Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Save our public transport, save our city

Save our public transport, save our city

Anil Kumar Sastry
A good metro should have a public transport system that can prevent its private vehicles from congesting its roads
— Photo: K. Murali Kumar

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP SEA: With individually-owned vehicles and three-wheelers occupying every inch of the road, little space is available for BMTC buses, the lone public transport service provider in the city.


BANGALORE: So you bought that high-end car which packs real power under its hood. It purrs sensuously as you slide it out of your parking space. You get out on to the road and, instead of the fluid speed you were expecting, you find yourself — horror of horrors — crawling half-clutch.

When the best of cities offer a peerless public transport system for its citizens, we in Bangalore, ensconced in our own four-wheelers, manage an average speed of 12 kmph in the central business district and 18 kmph elsewhere.

Our arterial roads are crumbling under traffic two or three times their capacity.

For a truly enlightened civic administration, one of the priorities is a top-notch public transport system used by the bulk of its population, which is a precursor for economic growth in the form of easy access to workplaces, educational institutions and places of recreation.

Going by the number of individually owned vehicles — two-wheelers and cars constituting 90 per cent of the vehicle population in the city, there appears to be no sincere government effort to encourage people to use public transport.

Carbon footprints
Public transport, which occupies less road space, causes less pollution per passenger per kilometre and offers seamless mobility at cheaper rates, is yet to get its due in Bangalore.

Unlike other metros — Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata — that have a combination of road and rail services, Bangalore is entirely dependant on bus service provided by Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC). Even before the creaky BMTC realised what was happening, it found itself unable to cater to the city’s explosive growth in the 1990s. An opportunity was lost when young, well-paid professionals on the move chose to invest in their own mode of transportation.

According to traffic expert M.N. Sreehari: “No serious effort is being made by the Government to decongest the city roads, except widening of roads on Metro route. Though options such as congestion tax, car rationing and hefty parking fee are available, the Government has not made any effort in this direction.”

Alarming rise
While the number of households increased by 3.6 per cent between 1981 and 2006, it was an 11.5 per cent rise in the case of vehicles, according to the Comprehensive Traffic and Transport Plan (CTTP) prepared last year by Rites Ltd.

The share of cars and two-wheelers has increased from 3.5 per cent and 12.1 per cent in 1982 to 7.2 per cent and 32 per cent in 2006.

On the other hand, the share of public transport and bicycles declined from 55 per cent and 16.1 per cent in 1982 to 45.7 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively in 2006.

The CTTP had recommended creation of extensive mass transport system to provide wide coverage — 137 km of Metro, 60 km of monorail or light rail, 291 km of bus rapid transport and 204 km of commuter rail, creating a network of 607 km.

Though the Government created Bangalore Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA) in 2007 after the National Urban Transport Policy was formulated, two years down the line, all BMLTA has done is to hold a few meetings and workshops. The year-old proposal to offer it statutory position is yet to get legislative sanction.

Statutory powers
BMLTA Commissioner Mohammed Mohsin said the authority will soon get statutory powers once the Cabinet ratifies the draft proposals. Thereafter, the authority, apart from coordinating all land transport issues, can enforce the provisions to bring in uniformity aiming at promoting public transport.

According to M.K. Shankaraligne Gowda, Secretary to Government, Transport Department, the travel and transit management centres (TTMCs), built by BMTC, where people can park private vehicles and ride a bus, are aimed at promoting public transport. Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic and Safety) Praveen Sood said the 6,000 BMTC buses are inadequate to cater to the needs of the city, which requires at least 10,000. One bus can replace 20 cars and people are willing to pay for a comfortable journey.

However, the infrastructure, in the form of roads and bus depots, has to be upgraded, he said. Dedicated bus lanes have to be planned wherever new roads are being constructed. Of the 35 lakh vehicles in Bangalore, 25 lakh are two-wheelers and six lakh are cars.

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