Dario Hidalgo, a leading international expert on public transport systems, was in the city two weeks back to work with the BMTC. He was part of the team that revolutionised bus transport in his hometown Bogota, Columbia, by introducing BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System).
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In this exclusive interview with Citizen Matters, Hidalgo says BMTC has a lot to do before it starts its ambitious BRTS project for Bengaluru. He also says that BMTC’s BIG-10 buses have the potential to provide service for the entire city – the ordinary fleet can be gradually replaced by using BIG-10 and feeder services.
What are you working with BMTC on?
We are trying to help BMTC increase their capacity to adopt international best practices. BMTC is one of the best run bus agencies in India – it is the only one that shows year by year profit, but there is a lot to improve.
The city doesn’t want to put money in BMTC and wants it to be self sustainable. But the level and quality of service can be improved while maintaining the bottomline. Bangalore started the direct services (BIG-10) in February last year and they have proved to be very good – they provide more frequent services and quality buses. So we are trying to help BMTC improve BIG-10.
What might be a way to improve the whole bunch of direct services?
There are 12 direct services. You understand your services better when you collect additional data – by going on board the buses and find how public board and alight the bus, extracting GPS data on travel time, doing surveys to find where people come from and go to etc.
Then you can introduce variations in the service. Additional services can be introduced without necessarily using additional buses – that’s were the engineering comes in. Our general perception about Bangalore is that there is increasing demand for good transport. So anything done to improve quality of service will lead to more people using buses.
So in your conversation with BMTC now is there anything specific happening now on the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS)?
This time we are not discussing BRTS. We are trying to take one step at a time, to improve existing services. Introducing for instance express services, short loops and dynamic programming that you don’t have in the same service you have all day, you adapt the service to the different part of the day. But you can do better if you invest in the bus – introduce intelligent transportation system to improve the reliability of the service, give bus priority by building bus lanes, building real stations on terminals – putting all this in a systematic approach is called BRT.
We want the city to understand BRT, but there is much to do while preparing for it. We saw some remarkable things with BIG-10. We did surveys at the beginning of the year on who the BIG-10 users were – 87% were normal bus users. But what about the remaining 13%? Nine per cent were motorcyclists, which means that BIG-10 were safer and more convenient for them.
One or two per cent were autorickshaw users who were travelling long distances. Autorickshaws are great but only for travelling in the neighbourhood. One per cent was car users. In Bangalore you know how much land these big new corporations are using to park the cars. If the people can get alternative transport mode, this will not be needed. It is really a high cost to the economy to waste premium land just for parking.
When BMTC collects their data, do they share it with people like you on a systematic basis? And did you initiate this, or is it that they need an expert to look into data?
We are trying to do hand holding, because we are not consultants but an international organisation that likes to increase the capacity of any city. We help them understand that there are sustainable international practices and our success will be measured by whether these are adopted internally by BMTC.
And BMTC can do much better than any consultant or any international organisation because they know the city. For instance, I can’t propose an express service because people may not board or alight at the points I propose.
Right now we are concentrating on G3 route along Hosur Corridor. We tell BMTC the type of data we would like to analyse with them, they collect data and then we propose some ideas for improvement. One of our goals is they start using technology that is available.
Can you give us an example?
Optimising crew shuttling, for instance. Mostly this is done manually using excel worksheet. It is not easy – the crew should be assigned buses with their breaks, and it should be balanced with the demand. The staff does it well because they are experienced in this, but it is a complex system and there could be errors.
Currently BMTC finalises a programming of trips and think that would do; but it is better to use specialised software that enables analysis of more scenarios to get the optimum.
BMTC can use these systems to gather data, do analysis and improve all 12 services and also the proposed BRT on ring road. Because BRT needs systematic approach and professional management – these concepts are needed to manage it.
So you cannot do a BRT if you don’t have these kinds of approaches to data collection and continuous analysis and improving services?
Yes, you can look at the instances of Delhi and Pune BRT. They focused first on building infrastructure but did not plan the operations well. So what you have in Delhi and Pune are just some bus corridors, though they call it BRT. It is substandard and this has done a lot of harm to the concept of BRT in India.
What about Ahmedabad? You seem to be favouring the Ahmedabad model?
Yes, Ahmedabad had done full life cycle planning; they considered and implemented all elements of BRT. You need to consider the bus lane which is the infrastructure, the stations, and then the buses themselves – the technology to manage the operations, collect fare and provide information to people and build a new brand. Branding is key – the bus should be special to BRT, branded and communicated to public that way.
But in Delhi all buses use the BRT lane and they ended up with very crowded facilities. Ahmedabad has real stations while Pune and Delhi only have bus shelters. You need to be able to board buses at the same level without climbing stairs. Even low floor buses do not dock to the curb side and people have to walk up and down to climb the bus.
When we talk to policy makers and politicians, they refer to BRT in Delhi saying that it is not good and that they prefer Metro. Metro is great but also very expensive.
Looks like in Ahmedabad the Corporation Commissioner had done lot of work. Here it has not come up to that level.
Yes, we need three elements, from international experience, especially Latin America and China. One is political will that goes all the way up to the top. You have the Chief Minister in Karnataka involved in Metro, which has helped in making Metro happen. You need that level of involvement.
Second is good technical capacity to do the right planning. Ahmedabad has extraordinary support from CEPT (Center for Environmental Planning and Technology) University and some international organisations like ITDP (Institute for Transportation and Development Policy) and ours for this.
And third is money. If you try to do both planning and infrastructure cheaply, you get cheap results, like in Pune. Pune is really ugly because they wanted to save money. They were more interested in road widening while building the bus corridor. If you do things that are not complete, you get incomplete results.
You started off saying BMTC does not require large investments except for innovative projects. Now the condition of the old fleet is not very good. BMTC usually says that it costs a lot to change baseline fleet and they won’t be able to set fares at that level.
Ordinary service is not good or reliable enough and vehicles are poorly maintained. BMTC has been providing normal routes with strange names and numbers.
But Bangalore is seeing a conceptual change in the way it provides bus service. BIG-10 is now preferred to normal buses because it is not charging much more – Rs5 for the first kilometre and Rs2 for additional kilometre. It is almost the same cost as ordinary buses but with superior service.
What I see as an opportunity is BIG-10 gradually becoming very frequent on the main road and getting complemented by some Feeder buses. So people don’t need to access the main road in an autorickshaw but has the Feeder bus that has an integrated fare. The transfer should be easy and cheap.
The trunk service (the service on arterial roads) should have priority, a bus lane, a station, a BRT. So gradually the whole system is improved. It is very difficult in a city the size of Bangalore with 6000 buses to do an overnight overhaul. We are trying to take BIG-10 a step ahead with better service, express services, feeder services; gradually with introduction of technology and infrastructure you will improve the whole system. Then you will be able to gradually phase out other services.
But we are not pushing too much because we want the decision makers, the administrators to be convinced that this works.⊕