BMTC fares went up a month ago, and hikes in petrol/diesel prices were cited as the reason. The story is more complicated than that. The real reasons are the three C-s — ‘Collection’ , Corruption among staff, and Complete apathy towards commuters’ convenience or rights.
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364E is a route that plies from Boopasandra in north Bangalore to south Bangalore (beyond Jayanagar) so it is very convenient for people like me who travel from north to south regularly. If I get 364 E, I can go directly to Jayanagar, otherwise I have to take two buses, one to Majestic or Shivajinagar and then another to Jayanagar. Which is time consuming, exhausting as well as more expensive. The catch is – no one knows when 364E plies. Not even the conductor. I talked to several drivers and conductors and unearthed some interesting details.
Some days it leaves Boopasandra at 6.45 AM, other days at 7 or 7.10. The stop I get on is the second from the terminus, so it should arrive within 4-5 minutes, but there is no way of knowing whether to wait or whether it has already gone before 6.50, so people like me take a bus to Majestic or Shivajinagar. So ‘collection’ on the 364E route shrinks, and I hear that route is going to be discontinued because of "poor collection".
I asked another conductor on the same route the following week, and he claimed the scheduled departure from Boopasandra was "6.45 AM. – but it depends on what time we leave the depot and get here from the first inward trip. Also, if we stop for kaapi-thindi, we get delayed by 15 minutes." The first onward trip from the south to Boopasandra, again, leaves some days at 5.30 AM, some days I see it when I am already on a bus to Majestic at 6.20 and notice a 364 E trailing behind. There is no way I can hop off and on to the other bus. And so, the bus plies with ‘poor collection’. There isn’t enough collection because people like me never know when to expect the bus.
If this is the state of the early morning trip from a terminus that has little traffic at that hour, no wonder the later trips, back from Jayanagar to Sanjaynagar in the afternoon or evening are completely unpredictable. "Any time between 1 and 1.45," one conductor told me. Thanks to the traffic snarls en route "we leave earlier than the scheduled time to cope with traffic jams," one driver on this route explained – again, making a mockery of time charts and a route facility that commuters cannot depend on.
A vicious circle if ever there was one – a route gets threatened with closure because of "poor collection" from passengers, and collection is poor because commuters don’t know whether to wait for this route or when it will turn up.
I tried sending feedback via the BMTC website, but it wouldn’t get submitted. "Enter category" it orders, but no categories are available when one clicks. So, (happily, for the BMTC) "No complaints" – and all is well with the corporation. Who are the buses running for? If you said "commuters", you are probably naive. BMTC runs to generate salaries and employment for its staff. And for "collection". To hell with commuters.
Once in a way, by sheer chance, I manage to see 364 E when I get to the bus stop, and that leaves me feeling as if I have won a jackpot. Shouldn’t there be a difference between a lottery chance and a public transport service?
The 279 route buses that I take to Majestic around 7 AM, routinely stop for several minutes, at successive bus stops – Ashwatnagar, Geddalahalli, Ganganagar waiting for passengers. "If our collection per trip is low, the DM (depot manager) chides us, we are served with memos, our salaries are cut, so we wait." the conductor says.
School children on the bus fret because waiting at each stop makes them late for class, but they dare not complain, because the conductor could retaliate the next day when they get on the same bus. Again, what’s important, collection or people’s commuting needs?
"Another 279 bus went just a minute ago, so we have to wait, to muster sufficient passengers," the conductor explains – but then why have two buses trailing each other on the same route? Why not stick to timings? The conductor merely shrugs and walks away.
"On most morning trips, even with a full bus, collection shrinks because school children and working women have passes, and we get blamed for ‘low collection’," says another conductor (none of them wanted to be named or identified). BMTC issues passes, then blames conductors illogically for "low collection"! Higher officials were unavailable for comment, but a depot manager (who again, declined to be named) retorted, "Without collection, how will BMTC function?"
If all conductors issued tickets honestly, instead of slipping small change into their pockets, as they routinely do, collection would swell – but one woman conductor tells me, "We have to pay bribes to checking staff too, where will that amount come from unless we make some money daily ? Why blame only us?" One conductor whom I chided for not issuing a ticket, threatened me and dared me to come with her to the DM. Does that mean the DM is also in league with her, in this racket?
So who does one pin down? In the meantime, commuters are paying Rs 9 for trips that cost Rs 8 till last month, and Rs 12 for trips that cost Rs 11 earlier….
We have all been ‘collection-ed".⊕