On February 8th, 2014, Bangalore Bus Prayaanikara Vedike, an organisation of bus commuters and civil society organizations, organised a planning meeting to discuss a campaign for affordable bus services in Bangalore. This was organised in response to the steep rise in bus fares over the last year and a half to almost 50%, increasing the economic hardship for Bangaloreans.
If a garment worker or a pourakarmika, who earns Rs. 5,000 a month, buys a monthly pass for Rs. 725 (Rs. 925 for red board buses), she shells out 15-20% of her income just for commuting, which increases if more people in the family use the bus. Many people are now cutting their health and education expenses to be able to commute in the city. In fact, from February 2nd, fares for non air-conditioned buses have been hiked by Re. 1 for the 2nd Stage, citing rising diesel prices.
Bangalore Bus Prayaanikara Vedike (BBPV) was formed in 2013 in response to the steep fare hikes by BMTC in June 2013. The Vedike has been campaigning for better BMTC services including reduced fares. While there have been positive responses from BMTC on some fronts, the management has summarily rejected the rollback of fares, despite many discussions, petitions and protests.
At the meeting it was discussed that these fare hikes only signify BMTC’s obsession with profits. Public transport is an essential service, and the right to public transport exists independent of profitability. The affordability of a service determines how many people can use it, and access to public transport cannot depend on diesel prices and profits for BMTC. Many other cities and towns across the country are running bus services at more affordable rates, and there are cities across the world which even provide free public bus services. It is possible for Bangalore to imagine a subsidized affordable bus service, where commuters are not at the mercy of administrative inefficiencies and rising diesel prices.
H S Sudhira, a researcher at Gubbi Labs, spoke about how the current mechanism of fare fixation should be revoked, and the government should provide subsidies to offset any operational losses, and access to Majestic area should be improved. Dasarathi, a campaigner for public transport, spoke about how BMTC’s financing priorities were completely skewed, and how it spent crores of rupees on buildings, which could be spent on expanding the bus fleet.
He also stated that the expenditure on the Metro is unnecessary, and simply expanding the bus fleet and improving bus services, would significantly improve the transport situation, at a much less cost.
Nagaraj, of KSRTC Employees Union, spoke about how BMTC treats its employees poorly, and how corruption was endemic in the Corporation, and pilferage also contributed to BMTC’s failing finances.
The meeting was also attended by PGR Sindhia, the former transport minister of Karnataka, who also headed the Legislature-appointed Sindhia committee in 1993 which examined KSRTC’s operations and explored the rationale behind fare hikes. The committee had concluded that there was no need for a fare hike if administrative inefficiencies in the Corporation were taken care off, and proper maintenance of vehicles was done. Sindhia, at the meeting, stated that Bangalore needed an inclusive transport system, and the bus system was crucial to establishing such inclusivity.
The meeting was concluded with a proposed fare structure, in which passengers would pay Rs. 5 for the first ten kilometers, Rs. 10 for ten to twenty kilometers, and Rs. 15 for any distance above 20 kilometres. It was proposed that a daily pass should be for Rs. 25, and a monthly pass should be for Rs. 250, which was 5% of the Government’s minimum wages. Persons below the minimum wage should be given free bus passes.
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