Every morning hundreds of tempo travellers traverse IT corridor routes including Outer Ring Road and Hosur Road in Bengaluru. On their way to picking up their customers’ employees, they also ferry commuters waiting on the way for public transport, illegally of course.
It is no secret that there are many private buses too plying from K.R. Market or Anand Rao Circle, to the outskirts. Some of them have just a contract carriages license, and some service organisations. A colleague of mine reports college buses plying in the evening near Race Course Road, carrying regular passengers to pre-defined destinations within the city. They are predictable and are able to keep up the timings even amid the traffic chaos we see.
Without a proper stage carrier permit, the drivers of these vehicles have to pay off the traffic police of each jurisdiction they pass through – a 1000 here, a 500 there. They each spend over a 5000 rupees each month on such bribes. It’s a smooth and regular process. Everybody is in the know. There are many such routes where such tempos operate and each route sees hundreds of vehicles. Add to this the private buses, contract operators, maxi cabs, SUVs and company cabs.
This situation reminds me of the landscape design in a former company I worked at. There used to be a curved pathway for employees to walk from the buildings on their way in or out. Since most people were in a hurry usually (they were not strolling in a park, much as the landscape resembled one) – they’d take a shortcut across the lawn between the shrubs. The landscape team used to get frustrated seeing the grass stamped over and looking bare. They tried putting signage banning walking there, they tried putting barricades to prevent us. But it never worked.
Because it was just more efficient to cut across and the pathway design was convoluted and silly. I proposed that the facilities team just place some stones slabs to create a simple path and make it look like that was part of the design. It would have solved the problem for both the employees and the gardening team. They didn’t listen.
This is what Karnataka government is doing. This is also the scene in many of India’s cities.
The tempo drivers are providing a valuable service. They transport thousands of people on routes where BMTC buses are usually full or don’t exist. and they’d be traversing the road empty otherwise. They help commuters avoid taking out their own bikes or cars, or even individual autos and cabs. The congestion would be far worse without them. It’s so efficient a solution that it makes sense to regularise it.
Now instead of finding a way for them to legally do this – perhaps a simple permit priced reasonably if you want to use your private vehicle to give lifts to others when you can, for a charge – our policies are stuck in a time warp. The government pretends as though there is no need for such out of the box solutions.
While the last few years have brought in a massive change in commuting patterns thanks to the Olas and Ubers, solutions that support a semi-public transport and reduce congestion like bike taxis, carpool, share autos are not legally allowed by an archaic Stage Carrier Act.
Even now there is no clarity of vision to relook at the policy or law to support the transport needs of a city of 11 million, bursting at its seams.
Meanwhile, the well-oiled corruption machinery continues to thrive with the police and transport department officials making their pie, without doing their essential job of checking if these drivers are driving safely. Some drivers drive like maniacs. The other day, I was in a bus where the driver was holding his phone in his hand, as he was chatting with a friend, and the other twiddling with the video controls, and one eye on the loud video of a Telugu film song. It’s not just his passengers, everybody else on the road was at risk.
Travel safe my fellow Bengalureans, keep your fingers crossed as we live on the edge. But do ask your MLA when they come for your votes, how they plan to fix traffic congestion.