Thursday, November 22, 2012

How Mumbai missed the bus on public transport

Karthiks tweet made me finally write this thought out. 

Each time I visit Mumbai – I realize that the public transport scene has not changed in the last 12 odd years. By much. Mumbai incidentally was the first to introduce Air Conditioned buses – as early as the late 90s. But over the years, they have somehow not been able to crack the market for taking public transport upmarket. Unless you count Cool cabs. The trains have been a pain – each passing day it becomes more and more difficult to squeeze in. The buses – once the pride of India – are no longer as good - and thats a pity. I mean, BEST is a good service but it has not kept pace with the times.

This, despite the fact that the Mumbai mentality is a very public transport friendly one. Unless you are some super elite – you would have used public transport at many points in your life. I would think about 99% of Mumbai was used to public transport. Public transport (and I include autos, taxis here) was cheap, reliable and plentiful.Why I say this is because of the city we are comparing with.

Cut to Bangalore. 12 years ago, I was stranded at some place (the center of the city) looking at a bus to go to some other place (less than 10 kms away) at the unearthly hour of 730 pm. No buses. And BMTC well, was a lumbering sleeply bus company. As it is, those blue dabbas were generally slow, overcrowded and unpredictable. The people of Bangalore avoided getting into these buses unless they had a choice. Autos were (and continue to be) bad and unfriendly. There was no cab service worth its name.

And then R Ashoka happened. As did a few other things.That changed the face of both BMTC and KSRTC.

If you visited Mumbai in 2000 and 2012 – you will see a huge increase in vehicles on roads – a lot of those who used to use public transport shifted to using their own vehicles. The overall road scenario has improved, but public transport has not kept pace with demand. But someone who comes to Bangalore after 12 years will not recognize the city. At peak hours, BMTC floods the roads with its beautiful big red bus – the pride of its roads - the Volvos. And there is a bus every few minutes on the E-city, ITPL and Ring Road corridors - the big traffic corridors. And almost every bus is full. These buses are airconditioned and charge a premium for their ride (overall, public transport is more expensive than Mumbai). But they are fast, comfortable and plentiful. The last two points are usually the big reason people don’t want to dump their vehicles - you crack it and you get people off their high horses. The number of Volvos in Bangalore is perhaps higher than any city in the country. 

And I believe this is where Mumbai – missed the bus. AC services are few and far in between. And waiting for them just isn’t worth it. With the creaky train infrastructure which will remain that way until the Metro comes up – the BEST had a golden opportunity of going upmarket with AC buses and the like. Bangalore has successfully transitioned many users from bikes and cars to buses – simply by making its service more reliable, comfortable and plentiful.

Mumbai can still do it - the traffic jams in the city are just too unbearble and the city can pay as much, if not more than Bangalore. A bus corridor is perhaps all it takes. But thats for the city planners to decide.

Bangalore had quite a few things against it. A general public transport unfriendly populace. Bad roads. And a circular city. But BMTC has managed to convert each of these – and some of the recent road widening exercises have come in handy – into a winner for its bus service.

Apart from these – the cab scene in Bangalore is pretty good. Rickshaws are painful (though as compared to Delhi or Chennai they rock – as compared to Mumbai they suck). And the airport buses, well, they are a breeze...

(More on public transport here)
(Cross posted on Centre Right India)

No comments: