Promoting Buses for a Day in Bangalore

Sudhir Gota

Many would be surprised to know that ‘Bangalore’ was one of the first in India to initiate a BRTS study.  In 1999, SIDA funded a feasibility project with a network of 20 corridors for bus routes comprising twin central rings intersected by 8 radial routes. However, authorities did not take any action on that report as the rolling stock / ‘buses’ were not being manufactured in the country and had to be imported from Volvo in Sweden thus increasing the cost of the project. After a decade of inaction, the next report advocating BRTS in Bangalore was the CTTP (2007) report (Transport Master Plan) which suggested nearly 300 km of BRTS along 14 corridors. The solution was supposed to cost only 2.7 Million USD/Km.  A team of Indian consultants prepared the detailed project report and submitted it back to the government in 2009. Latest reports suggest that authorities are still struggling to get the funding in place and the project may be delayed yet again.
In the midst of all this delay, it is interesting as a government backed report in 2003 recommended – ‘60% modal targets’. Setting modal targets and devising a strategy is the trend being followed with cities like Singapore – setting 70% public transport mode share by 2020, HCMC – 50% by 2020, Beijing – 45% trips to downtown areas by 2015.
The committee report recommended -
“It must be emphasised that the BMTC should use an external benchmark to gauge its progress on the providing improved connectivity. We recommend that the BMTC set a target of capturing 60% of all journeys by 2006 up from 50% currently. This would require increasing ridership and capacity by approximately 15% every year (compared to 10% currently).”
To increase the ridership, within a decade the BMTC (bus operator in Bangalore) innovated from destination based bus system to Grid system by rapidly expanding the fleet. BMTC was also first to initiate information systems such as SMS based alert system on the exact location of the buses. However, the system was disbanded within a short period of time without any reasons being specified.

 BMTC was also the first one to use JNNURM to fund its terminals.  BMTC is planning to construct 45 and Transit Management Centers (TTMCs) around Bangalore.
In 2010, to popularize the concept of bus travel, BMTC with several stakeholders unleashed the concept of “Bus Day”. It's a full day event where people are requested to travel on buses.  Bus day is conducted on 4th of every month. Travelling in buses is celebrated for a day.  Transport Minister and the Mayor make use of buses in their daily commute. The views of media and people are mixed. Some reports claimed that additional 10,000 people used buses with decrease in 10-15% private vehicles on roads but some reports claimed empty buses making the trips. Succeeding months have showed decrease in promotional intensity. The data from mobile vans of pollution control board at different locations indicates very slight reduction in air pollution which is suffocating and killing people in Bangalore. Please note the concentration of RSPM – which according to Indian laws is tolerable only uptil 60 µg/m3 crosses 250 at some places.

Are the proposed measures effective?

The statistics show constant reduction in bus trip mode share: 60.19% in 1994 (ILFS); 48.91% in 2002 (RITES); and 35% in 2008 (MOUD). Meanwhile, the 2-wheeler ownership motorization levels (2-wheelers per 1000 people) increased from 124 in 1995 to 247 in 2005.

To combat decrease in share, Bangalore doubled the number of buses in 7 years (2001-2007) but at the same time, owing to the growth in city size, the average trip length increased by 2.5km and per capita energy consumption increased from 3.59 Megajoules/Day (MJ/day) to 9.67 MJ/day. Thus it has been estimated that even if the trip mode share of Bangalore does not change, by 2025 the per capita energy consumption would increase to 15 MJ/day!

Clearly, increasing the buses and providing intermediate solutions will not provide results.  What makes BMTC a very interesting case study is that it has a fleet of nearly 6082 buses, which makes nearly 79150 trips carrying around 4 million passengers daily within a radius of 25 km from the city center, with 1.3 million service kilometers. The high pressure on the existing BMTC network is quite evident from the fact that the loading per trip is nearly 51 passengers. Each bus makes nearly 13 daily trips with an average trip length of 16km indicating high stress on drivers as they drive to congested traffic (210 km/day). The journey speed by buses for the major part of the day is only 15-18 kmph. Only 22% of bus stops are sheltered and often the complaint is that the buses do not stop at shelters thereby making them useful only for advertisement. Institutional issues reflect here as the bus stops are sheltered by a different agency and not the bus operating agency thereby creating conflicts. Over 60% of people actually walk to bus stations to access buses. Sometimes, bus commuters spend over 60% of time outside the bus rather than inside and this is an important factor. Without improving the access one cannot guarantee ridership. Accesses to bus stops are again under different institutions and this again creates a bottleneck.

It’s clear that just increasing the number of buses without improving the overall public transport system and integrating other modes is not enough. Public transport ridership will continue to decline unless city planners adopt innovative approach to retain the bus ridership.  Trips would always switch modes depending on quality of service. Celebrating bus travel and providing incentives with faster travel and better access throughout the year is a way to go. One day concepts would not make much of a difference!!