commuters. This step in favour of private motor vehicles, inconveniences bus users, thus discouraging public transport.
• Wherever required, at grade crossing through pelican lights should be provided at all bus stops to enable commuters to cross the road safely after getting off the bus

Traffic and Transit Management Centres (TTMC)

Looking at TTMCs only as revenue generators is a failed strategy. Branded departmental stores which rented out spaces at TTMCs have closed due to lack of customers. Thus no revenue was gained, nor was it of use to commuters. TTMCs need to be re-imagined to serve bus commuters better. They need to have facilities which draw in more people to TTMCs and also serve bus commuters.

All TTMCs should have –
• A medical store, mobile currency kiosks, mobile charging stations, a cobbler kiosk, a HOPCOMS stall, meat stall; Bangalore One Centre, post box, outlets of government agencies like Khadi and Village Industries Corporation, Janata Bazaar and Book Stores
• Clean and safe restrooms for people of all genders, with facilities for women to feed infants in the women’s restrooms and free, clean drinking water
• An information desk, a pass counter, and a grievance redressal desk
• Information boards on all the buses that arrive and the time of arrival
• Information pertaining to prevention of sexual harassment and means of redressal

Additionally, TTMC locations should be decided in consultation with commuters from the area. Many existing TTMCs are barely used because of their inappropriate location. They also need to be designed in a manner that allows for fresh air and natural light. Space should be allotted in Majestic for an open air theatre or any other suitable space for public performances, something that will benefit bus commuters and also draw in more people to use the bus.

Roads in Bengaluru

• Roads damaged due to rain, digging or any other reason must be fixed within three days
• Allow buses on all roads where private vehicles are allowedToday buses are not allowed on portions of M.G.Road, Cubbon Park, etc
• Explore Bus Priority System, where buses are given separate space on major routes and Bus Rapid Transit System
• Scrap signal-free corridors. Install pelican lights at all bus-stops on existing signal-free corridors
• Conduct a social impact assessment detailing the impact of implementing road and transport infrastructure projects on buses, bus commuters and pedestrians

Information Infrastructure

The information system of BMTC must focus both on real-world access and digital access.
• TTMCs should display the following information:

o Buses accessible at the TTMC – route names, route numbers, stops, time-tables
o Fare charts and how fares are calculated for stages;
o Helpline information for communication including postal address, phone number and email ids
o Method for lodging a complaint, seeking new/additional services, offering suggestions
o All the above information must be on display, must be in a booklet form and must be online
o Information must be in Kannada, English and Hindi to cater to the needs of a growing migrant population
o Information must also be available in Braille

• Information desks at all TTMCs are a must
• Publish all routing, schedule, collection data online to facilitate research and also apps for bus commuters

Safety in BMTC buses

The lack of safety in buses, especially women commuters being sexually harassed, the increasing number of thefts and pick-pocketing – has made people either give up on bus-travel or continue to travel by bus and endure a lot of stress.

The urban poor especially have no option but to use the bus, whatever the stress and cost. If we want to ensure safe commute for the urban poor and ensure that more users adopt buses, there is no option but to make buses safer.

Therefore, we demand that –

• Increase the number of buses in peak-hours. This will reduce the crowd in a bus and drastically reduce cases of theft, pick-pocketing and sexual harassment
• Set up working helpline and widely disseminate the helpline number. A 4-digit helpline similar to children’s and elders’ helpline should be set up for bus commuters’ grievances
• Undertake a periodic audit of the working of the helpline
• Set up Internal Complaints Committee which should handle complaints of harassment of staff and commuters
• Sensitise BMTC staff to attend to the needs of the children, the elderly, non-local commuters and the transgender commuters
• Gender sensitisation training for all BMTC staff, including the top management
• A functioning women’s safety committee which includes representatives of both commuters and workers
• Extend bus service late into the night and have enough buses early morning so people do not have to use unsafe modes like private buses, cabs and autos at odd hours
• All bus-stops and buses should be well-lit
• Allot two small stalls for street vendors at all bus-stops, with one of them reserved for women, this will ensure that there is safety at the bus-stops for commuters and that bus commuters have access to services.

Increase the number of buses

Bengaluru has just 6,600 buses for 58 lakh people. During peak hours, some buses are so crowded that doors cannot be closed. Increasing the number of buses will ensure that reliability increases, safety increases, people get seats to sit, buses become more comfortable and will make more people take the bus. The urgent need is to –

• Purchase at least 2,000 extra buses including a minimum of 500 midi and mini buses immediately to address the high demand and crowding during peak hours and geographical gaps in coverage
• Increase the number of available buses by rationalising routes, stopping the practice of renting out BMTC buses to elite private schools and software companies who can easily afford to buy their own bus

Design of BMTC buses

The current design of a majority of buses makes it unusable for a majority of the disabled and many elderly people. For the rest too it makes the journey uncomfortable. High-end AC buses cannot be the only ones with good design! Ordinary buses need to be designed well too. The city needs that –

• All buses should be low-floor to enable people with disabilities, children and elders to use them. Existing buses with high steps need to be modified to make the step lower
• Consider shifting the centre door to the back to reduce scope for sexual harassment
• Wider doors to allow comfortable boarding and disembarking
• Re-design buses to incorporate spaces to accommodate luggage of street vendors, travellers, children (school bags)
• The support rod on top does not work for children and people who are not tall, the support rod must be redesigned.
• Re-design positioning of rods next to seats, hand bar attached to seats in a way that makes getting in and out of seats comfortable
• Consult commuters and BMTC drivers, conductors and mechanics on design

Governance of BMTC

The governance of BMTC leaves much to be desired – in terms of how decisions are taken, in terms of its accountability to bus commuters and in its administration. A drastic rehaul of the way BMTC runs is required. We demand that –
• Adalats must be held at depot levels and at a city level at least once a quarter
• A seven-member commuters facilitation committee must be set-up at the depot level which includes at least 4 of the following commuter groups – people with disability, sexual minorities, government school/college teachers, college youth, representatives of slum residents, trade union member, RWA member, street vendors representative, powrakarmikas, domestic workers, urban researchers. A representative from each depot level committee must be elected and then be part of the city level commuter facilitation committee
• Produce a white paper must on the finances of the AC buses
• Hold a wider discussion on whether air-conditioned services are required for Bangalore
• BMTC officials must be called in for special session at BBMP, like BWSSB officials are called for to ensure they are accountable to the elected representatives of the city as well
• The Metropolitan Planning Committee must take all decisions in terms of planning for BMTC, in conjunction with BMTC and the bus commuters
• Conduct an inquiry into why BMTC has had losses in the last few years
• Audit reports of BMTC need to be placed in the public domain
• Whistle-blowers in BMTC need to be protected and not targeted

Systemic aspects in BMTC

Several of the issues plaguing BMTC are due to systemic reasons which have not been addressed or even acknowledged by either BMTC or the state government. These are the changes that we demand –
• Shift focus from revenue and profits to public service and commuter satisfaction
• The State Government must support BMTC financially as is done by other states successfully. BMTC must be exempt from paying taxes on Diesel, Motor Vehicle Tax, Road Tax and also Toll on any tolled roads
• Pursue measures such as congestion pricing, high parking fees to reduce cars on the roads and also to raise revenue to support public transport
• Buses must be at the heart of Bangalore’s transport as when the 2035 Master Plan is developed. Focus must be on strengthening the public bus system as a means to ensuring the right to mobility instead of looking at road-widening, flyovers and underpasses and other such short-sighted measures
• Discontinue revenue targets for conductors as this makes them operate against public interest. These revenue targets lead to several problems including the buses not stopping for children as they have bus passes, buses waiting for inordinately long time at bus stops to accumulate passengers and then rash driving on the road to beat other buses to the next bus stop
• Have realistic time targets set for the drivers. Unrealistic targets cause rash driving
• BMTC drivers and conductors must be paid all their arrears. Conformations of trainees must happen on time.
• BMTC must forthwith recognise a workers’ union and include them in all aspects of decision making. Workers are the eyes and ears of the corporation and have accurate ground-level information on the bus system and every attempt must be made to make full use of their experience and knowledge and perspectives
• An effective grievance redressal system for workers also needs to be in place

These are just initial steps that will start making BMTC more people-friendly. What is required for an affordable, accessible, safe and comfortable bus service in the city is –
• The government to recognise that in Indian cities, the bus must be made the centre of transport planning and needs to be given maximum priority
• For BMTC to keep the needs of the commuters’ upper-most and recognise that satisfied commuters and satisfied workers are what are paramount
• For BMTC workers to realise that commuters interest are paramount
• For commuters to support one another, be empathetic to the workers needs and to constantly demand from the government their right to mobility.

Let us all join hand to build a safe, accessible, affordable and comfortable transport system as part of our right to life and right to the city!

“Prayanikare Ondaagi, Horaatakke Mundaagi!”

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3 Comments

  1. Aren’t we going about the wrong way? We should ask BMTC & the owner (our master) what they want. Who are we to determine how their lordships will bestow their blessings on us? Let us not enrage the gods by making inauspicious pleadings.

  2. If they can give a buffer time of 30 minutes for traffic between buses reaching a terminus and returning back, that will help achieve reliability a lot. It will also give some rest time for the crew.

    Issues like tampering the bus numbers in electronic boards is also rampant and needs to be addressed. Should be one route number from start to destination, not changing the number at different stages. Ideally driver/conductor should not be allowed to change or switch off the bus number at all.

    Some approach to letting people know a bus is on its way, some level of tracking is necessary given the traffic. It could be sms-based or even electronic sign boards in bus stops that tell you where a bus is. This will of course have to be tied in with strict, reliable schedules.

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