“How Bengaluru’s flawed bus priority lane project can be salvaged”

ORR BUS PRIORITY LANE

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In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I looked at the strategic issues and practical issues respectively, in implementing the bus priority lane (BPL) project in Outer Ring Road.

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In this concluding part of the series, I discuss solutions to these problems:

Ban slow-moving vehicles in ORR

If a slow-moving vehicle is allowed on the general lanes of ORR, the entire traffic will slow down painfully. Hence BBMP must ban the entry of all slow-moving vehicles in the corridor. This includes hand-pushed carts, pedal-rickshaws and animal-driven vehicles.

Do not allow BPL to cross the path of private vehicles for U-turn or right-turn

If the buses have to take a U-turn or right turn, they will interrupt vehicles on the general lanes. The same will happen if the bus takes a road branching to the right.

Examples:

    • 500C buses going to ITPL have to take U-turn at ISRO
    • All buses going from Agara towards Jakkasandra have to branch right
    • All buses from Bellandur to Agara have to turn right at Ibbalur junction.

The solution is to limit the BPL to ORR, and avoid any U-turns and right turns. Treat all branches as spokes, where different sets of buses operate.

It may also be better to re-route the Tin Factory-to-Vivekananda Road leg of BPL to Hebbal. Currently at Tin Factory, BPL branches towards Vivekananda TTMC on Old Madras Road, where the traffic has a different characteristic. BPL should instead be re-routed up to Hebbal, further along the ORR. This also has the benefit of eliminating the KIA (airport) routes on ORR, since travellers can alight at Hebbal and board a direct bus to the airport from there.

Map of BPL. The Tin Factory-Swamy Vivekananda Road leg of BPL should be re-routed to Hebbal, further along the ORR. Source: BMTC

The hub-and-spoke model

A major reason for bus-bunching is that BMTC has designed too many long routes along the ORR that differ only in terms of certain small stretches. These routes are given different suffixes, such as in the 500 series. Since BMTC has to provide a minimum bus frequency for each of these routes, too many buses pass through the ORR.

When all these buses are forced to run in a single BPL lane, they will quickly choke the lane. This can be resolved by adopting the ‘hub-and-spoke’ model:

  • There should only be two BMTC routes through the BPL lane – one from Hebbal to Silk Board, and the other in the reverse direction.
  • There are major junctions along the route (Hebbal, KR Puram, Marathahalli, Ibbalur, Agara, Silk Board and many more). Treat these as hubs connected with the BPL, whereas the BPL would be a high-speed link.
  • People can get down at the hubs, and board connecting buses that go in radial directions. For example, you can alight at Agara junction can take a connecting bus to either HSR Layout or Jakkasandra/Koramangala. Those getting down at Marathahalli can take a bus to Whitefield/ITPL or towards Domlur, HAL, MG Road, Majestic etc.
  • BMTC should wind up the large combinations of long-distance routes. Buses plying on long routes can neither respond to varying travel demand nor provide comfortable rides.

BMTC must stop running nearly-empty Volvos on service contract

During peak hours, BMTC runs a large number of trips on contract to software tech parks. Though these buses are almost empty, they do not pick up regular passengers along the route. Thus BMTC itself is a major contributor to heavy congestion on ORR!

Also, when a large number of Volvos are diverted to contract service, fewer buses are available for normal service and these become overloaded. People prefer using their own vehicles instead of these overcrowded buses. Thus BMTC repels potential customers rather than attracting them!

So to solve both issues, BMTC must cancel ‘on contract’ trips, and allocate these buses for the public. This will decrease a lot of traffic congestion on ORR. Most software parks are already on the ORR or ITPL main road. Hence they don’t need dedicated contract buses at all.

BMTC must step up its PR multi-fold!

A project of this magnitude needs a strong PR campaign.

    • A strong public campaign in all media to sell the idea of BPL and explain how it works (after redesigning it along the suggested lines!)
    • Share the entire project plan, with all the details in public domain
    • Share the work schedule of the project (what activities are being planned, and their completion dates)
    • Review meetings should be open to the public. Declare review dates and venues along ORR. Hold more frequent reviews in the beginning, to keep up with public expectations and also to deal with unforeseen problems faced by stakeholders.
    • Contact citizen groups at zone and locality levels through outreach programmes. Get BMTC drivers and conductors to act as ambassadors.
    • Get star endorsement
    • Convince the public that BMTC and BBMP are agile and flexible in recognising the problems faced by stakeholders. Declare helplines
    • Publicise success stories of BBMP and BMTC resolving local pain points through BPL
    • When skeptics point out the failures of BRT in other cities, explain how our BPL program will succeed despite not being a full-fledged BRT.
    • Make separate infographics for all stakeholders. Each infographic should explain the situation from a unique point of view. Also explain how to avoid difficulties by changing past behaviour.

But BMTC seems to be rather complacent in such matters. In fact, even the Volvo drivers I met were not aware of the BPL.

BMTC must contact all stakeholders to win their confidence

The BPL project has multiple stakeholders:

    • People who live along both sides of ORR
    • People who commute by BMTC along the BPL stretch
    • Other people who travel (or take a one-time trip) through ORR
    • People who visit the hubs on ORR (tech park employees, mall customers, moviegoers etc)
    • BMTC bus drivers and conductors
    • Ola, Uber and other shared transport operators
    • Auto and taxi drivers
    • Businesses, including small shops and establishments, along the BPL stretch

BMTC should have mentally prepared all these stakeholder groups by explaining what to expect, and addressed any apprehensions they raise. If stakeholders’ concerns can’t be addressed, explain what their options are to mitigate the difficulties on their own.

But this effort to manage change is totally missing, and many groups on social media seem to express negative outlook towards the BPL. BMTC has simply gone ahead with its scheme, and left all the stakeholders to deal with their problems.

The BMTC-BBMP combine is letting pressure build on the stakeholders. If this continues, different interest groups will resort to pressure tactics to ease their difficulty. This may result in in-fights, rowdyism, and victimisation of weaker people.

The net effect would be that the local public will rebel and demand to dispense with the BPL scheme altogether. The hapless users of general lanes will also agree. Finally the project may collapse, leaving the authorities to claim that they did everything possible, but it did not work.

When BMTC buses have low occupancy, they must use general lanes

Note that vehicles get priority based on their role. For example, an ambulance on duty gets high priority, but an off-duty ambulance is treated as any other vehicle.

Similarly, BPL lane is a high-priority lane, meant for high-occupancy buses only. If there are less than 10 passengers (such as in Volvos on contract service to software tech parks), they must not be counted as public transport, and must use only the general lanes. Even buses that are going empty (at the start/end of shift/contract) must take the general lanes.

Privatise traffic-violation monitoring

We have rampant traffic violations across the city, but the Bengaluru Traffic Police (BTP) is unable to curb them because they focus only on checking documents or directing traffic. BTP was required to make a special effort for BPL, but apparently did not get the budget.

If private vehicles intrude in BPL, the project will fail. What to do? The solution is to privatise traffic violation monitoring, as described below:

  • The BTP already has a mobile app called PublicEye, which anyone can use to report a traffic violation.
  • At present, the person reporting the violation does not get any reward. But if he is rewarded say 25-50 percent of the fine amount, he will enthusiastically report all traffic violations.
  • In fact, many unemployed youth can take this up as a freelancing job, and keep earning significant amounts.
  • To prevent the use of doctored photos, allow only the ‘Camera’ option in PublicEye (and not the option of uploading an image from the phone’s ‘Gallery’).

This is not a new idea – we have already seen privatisation in STD booth service, parking lot management and PUC certificate service. Privatising traffic violation monitoring would bring huge relief to the public.

And in case of BPL, it may be the only way to save the project!


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About Nagesh Aras 14 Articles
Nagesh Aras is a resident of Bellandur. He works on urban governance issues like mobility, lake and water management, and STPs.

15 Comments

  1. Commuters travelling on ORR in their Car, should try to put banner(a simple printout) on rear windshield saying “Please do not enter Bus Lane” or something similar which might help some violators to understand that they are doing wrong.

  2. Bus lane should be next to the divider and not left most bcoz current scenario will create lot of problems for merging traffic to and from service roads

  3. Restricting vehicles to dedicated lanes in absence of any physical barricades is a case of mental discipline. This needs to be inculcated in the minds of the people driving on the roads. This takes time and no amount of fine will eliminate it. Everyone saw the case of hefty fine imposed due to change in motor vehicle act only to be rolled back by state governments.
    Putting physical barricades for bus lanes is not feasible in the existing infrastructure due to the limitation of the road width and open spaces. Long term planning is required to have a public transport that integrates all mode of transport including metro , sub-urban trains and smaller vehicles to provide last mile connectivity. We can have one solution for peak hours and another for non-peak hours.

    Just & Spoke model makes lot of sense but it should be limited to buses only.

  4. Buses from Metro stations to interior points of the city is non existent, that way ordinary working people face lot of logistical and Financial difficulties. After 7 in evening there are no buses from terminals like Srinagar, which should remedied immediately.

  5. Nobody in BMTC, BTP, BBMP or DULT seem to be involved in making bus priority lane a success. They are all watching blindly when Pvt Tempo Travellers, autos, oil tankers , goods vehicles and two wheelers are driving in bus lane.

    [Editor: This comment has been edited to suit our comments policy.]

  6. When u r restricting pvt vehicles not to use BPL, buses also should be restricted using other lanes. Also, how people board taxis if taxi is not allowed on BPL? Where pvt company cabs park to pick passengers? Till now 2 wheeler was safe on extreme left. Now it is so dangerous riding in the middle of the road 🙁

  7. All buses from Bellandur to Agara have to turn right at Ibbalur junction. – the right turn here is not required to change lane. Do how does it affect.. verify your data!

  8. First they have to create two wheeler lanes.. and pedistrans cross paths for all tech parks.. many times i have observed bus to bus overtake near bustop this will block entire road.

  9. Perhaps bus line desiplane takes 100 years, today I was traveling on KIA8 route bus, litterly two wheelers and taxes were on bus line. both two wheelers, cabs and traffic police , culture enough to follow desiplane and efficient enough to monitor system.

  10. That’s really a very well detailed article. The option to no contracting for Tech Parks should be implemented with immediate effect. The buses are so rare during evening hours at Manyata Tech Park, as the Volvo buses are on Contract and which are only half occupied (seating only). One other option that companies can give free BMTC monthly passes to employees who take public transport. This might promote usage among employees as well as increase availability of buses. Also the public eye is very good option and should be implemented with incentives not only for this but also for any traffic violation.

  11. You expect everyone to alight at the so called hubs and catch anther bus again? Imagine the plight of those going to the airport.

    [Editor: This comment has been edited to suit our comments policy.]

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