Mobility was arguably Bengaluru’s single largest problem in 2017. Even as people grappled with depleting resources of water and land, it was the nightmare of getting from one place to another that took precedence over all else in our psyche.
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In a city of about 1.1 crore people, Bengaluru officially has close to 70 lakh registered vehicles. This is the second largest vehicle population in the country, coming behind Delhi which leads the way with a little more than a crore vehicles on its street. Mumbai with a population of 20 million has just over 35 lakh vehicles.
In Bengaluru a bulk of its vehicular population are two-wheelers with the count at 45 lakh vehicles or 70%; about 1.3 lakh are taxis; 13 lakhs are private cars and the rest are autos, bullock carts etc. Only 6173 BMTC buses, Metro network and a few trains makeup for a bulk of government-run public transport.
So it comes as no surprise that studies show Bengalureans spend about 240 hours stuck in jams annually on an average. People navigating the likes of Silk Board, Hoodi, K R Puram and Marathahalli jokingly refer to them as Bermuda Triangle where times goes missing. A majority of the conversations in 2017 and citizen activism centred around mobility issues for the city.
‘Steel flyover’ gets dropped
In September 2015, Government of Karnataka called for tenders for a 6.7km flyover from Chalukya Circle to Hebbal, at an estimated cost of Rs.1800 crores. L&T awarded the contract for the project to be overseen by the Bengaluru Development Authority. After the State cabinet approved project, citizens created a human chain from Chalukya Circle to Mekhri Circle in protest against the project, in October 2016.
Following this, Citizens Action Forum (CAF) filed a petition against the project with the National Green tribunal, along with Citizens For Bengaluru in December 2016.
In October 2016, Namma Bengaluru Foundation (NBF) filed a petition challenging the constitutionality of the project with the Karnataka High Court in lieu of the timing of public consultation for the project. In November 2016 the National Highway Development Authority of India (NHAI) stated that the BDA didn’t seek its permission for the project, as a portion of it runs into the NHAI’s jurisdiction and had not done so.
The issue that spilled over from 2016 finally saw the Government withdraw the project after sustained citizen protests in March 2017. This protest almost became a linchpin for the conversations that followed on urban transport.
There are protests continuing against the various flyovers at Jayamahal, Shivananda circle etc, arguing that flyovers did not ease the traffic issues and only shifted the point of pain. However, the Ejipura Flyover Project took off with the support of the residents of Koramangala. While a difference of opinions existed on the issue of flyovers, a majority agreed that the only way to ease mobility issues in the city was to have a better public transport system and 2017 saw changes announced in the government run public transport system.
Suburban Rail Network
In January of 2017, Bengaluru Railways Division of South Western Railways, announced a list of trains as part of the Suburban route, along with two lines of Mainline Electric Multiple Unit (MEMU) to run between Whitefield and the City railway station to cater to IT workforce. In August 2017, a new Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (DEMU) was started between Byappanahalli to Whitefield.
In all, 16 new MEMU/DEMUs were announced for the year. But a better of the year was spent in negotiations between the State and the Centre on finalising the cost-sharing ratio for suburban rail, as the Suburban Rail Policy indicated a ratio of 80:20 cost division between state and the centre.
Suburban rail became all the more important this year, due to the push from citizens. In December 2016, a citizen-led campaign ‘Chukubuku Beku’ took off, with people travelling from Cantonment to Whitefield highlighting the network of railroads available to Bengalureans. With many stations within the vicinity of the BBMP limits, it seemed a wasted opportunity to ease traffic congestion.
Though the idea of Suburban Rail network has made multiple appearances in the state budget, starting from 2010 and had even announced a Bengaluru Suburban Rail Corporation to oversee it, the demand itself was more than a decade old. In 2014, D V Sadananda Gowda as the Central Railways Minister announced three local trains in his budget for Bengaluru. Yet most of it remained on paper.
Bengaluru Metro Transport Corporation (BMTC)
The BMTC has been the backbone of urban transport for Bengaluru. With just 6,173 buses, it ferries a substantial population. In February, the media reported that BMTC was looking to invite private players to run 1500 buses to various IT companies with a number of prerequisites including free wifi and GPS tracking.
The Bus Prayanikara Vedike along with other civic groups organised the Bus Bhagya Beku in March 2017 renewing its demand for double the fleet of buses and halving the fares. The State budget in March announced 3000 buses along with 150 electric buses to be added to this fleet. But this number covered the 1000 buses which had to be scrapped from service, thus net increase in the number of buses wasn’t substantial.
In July, the BMTC announced that they were bringing back the double decker buses which were phased out by 1998 to cater to the tourist and younger crowd. The BMTC’s initiative of a cashless payment with smart cards which began in July has remained at the pilot level. The service which was started on route No. 335-E with a 100 smart cards and was to be extended to Airport buses failed to meet the October deadline. In September, BMTC proposed to set up an in-house innovation team to leverage the data generated by the ITS that powers its app. All these measures remained on paper till the end of 2017. The ITS system has remained as inefficient as it has been all these days, with not enough coverage among all buses on ground.
Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation(BMRCL)
The biggest news from BMRCL was the opening of the green line in June 2017 that finally completed phase-I of the project, making life easy for commuters travelling to industrial zones of Peenya and Nagasandra. South Bengaluru, which does not have an existing suburban train network, heaved a sigh of relief that it no longer had to go through gridlocks at J.C. Road/ Double Road and Richmond Circle to get to the Central Business District.
However, the problem of the last mile connectivity continued to plague its patrons. The BMTC’s move to reduce buses from Nagasandra towards Bengaluru International Exhibition Centre and other IT hubs was lamented by regular commuters.
The BMRCL withdrew the Sanchar option in March which offered discounts of upon 23% on travel, and helped those travelling daily between two points. The option of Stored Value Tickets (Varshik) smart cards that offer a 15% discount to the commuter has continued. BMRCL introduced a baggage fare of Rs 30 in December 2017.
BMRCL also chose to change the location of the Cantonment Metro Station almost 1km away, triggering protests by the residents who would be affected. It was originally planned to integrate with the railway station making it a hub of multi-modal public transport. A round table conference on the matter was organised by the citizens. But the BMRCL refused to attend and even issued a gag order to all its officers against speaking to the press. The citizens approached the Central Government asking them to step in.
Metro work on new phases has been ongoing, with the work proceeding fast in Anjanapura stretch, and beginning in many other stretches. Metro on Outer Ring Road connecting Silk Board and K R Puram was approved in March by the State cabinet. BMRCL will be taking over the Light Rail Transit System (LRTS), a mega project proposed over a decade ago to decongest the city. Metro Airport link on Bellary Road is also under progress.
The nuts and bolts of travel
Potholes claimed many lives in the city before the government finally got into action. But the government failed to meet its own deadline of filling all existing potholes. The much-debated white-topping endeavour to improve the road quality threw life out gear especially around dense traffic areas like Koramangala.
Pedestrians remained at the bottom of the travel pyramid even as the government looked at road based solution with vehicles as a priority. An 18-year-old lost his life near Sarjapur while he peered to find a gap to cross over in December. The administration then promised a skywalk at various points to help pedestrians in this stretch. However, the proposed skywalks at Kasturba Road have been facing opposition by the citizens for defacing heritage spots.
What does 2018 look like?
As evident with the timelines, most of the projects announced to upgrade the government-run public transport system will spill over to 2018. But things are looking good on paper for the year. Starting February, the government has announced traffic-free Sundays, prioritising pedestrians.
The Department of Urban Land Transport (DULT) has announced Public Bicycle Sharing project in the city that will cover 28 km in the first phase and expected to start by October 2018. Two stroke autos are expected to be phased out by April 2018. More metro stations are expected to be covered by the bicycle rental services, to make the last mile connectivity easier.