Provide accessible, low-cost bus services for all, urge Bengaluru’s bus users

Bus Rejuvenation plan

BMTC’s Rejuvenation Plan is an opportunity to Rejuvenate Bengaluru, says advocacy group Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike. Pic: Ekta Sawant

The Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike has urged the government to make ‘affordable service for all’ a key goal in its bus rejuvenation plan for the city.

In a petition addressed to the Chief Minister of Karnataka, the BBPV elaborated the impact of pandemic on the public transport corporation and made suggestions for the government’s proposed rejuvenation plan for the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation.

Over the past year Bengaluru saw diminished bus operations. People struggled with long wait times, crowded buses and costly commutes during the pandemic. BMTC struggled with low revenues and was unable to provide timely benefits and social welfare to its staff, who are struggling with longer shifts while braving a pandemic, BBPV said.

Various measures announced in the previous year, like bus fleet expansions, bus lanes in high density corridors were also halted as the government was unable to provide funds. To better this situation and also some of the longstanding needs of commute in Bengaluru, the BBPV demanded that the government make financial allocations for the following:

  1. Free travel for women (successfully implemented in Delhi)
  2. Prioritising construction of the 12 Bus Priority Lanes promised last year
  3. Expansion of the fleet by at least 3,000 buses
  4. Viability Gap Funding support (so they aren’t majorly dependent on ticket revenues)
  5. Development of infrastructure to improve walkability and cycling

Read more: Reducing BMTC Fares = Reducing Congestion, Emissions, Losses

The petition said that these longstanding demands and solutions would address the mobility needs of lakhs of Bengalureans and contribute to the development and health of the city. It is utterly disappointing that the government did not consider any of these demands, not even fleet expansion and bus priority lanes which it had allocated funds for in the previous budget. 

BMTC’s Bus Rejuvenation Plan

It is refreshing to see that despite the short-sightedness and stubborn neglect of the state government, BMTC is continually striving to improve its services, BBPV said. It welcomed its bus rejuvenation plan with a five-year time frame. 

Longstanding demands and issues addressed 

The plan factors in some of the long-standing demands of bus commuters and the critical role BMTC can and should play in the larger mobility scenario, the petition said.

Fleet expansion, bus priority lanes, multimodal integration with other sustainable modes such as walking and cycling, better depots, terminals and hubs, passenger information systems and a viability gap funding mechanism are all mentioned as part of the plan.

What’s missing

  1. Conspicuously absent, BBPV pointed out, are measures to make BMTC affordable for a wider section of society, especially the urban poor and two-wheeler users. The BBPV strongly urged BMTC to identify ‘affordable service for all’ as a key goal of its rejuvenation plan.
  2. A majority of Bengaluru’s bus stops do not have bus shelters. It’s not clear whether the rejuvenation plan includes bus shelters at all bus stops.
  3. It is indicated that BMTC will use the funds to establish a VGF mechanism, but it’s not clear how. Also unclear is how BMTC alone will achieve multimodal integration with walking, cycling infrastructure or the implementation of bus lanes, the petition noted.
  4. Given the scope and scale of the plan, Rs 700 crores, the amount BMTC is seeking, does not seem sufficient. Along with the plan, BBPV urged BMTC to share the complete financial requirements for the rejuvenation and how it seeks to finance it. 
People are forced to stand on the road since the bus stop has no designated shelter. Pic Credit: Prajwal N and Ajay Bailey

Call for public consultation

To make the plan more comprehensive and reflective of diverse concerns affecting public transport and mobility in the city, BBPV urged BMTC to make the plan public and call for wide public consultation so that commuters, activists and experts can provide their feedback and inputs to strengthen it.

GoK must provide financial and institutional support for the rejuvenation plan

While the bus users’ forum appreciated BMTC proactively seeking other sources of funding in the face of the government’s refusal to fund BMTC, it wonderd why the government is unwilling to fund a plan that will benefit the public and the city at large! 

Read more: “BMTC should be both safe and affordable during Lockdown 4.0”

Such a rejuvenation plan benefiting the city and its people as a whole is not BMTC’s sole responsibility, BBPV said, adding that DULT, BBMP, Traffic police and others have to share ownership and responsibility.

The government must take greater ownership and enable BMTC and other agencies to work together. It should create the following to achieve this, BBPV noted:

  1. Establish appropriate institutional arrangements to enable smooth planning and execution across agencies with clear accountability mechanisms.
  2. Provide funds so that BMTC is not forced to mortgage public assets under its administration or seek foreign loans, which often come with unknown conditionalities.

Critical role of bus transport in city’s mobility

Before the pandemic hit, BMTC served a commuter base of 35 lakh daily. Despite the reduced capacity due to the pandemic, 60% of commuters, 20 lakh commuters, have returned to the service.

Service and demand trends of BMTC since February 2020. Graph: Ravi Gadepalli/Twitter

As a comparison, Metro’s ridership was 4.5 lakh before the pandemic and 1.5 lakh now, 35% of its previous ridership. BMTC is the mainstay for commuting for a large section of Bengalureans, especially the urban poor and the working class.

However, BMTC’s central role in the city’s mobility is not reflected in the funding it receives. Budgets every year are proof of this, with hardly any funds allocated to BMTC, BBPV pointed out.

The state government alone has spent 4000+ crores on Phase 1 and is spending another 5000+ crores for Phase 2 of the Metro project. It is a travesty that to avail just Rs 700 crores, the BMTC is forced to approach international institutions for loans, the petition said.

Providing accessible, low-cost mobility is key for people’s well-being and access to a decent living. Given the economic crisis and slow recovery, this need is even more crucial., BBPV said. Affordable and accessible mobility will enable greater access and connection between people, markets, services, businesses, and consumers, leading to economic revival too.

The BBPV urged the government to recognise BMTC’s central role in enabling mobility and economic revival in the city and fully support the rejuvenation plan. This is an opportunity to rejuvenate not only BMTC but also the city’s mobility scenario as a whole. Investing in BMTC will give greater results than any other mode in the near-term., the petition said.

Like cities across the world are doing, the government must seize the opportunity and lead Bengaluru into a healthier, more sustainable, affordable and liveable future, the petition urged.

[This article is based on an online petition to Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa by Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV), and has been published with minimal edits.]

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