Get on the Bangalore bus

Getting from one place to another in the cities and towns of India is no easy task. While the Delhi Metro has undoubtedly made a huge difference to commuters in the nation's capital, public transport options in the form of bus or train services for residents of most cities of India remain not only limited but also unsafe, unclean and unreliable.

Bangalore Metropolitan Transportation Corporation (BMTC), an independent corporation carved out of the Karnataka State Road Transportation Corporation (KSRTC) in 1997, stands out among the State Transport Undertakings in the country in providing an efficient and wide-ranging variety of bus services to suit the needs of different income groups in Bangalore. It does so while also making a profit. Prior to 1997, bus services in Bangalore were no different from the usual state of affairs elsewhere. The range of services was limited. The two divisions of KSRTC that were responsible for running bus services in the city typically made annual losses of around Rs 30 crore.

Bangalore has grown from 531 sq km in 2001 to 800 sq km in 2007. Its population has increased from 57 lakh in 2001 to 84 lakh in 2011, while the number of registered vehicles has increased from 16 lakh to 39 lakh. Of these, 88 per cent are personal vehicles. Imagine the plight of the city if the bus services had not shown a significant improvement! Even with the transformation, Bangalore is notorious for its traffic jams and congestion arising from lack of transit-oriented planning as the city grows in area, population, and economic prosperity. But BMTC has played a major role in addressing the challenge of public transportation.

BMTC has a fleet of 6138 buses. It makes close to 80,000 bus trips every day, provides different degrees of comfort at different prices, covers 13 lakh service kilometres and carries 47 lakh passengers within greater Bangalore. It offers an impressive array of services to suit the multiple demands of its customers. There are close to 4000 ordinary bus services operating in the city. Atal Sarige is a service for specific locations to cater to the demands of economically weaker sections of society at half the fare of ordinary services. The Pushpak service, using about 300 buses with better upholstered seats, headrests, more leg space, etc. is popular among corporate groups. At the high -income end, Vajra service is provided by plying air-conditioned low-floor Volvo buses to put their service on par with the personalised mode of transport. Volvo buses are also deployed for Vayu Vajra service for connectivity from different locations in the city to the Bangalore International Airport. A BIG-10 service has been introduced on 12 major traffic corridors to provide services to connect a few important places with high frequency.

Passenger-friendly initiatives have included the introduction of the monthly pass system with special features to attract customers, for example, Rs 1 lakh as insurance for loss of life, Rs 20,000 towards medical treatment, etc. Monthly-pass passengers have increased from 43,000 in 1998-99 to over 300,000 in 2011-12. Daily pass passengers in 2011-12 were also over 100,000.

Fleet modernisation, expansion and good maintenance have played a major role in improving the quality of bus services in Bangalore. In 1997, the corporation had 2098 buses with an average age of seven years; the oldest bus was 20 years old. Today it has the youngest fleet in the country with an average age of 3.9 years. Increasing the number of bus depots to 39 and spreading their location in the city has enabled saving of dead time and kilometres by the fleet. A system of regular pre-emptive checks has been put in place, supplemented by a system of mobile workshops using fast-moving small vehicles driven by mechanics. As a result, there has been a dramatic decline in the rate of breakdowns from 0.64 per 10,000 km in 1996-97 to 0.05 in 2009-10.

Safety remains a major concern as BMTC expands its scope of activity in a city environment deficient in overall urban planning. The rate of accidents has declined from 0.32 per lakh kilometre in 1997-98 to 0.15 in 2007-08, although the absolute number of accidents increased from 472 in 2003-04 to 578 in 2007-08 as service kilometres increased.

Financial sustainability of BMTC is ensured by a pricing policy that has an element of cross-subsidy whereby customers utilising higher-end services subsidise their counterparts using ordinary bus services, and exploiting other sources of revenue. This is significant because user charges in road transport are typically not able to cover costs and there is always need to buttress revenue through other innovative means. While BMTC makes a profit of Rs 50 crore, DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) makes a huge loss of Rs 2000 crore, its operating losses alone amounting to Rs 500 crore.

In mobilising revenue, BMTC has made innovative investments in land (they have 1,400 acres of land) and is unlocking its value through real estate development. In a national pilot project, BMTC received funding under JNNURM to build 10 Traffic and Transit Management Centres (TTMCs) in Bangalore. These centres not only provide bus terminals, bus bays and maintenance depots but are also designed to house passenger amenities such as Bangalore One, ATMs and shops for daily needs. Operational activity at the bus terminals has started, but the process of tendering for commercial activity is currently going on. There is a lot of scope for revenue mobilisation as the project comes into full swing and the other 35 planned TTMCs also come on board. In this season of taxes, it is worth noting that buses do not get any favourable treatment vis--vis cars. In fact, excise duty on buses has been raised from 10 per cent to 15 per cent. In addition, bus companies have to pay 1 per cent of the ticket revenue as passenger taxes.

BMTC has used IT extensively to streamline its operations. All operations in the depots such as ticketing, stores, accounting etc. have been fully computerised. E-tendering is used for procurement of goods and services, and bus route information is available online. After experimenting with GPS-GIS for vehicle tracking and passenger information systems on a pilot basis, BMTC is currently floating a new tender to use GPS-GIS based system on all its services.

All BMTC bus depots are equipped with latest the emission testing facilities. In keeping with the stipulation of the government of India, the sulphur content in diesel use has been brought down from 250 ppm to 50. All new buses (350) comply with the Euro IV standard, while close to 4,000 buses are complying with the Euro III standard. BMTC pays Rs 1,000 to any person who informs them about a polluting bus plying on the roads of Bangalore. The 4th of every month is observed as Bus Day to encourage the citizens of Bangalore to leave their private vehicles home and use public transport. A 10 per cent decrease in the amount of pollutants in the air has been documented, and this is also associated with a significant decrease in the amount of respirable suspended particulate matter as well as carbon monoxide on the Bus Days.

Beginning with UITP Asia Pacific award for outstanding performance in the field of affordable public transport in 2002, BMTC has received numerous awards year after year, including the International Gold Star Millennium Award in Bangkok in 2006-07 and the Prime Minister Civil Service Excellence Award in 2009. The awards and the sustained good performance of BMTC is a remarkable story to narrate. U. Tripathi, the then managing director of BMTC, who spearheaded the reforms to bring about the transformation of BMTC has this to say: "The great transformation story of BMTC, is a success story of work by drivers, conductors, mechanics, and management." He also emphasised the role played by the late Mr Gokulram, then chairman, BMTC in keeping the morale of the BMTC staff high in the face of stiff resistance to reform in the initial stages.

The lessons from BMTC are being narrated world over, and it is high time our own transport corporations took some inspiration from what has been achieved in Bangalore.

The writer is chairperson of ICRIER and former chairperson of the high-powered expert committee on urban infrastructure services

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