State government has announced its decision to add 6000 buses to the BMTC fleet in a phased manner and to reduce bus fares. This is a huge win for commuters, civil society groups and the city at large. The Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV), a collective that advocates for better BMTC services, welcomes this long-awaited reform, and applauds the government and BMTC for the decision. Congratulations, Bengaluru!
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Decades of road widening, building flyovers and massive mobility infrastructure such as elevated roads and Metro, have only resulted in inadequate provision, increasing cost of public transport as well as traffic congestion.
Finally, Karnataka government seems to have recognised the critical role that the bus, BMTC, plays in the city’s mobility. Just recently it had taken another big decision to have dedicated bus lanes on 12 high-density corridors in the city.
Bus fares in Bengaluru have been the highest in the country for many years, making the bus unaffordable for low-income communities. And two-wheelers, being cheaper than the bus, have multiplied over the years, increasing congestion.
Fare reduction will make the bus affordable for a much larger section of society. And a larger BMTC fleet would reduce overcrowding, and make bus commute more attractive for existing users as well as cater to the unmet demand. This would lead to better mobility options, encourage two-wheeler users to shift to the bus, and reduce congestion in the city.
Fare reduction and increase in fleet have been long-standing demands of BBPV. This decision is a big win for the city, and for campaigns run by BBPV and other groups. Along with other citizen groups, we have been holding multiple campaigns to reduce fares, such as the ’50 ps’, ‘Bus Bhagya Beku’, and ‘Double the fleet, halve the fare’ campaigns.
But our demand used to fall on deaf ears, with the constant refrain from the government – “Where is the money?” We have also consistently problematised the pressure on BMTC to make profits. We have demanded that BMTC be seen as a public service and that the state government cover the additional funds required to keep bus fares affordable.
When fixing fares, factor in affordability for urban poor
It’s commendable that the government has decided to reduce fares and has committed itself to cover the deficit for BMTC. But it’s not known how much reduction is on the cards.
BBPV has, in its past campaigns, proposed various measures for fixing fares, such as
- keeping fares lower than the cost of commute by two-wheelers and other modes
- benchmarking the fares against minimum wages, since large sections in the city earn only as much or lesser
The cost of commute for the urban poor must not be more than 8-10 percent of their average income. We urge the govt to take these critical factors into consideration when fixing fares.
Electric buses should be piloted
Of the 6000 new buses, the government is planning to procure 50 percent electric buses. We would like to urge the government and BMTC to ensure that public money is invested in mature technology.
The government must start with a few buses as pilot, and proceed with large-scale electric bus deployment only if the technology is mature and there are assured mechanisms to safely handle battery disposals and so on.
Leasing buses should not be a slippery slope to privatisation
We are also concerned about government pursuing the lease model to procure new buses. While there are immediate cost savings in leasing as opposed to buying buses, we must seriously consider if this is a good model in the long run.
Even if BMTC leases buses, these must be operated by BMTC, and the conductors and drivers must be BMTC employees. Leasing the buses should not be seen as a step to privatising bus services in the city.
Need further measures to improve public transport
While these measures announced by the state government are indeed commendable, more needs to be done to make bus commute affordable, accessible, reliable, and comfortable for all. The state government and BMTC should set themselves a target of at least 70 percent mode share for BMTC in the next 2-3 years.
Along with dedicated bus lanes, lower fares and more buses, other steps such as route rationalisation for better connectivity, improved last-mile access, safe at-grade pedestrian infrastructure, improved passenger information systems etc will help BMTC and the government easily achieve this target.
We congratulate the government on its significant decision towards supporting the bus and improving public transport in the city for common people. BBPV has consistently worked with the BMTC and successive governments to improve bus commute in Bengaluru. We will be happy to work with the government, BBMP, BMTC, the traffic police, and other agencies as well as the larger civil society to realise this paradigm shift for Bengaluru and make the city a model for the rest of the country with its excellent public transport.[This article is based on a press release from BBPV (Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike), and has been published with minimal edits]