We all want our roads to be broad enough to ensure smooth flowing traffic. But with more than 27 lakh vehicles in Bangalore and more than 800 new vehicles getting registered every day, the road infrastructure just cannot keep up to the growing vehicle count. However much the administration tries to widen the roads, there is a limit to this approach.
Public Transport – limited by BMTC capacity (pic: Madhav Pai)
The unchecked growth and usage of private vehicles which constitute almost 90% of the total vehicles in Bangalore can be countered with an excellent public transport service. The Bangalore METRO may be one solution. However, it is extremely expensive, and at best, a solution in the long-term. The most widely used form of public transport is the BMTC bus service. But however efficient BMTC may have appeared to become, it just cannot cope up with the city’s exploding need for transport.
One answer is to end the monopoly status BMTC enjoys and facilitate the entry of private bus operators providing mass local transportation services. For example, TVS used to provide bus transport services in Madurai many years ago. Currently, the laws pertaining to public bus transport services in Karnataka, as well as in most other states, do not allow space for capable and ethical companies to provide a valuable service for the public. In fact, they are kind of tailored to impede their entry.
The public bus transport sector must be opened out totally, for open competition between various players, on a level playing field, subject to a few concessions, where required Classifications such as stage carriages, contract carriages, maxi cabs, etc. must be withdrawn, and annual license fees charged on the basis of the vehicle floor area alone.
But, private participation in local mass transit alone will not do. The state government should adopt some key policy changes to ensure an efficient and competitive public transportation system for Bangalore. The basic tenets of such a policy should be:
- Use every means to encourage use of public bus transport services, particularly in cities and discourage use of all personalised forms of transport, especially cars. Less cars mean more room for (public transport) buses, reduction in fuel consumption, and consequently pollution, de-cluttering of roads, and even getting people into the healthy habit of walking (atleast upto the bus-stands!).
- Administrators can enforce this in many ways like: increasing road tax; introducing congestion tax, introducing ‘pedestrians only’ zones in city centers. (Private Shuttle Service Providers can operate slow-moving, mini-buses for people to shuttle between the parking lot and the shopping areas), and restricting plying of private vehicles on the main city arteries during peak hours.
- Movement of public bus transport vehicles must be given top priority. Traffic authorities must ensure this. Auto-rickshaws could be gradually phased out, particularly from trunk and arterial routes (meant for movement of high speed vehicles), and replaced by four-wheeler taxies.
- After the field has been opened up to private service providers, they must be totally free to adopt their own fare tables. There are to be no restrictions on fares, whatsoever. Service providers to be free to choose the routes they wish to operate on, as also the schedules. RTO must be empowered to impose restrictions only in the case of overcrowding of routes/roads.
- The state government may choose to ensure BMTC’s viability through options like concessions on annual license fees.
- Bus stands may be taken over and run (or better still – leased out to professional contractors) by local bodies making the facilities available to all service providers against user charges.
- Public bus transport vehicles must be maintained in exacting road-worthy condition. No public bus transport vehicle to be more than 10 years old. Policing of public bus transport vehicles to be made very strict, with heavy penalties being levied in cases of offences like over-speeding, rash & negligent driving, drunken driving, over-loading, etc.
An efficient bus transport system (with government and private players operating in open competition) has the potential of becoming the backbone of Bangalore’s public transport system. In large cities like ours, METRO rail can supplement such a system.
What is the likely scenario after a year of implementing such a policy?
- Major transporation corporates and the present set of contract-carriage operators like Blueline, VRL, Sharma Transports, KPN, etc, apart from co-operatives like those formed by ex-servicemen, may come forward to provide comprehensive public transport services, catering to all kinds and classes of demand.
- The resulting competition will automatically drive the different service providers to come up with innovative schemes of attracting more and more people to switch over to the use of the buses rather than relying on their individual vehicles.
- At the lower end, you will have the ‘Janata’ services, stopping at all bus stops enroute, and charging the barest minimum (which could even be much lower than BMTC’s present charges); at the upper end, you will have the A/C deluxe services (possibly with broad, reclining seats, newspapers & magazines for reading, etc) catering to corporate executives, and operating from say Whitefield to Residency road, with just some 5 stops in-between. These buses may also cater to high end school students. Thus there will be a wide spectrum of services.
- Even within neighbourhoods like Jayanagar or Indiranagar, you will have mini-buses operating in given circuits, catering to the local shopping and other needs of the residents.
Thus we can expect to see commuter usage of two-wheelers and cars reducing drastically, leading to
- de-cluttering of city roads, thereby providing room for speedy movement of buses,
- reduction of air pollution with lower per capita consumption of fuel,
- decongestion of population in city centres and creation of satellite towns due to ready availability of cheap and efficient means of transport everywhere.
- promotion of the healthy practice of walking at least to & from the bus stops,
- an appreciable drop in the monthly family transport budget.
- reduction in pressure to widen roads by cutting down trees saves our green cover
The central government has already accepted some salient points in its policies and reports. For e.g. the report on ‘Bus Transport Systems’ from the Union Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas mentions:
- "Promoting public bus transport should be viewed as a priority in any strategy to improve urban road traffic and in controlling air pollution from automobiles. The country can ill afford the luxury of unchecked growth of private vehicle population. The costs to the country’s economy in terms of higher fuel consumption and to the society in terms of health are significant enough to warrant urgent action.
- Clearly, there is a strong case for promoting private enterprise in meeting transport needs in urban areas.
- An aspect of public policy that impacts on provision and expansion of public transport either by state owned utilities or by private entrepreneurs, relates to the unviable fare structures imposed by the authority.
- With improved efficiency, the fare structure can continue to remain low while still providing for overall viability of the operations."
Though many citizens agree with this overall concept, very few are prepared to back it openly, because it is seen as politically incorrect. There are immense benefits to the city with such an approach in our transportation infrastructure sector. If we want livable urban spaces, there is only this way to go.
Report on ‘Bus Transport Systems’ from the Union Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (http://www.petroleum.nic.in/ch_15.pdf)