Newspapers are reporting that the Karnataka government is considering handing over BMTC’s 1000 AC buses to other Road Transport Corporations (RTCs) due to profitability concerns, and also adding 3000 regular buses to all RTC fleets.
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Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV), a collective that campaigns for better BMTC services, welcomes the move to rethink the presence of Volvo AC buses and replace these with ordinary buses.
The decision will greatly help urban poor commuters and the corporation itself. We, however, would like to emphasise that no buses should be taken off the roads until new ones are added to the fleet.
The government move is welcome since it’s important to ensure that the BMTC provides universal quality of service to all. Providing differentiated quality of services to different classes of commuters is neither socially desirable nor economically viable, as BMTC has found from years of running these services. It’s important to recall that, after route rationalisation along Hosur Road, AC bus ridership had in fact dropped once the high-frequency KBS-3 routes were introduced.
What this indicates is that even for commuters using AC services, high frequency is a more determining factor than whether the service is AC or not. Discontinuing AC buses and introducing more general buses will increase the availability of more affordable services.
However, there are several concerns with the government decision as well:
- The government says the move is to improve profitability. Bus should not be seen from the lens of profit and loss. It is a social good, and any decision must be taken from this perspective. Looking at buses from the lens of profit-loss has lead to anti-commuter decisions like cut in routes, fare hikes etc.
- Government is only taking piecemeal, knee-jerk approaches to improve BMTC – announcing the decision on Volvos, hiking student bus pass fares and then withdrawing it etc. We need a complete revamp of BMTC, with a plan to double the fleet, to give priority to buses on the roads and equal preference to commuters of all classes.
- It is with great pain that we saw reports of BMTC placing a public advertisement seeking a loan of Rs 160 crore from banks. When Metro gets thousands of crores, elevated corridor gets 27,000 crores, why are bus commuters so neglected that the BMTC has to beg for a loan? This move, and the move to stop AC buses, are not unrelated. It is symptomatic of the fact that the government is not willing to fund the bus – the poor person’s mode of transport.
BMTC caters to 45 percent trips everyday, with its fleet of just over 6000 buses. It serves the pourakarmikas, street vendors, garment workers, students, retired senior citizens and lakhs of urban poor. Unless BMTC is strengthened, spending thousands of crores on the elevated corridors, Metro, Satellite Town Ring Road and Peripheral Ring Road will not help them.
For a regular commuter, better connectivity, faster commute and affordability are important concerns. Comprehensive reforms are needed to address these, so as to improve BMTC services, make it affordable to wider sections of society, increase the modal share of bus, and reduce congestion. These reform efforts should also be publicly-funded. We urge the government to take a holistic social perspective on BMTC, and undertake serious reforms to help the corporation to more effectively play the central role it has in Bengaluru’s mobility.[This article is based on a press release shared by Vinay Sreenivasa of Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike, and has been republished here with minimal edits]