Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bangalore public transport

About 10 years back, we were somewhere near MG Road wanting to come back home at the unearthly hour of 730 pm. And in what would seem a familiar story, there was no other way to come back than take a rickshaw - whose ideas of fares would make airlines want to commit suicide. Rickshaws never offer a discount, while airlines often do. Take that, KFA.

The same story was repeated near ISKCON, Jayanagar and quite a few other places after which all us either depended on our own bikes or stayed put at home.

As a one time Mumbaikar, the comparison was hard to miss. Mumbai trains ran packed till 1 am. The buses were equally reliable. Autos charged you the exact fare and offered you the exact change back regardless of the hour of the day. Bangalore public transport sucked big time. There were no trains. Autos were a rip off.

Earlier this year, I travelled by BEST in Mumbai. The buses were shaking and rattling. The frequency was good, but hardly an improvement in 10 years. I got into an airconditioned service from Bandra to Navi Mumbai - the fares were cheap, but the service was quite a slow one. And not too frequent either. Most of my friends had given up using the bus over the past few years. BEST seemed to be fighting a losing battle in keeping up with the wishes of its customers.

Contrast with Bangalore. The Volvos - a familiar sight across Bangalore are as comfortable as a car, even if crowded. The number of people who use them (especially on the high density IT corridors) is a sight to watch. If all these people used their own transport, Bangalores chaotic roads would be so much worse. They have done another thing - perhaps unnoticed unless one is a user. Bangalore had a large number of private rattletraps registered as buses. These transported people in high decibels inside and outside with significant danger to both those inside and outside. Many of these are banished to the periphery (and theres no reason they even need to run, but some lobby ensures that dangers things still run).

Today, BMTC gives BEST a run for its money - across multiple parameters. Much has been written about it. But here is a user perspective.

So how did Bangalore BMTC win this?

Some years back, BMTC introduced the Volvo - now a familiar sight on Bangalore roads. In the initial days, there were a few Volvos running here and there and somehow, BMTC took a plunge by buying a whole lot of them. In my view, this is the crucial difference, between Mumbai and Bangalore. In Mumbai you will have to wait for an AC bus. Not a great thing when you have to reach office on time. Bangalore cracked this by flooding the road with buses - especially in the high density corridors. A bus nearly every few minutes - which is as good as perhaps Western Railway of Mumbai at peak time. So, at peak hours, you reach the stop and theres a bus before you can catch your breath.

The result? People dumped their cars and bikes and preferred to leave the driving to BMTC. It is pretty cool even if you are stuck in a traffic jam. The car drivers are busy crawling at 1st gear while you are hearing your own music in a cool bus. If you are on a bike, there is no comparison. And then, given Bangalores mad parking situation, imagine that you dont have to think of parking at all.

It also helps that auto fares are 20 rupees minimum and auto drivers haggle enough to increase the blood pressure of a monk. This has helped BMTC price its premium bus services in a way that they can make money off it as well - yet affordable and keeps enough buses on the road without having to transport people like cabbages. BMTC prices are more expensive than Mumbais and that is reflective of its target audience who dont mind paying for comfort. Monthly and daily passes (again, not dirt cheap, but competitively priced) make it more usable.

BMTC also has opened routes to many of the IT complexes and from many of the bigger housing societies - unthinkable anywhere in India. They have initiatives like Bus Day which are smart ideas. And then of course, their airport service perhaps has no parallel in India.

It is not all utopia, there are still enough people who think buses are a traffic obstacle and drive to work and back each day, but it is a great place to be from about say, 10 years back. BMTC has managed to attract an entirely new population to public transport and that is commendable. A large part of this credit to the transport minister, R. Ashok.

And if you think this is a one off story, make no mistake.

10 years ago, you would be hard pressed to find a KSRTC booking counter in most parts of Bangalore. APSRTC (AP, of course, was ruled by Chandrababu Naidu), on the other hand, had a counter in almost every block. Today, KSRTC is making more money and running better services than any of its neighbours. Some of them have woken up now, but KSRTC and its Airavats have left them far behind. Indeed, the KSRTC Airavat races to Mumbai from Bangalore in about 18 hours (with scope to cut it further) while the Indian railways train continues to take 24 hours - the same as perhaps when the train service started 50 odd years ago.

That is, in a nutshell a success story of both KSRTC and BMTC.


കിനാവള്ളി said...

Yes. This is how it should be. All it takes is a little bit of commitment to implement workable ideas without interference from busy bodies and vested interests.

The latest and best available technology helps. The Delhi Metro is a fully air-conditioned system of international standards. Even while constructing, such standards were followed along with the latest technology and equipment.

കിനാവള്ളി said...

BMTC succeeded for the same reason as the Delhi Metro. Use the latest technology and equipment and clean operating environment.

Delhi Metro chose to invest in fully air conditioned coaches, sophisticated technology to build and run the system and expanded rapidly to cover the city that because of its circular pattern of growth defied setting up of a public transport system.

Suneel Kunamaneni said...

Good article. I really wish more Bangaloreans walked more to the bust stop and took the bus. a. They will have good health because of some walking and b.) less pollution means better community health. However, the IT status quo implies car ride even if little distance.

In my apt everyone is keen about waste segregation but very few keen on public transportation. If more took public transportation there would be more improvements and innovations in our public transportation systems.