With Bengaluru becoming the most traffic-congested city in the world in 2020, mass transit is the key ingredient for a sustainable, low carbon footprint future and the only solution to decongest Bengaluru’s roads. However, the perception that cost effective transport options are primarily for use by the economically weaker section of the society, is a big worry.
The extensive bus network of Bengaluru, with a fleet size of over 6775 buses, is the largest in India, and among the 20 largest in the world. Why then is it not leveraged as a solution to its traffic congestion?
Even with the alarming increase in traffic, why is the city steadily adding more private vehicles while the use of public transport is hitting a new low at just 48%? Why is Bengaluru not choosing the bus?
Convenience, reliability, overcrowding
To investigate this problem, we volunteered with Young Leaders of Active Citizenship (YLAC) and Sensing Local, which has been actively working with the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) to improve bus accessibility across the city as part of the #BengaluruMoving campaign.
Piloting this objective in Doddanekundi, we conducted a survey to ascertain the needs of regular and potential bus users alike. Our findings suggest that people perceive the entire experience of travelling by bus to be cumbersome and far more time-consuming than personal vehicles.
Convenience and Accessibility: More than 70% of our respondents walked to bus stops and reported poor infrastructure such as broken footpaths and the absence of streetlights.
No bus stop was equipped with parking facilities for cyclists, critical in strengthening the first mile and last mile connectivity. Besides the longer travel time in buses, the absence of these measures has further prolonged the journey and deterred potential users.
Reliability: Col. Deepankar Choudhary (Retd), a resident of Doddanekundi elaborated on the unreliability of the bus system that has affected his choice.
“If I were to take the bus to work, chances are I would be fired in a few days. If I were to take the bus to the airport, I would definitely miss my flight.”Col. Deepankar Choudhary (Retd)
Over 30% of our respondents who rarely take the bus, echoed these feelings.
Contributing to the IT sector of Bengaluru, Doddanekundi itself is centred around the Bagmane Tech Park which attracts a large number of young professionals, all of whom stressed that ‘Time is Money’.
The absence of real-time tracking and non-adherence to the schedule has made it impossible to gauge the travel time and plan ahead.
Overcrowding: Undeniably, the risk of travelling in a closed and crowded public transport vehicle during the pandemic has posed a serious concern.
All our respondents, irrespective of the frequency of bus usage, almost unanimously agreed that overcrowding caused due to the absence of strict COVID regulations and lack of social distancing norms in buses has forced them to switch to private transport recently.
What needs fixing
Infrastructural Intervention: In November 2019, the government launched a welcome move to introduce the Bus Priority Lane from Silk Board to KR Puram. We interviewed several bus drivers who themselves noticed that travel time had considerably reduced since the inception, bearing testimony to its positive results. Moreover, the signal-free lane allowed buses to stick to their schedule and beat the traffic during peak hours.
This is significant in making buses more reliable. If scaled across the city, coupled with the installation of real-time arrival clocks at the bus stops, this can inculcate trust amongst users.
User Experience: While the pandemic poses a unique challenge to nudge citizens towards public transport, it also presents an opportunity to make much needed improvements to Bengaluru’s bus experience.
- In June 2016, Axis Bank in association with Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) launched ‘Axis Bank BMTC Smart card’, a Common Mobility Card that would offer commuters a cashless, hassle free bus experience. Unfortunately and ironically, for India’s tech capital, this plan still remains on paper. While contactless deliveries, identification and payments are on the rise the world over, there hasn’t been a better time than now for Bengaluru to adopt contactless digital payments in buses.
- In a country like India, where buses carry far more commuters than the number of seats available, a policy intervention to enforce strictly, a cap on the occupancy rates is imperative to address overcrowding. Further, these numbers could be made available to the public through real-time passenger information systems installed at public transit stations.
Information System: As migrants comprise half the city, it is important to address the cultural diversity of Bengaluru. Information about bus routes and bus numbers should be easily accessible and available by exploring diverse forms of media.
As we conducted bus infrastructure audits, the missed opportunities in ensuring a smooth bus user experience became strikingly clear.
For example, while there is a provision of voice announcements in some buses, these were hardly ever used. Almost all BMTC buses had digital screens that conveyed no information. There is a huge potential to ensure these screens display arriving stops in order to reduce dependency on Google Maps and in many cases, the conductors.
With the Metro yet to penetrate across the city, buses today are our only real mass transit option and the best chance we have at reducing traffic congestion.
With the use of public transport plummeting, it is critical to provide a safe and secure travel experience and in doing so, reform the public transport sector by providing valuable incentives for potential users to become regular and most importantly proud bus users.
An improved infrastructure system and strict policy interventions are essential in inculcating a behavioural shift to encourage more people to switch to the bus, during and after the pandemic.
Be a part of the change
[The authors are Mobility Champions for the #BengaluruMoving campaign with Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC). The #BengaluruMoving campaign aims to increase citizen engagement toward creating sustainable mobility solutions in Bengaluru. The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own.]