Take the Bus !
Bangalore, August 28, DHNS:
Despite initiatives such as the ''Bus Day,'' Bangaloreans aren’t getting onto the public transport buses in big numbers. Here’s a comprehensive look at the issue.
Everybody loves a free road, decongested and wonderfully motorist-friendly. But to realise that dream, could you flood every inch of the City’s grossly inadequate roads with private vehicles of every hue. “No,” screams the traffic strategists, and predictably propose a vastly improved public transport system. Yet, one look at the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), the autos and taxis and you know, they aren’t really up to the challenge.
The Centre’s urban transport strategy is clearly based on restraining the unregulated growth of private vehicles. But how do you implement it, if BMTC’s initiatives such as the “Bus Day” are still only symbolic, and about a thousand vehicles are added to the City’s roads every day.
If BMTC’s services are dubbed “unreliable” by most private vehicle owners, and the City’s auto drivers are notoriously unruly, is there a real chance for a smooth and efficient public transport system to take shape?
Last Mile Connectivity
Perhaps, if the critical aspect of “Last Mile Connectivity” is looked into. Experts are clear that Bangalore’s bane is the lack of a multiple, integrated system of public transport, unlike in cities such as Kolkata, Chennai or Mumbai. In these cities, local trains or trams support the buses or vice-versa, hugely complementing the autorickshaws.
Often, Bangaloreans are forced to use private transport since there are no bus stations in many residential areas, and short trips in autos don’t come cheap. A telling instance is that of N Padmashree of Ulsoor, who commutes to Basaveshwarnagar everyday. “I have to walk almost a kilometre to get to the bus stand to board a bus to Shivajinagar. Again, I’ve got to walk a fair bit from the bus stand to Basaveshwarnagar,” says Padmashree, ruling out the autos as an option.
High BMTC fares
High fares levied by public modes of transport including the BMTC is cited as another reason why people prefer personal transport. But BMTC disagrees, contending that the fares are reasonable and only reflects the hike in petroleum prices.
Whatever the contention, the problem of mounting private vehicles is there for all to see. Here are some startling statistics: For a population of about 9 million, Bangalore has about 41 lakh private vehicles and only 90,000 public vehicles including 6,046 BMTC buses, around 80,000 autos and 3,000 odd taxis. Only about 42 per cent of the population use public transport, with BMTC catering to 42 lakh commuters daily. Experts opine that for the traffic situation to be healthy, at least 75 per cent to 80 per cent of the population must use public transport.
MN Sreehari, advisor to the State Government on infrastructure, traffic and transport, feels such high levels of private vehicles in any city will directly result in traffic congestion. “This is particularly so in Bangalore, which lacks planning too.” The congestion has definitely caught the traffic police and the transport department in a bind. It couldn’t be otherwise, when the transport department itself informs that about 41.30 lakh of the 90 lakh vehicles in the State are in Bangalore.
The transport department has been toying with different strategies to drive the public towards public transport. Introduction of different types of buses to cater to different classes of people is one such initiative, as BMTC MD Syed Zameer Pasha informs. The once-a-month “Bus Day” is another move, although its results are found wanting.
The Transport Corporation is also developing several Traffic Transit Management Centres (TTMCs) with parking facility, to encourage people to park private vehicles and use buses. This is claimed as one solution to address the lack of last mile connectivity. But the existing TTMCs are yet to record any noticeable success, the poor response to the parking facility at Jayanagar being a case in point. Perhaps, the perceived success of the AC Volvo buses could show the way.
Despite the publicity, the “Bus Day” initiative has largely remained a brand-building exercise. Transport Minister R Ashok admits it, but he reminds that the initiative is still in its nascent stage. “People will understand the importance of using public transport,” he says.
While many don’t share the minister’s optimism, there are experts who feel the Namma Metro might provide a breather. But they warn that its success too will depend on how well BMTC can play the role of a feeder. This crucial factor is echoed by Transport Commissioner Bhaskar Rao as well. “It is vital that the BMTC corresponds the metro and plies buses to various metro stations for people to take the metro.”
No end to traffic chaos
Mounting vehicular population on the City roads has triggered a litany of problems, too acute for the City traffic police to handle. Besides severely straining the road infrastructure, this explosive growth has triggered a traffic situation of unmanageable proportions, in the process affecting the physical, mental and psychological health of the policemen.
Ever on the rise, cases of traffic violation, traffic jams, slow-moving vehicles, fatal and non fatal accidents and episodes of dramatic road rages have all put the police in a clueless fix. The police obviously puts the blame for all these on the sheer number of vehicles.
“The City’s public transport system has drastically failed to meet the requirements of the travelling public, resulting in an ocean of private and personal vehicles. The public prefer personal and private vehicles because they are comfortable and quick,” reasons a traffic constable, exasperated by his daily struggle.
Faced with a volley of traffic woes, the police often rely on solutions that commuters find unscientific. The infrastructure too aren’t exactly world class. Unscientific road designs, improper traffic patterns, lack of practical wisdom while choosing places for construction of flyovers, underpasses and sub-ways have resulted in introduction of more one-ways.
Urban planner and architect, George K Kuruvilla notes that Bangalore’s is a ‘confused traffic planning’. “There is confusion everywhere, thanks to engineers who finalise traffic planning for the City instead of traffic planners. Ideally, we should have a group of trained traffic planners to plan for one-ways, places to construct flyovers, bridges, introduction of alternative public mode of transportation other than buses like mono rails, sky trains and sky buses,” he stresses.
A lack of understanding of traffic patterns by engineers, and unscientific decisions on major issues concerning road infrastructure have resulted in consumption of more time and energy and improper connectivity. These have naturally forced people to depend on personal vehicles, contends Kuruvilla.
The free parking system is another critical factor, reminds Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic & Security) Praveen Sood. “Why we see more private and personal vehicles on the roads is due to the free parking system. Nowhere in the world is parking of vehicles free,” he says.
The parked vehicles consume more space on roads forcing authorities to convert such roads into one-ways. Sood suggests that the one-ways can be abolished ensuring more space on roads if the parked vehicles are shifted to parking lots. “The abolition of one-ways will ensure proper connectivity, which will encourage people to use the public transport system,” that’s his recipe.
There has never been a dearth of solutions offered for the taxing traffic congestion of Bangalore roads. It is in the implementation of various plans that the City has faltered. The spiralling growth of vehicles has only made adopting plans even more tougher. Yet, there is a need to revisit the solutions suggested by traffic experts, long time road users and think tanks.
Sharing a private car by people heading to the same destination was an idea proposed by a team of techies a few years ago. It was a simple yet practical way to reduce the number of cars on the road. When the traffic police backed it and did a formal launch in November 2008, car-pooling looked big.
Yet, despite the police claims that the response has been “very good,” it hasn’t picked up pace beyond the IT/BT sector employees. It definitely calls for a more aggressive push.
“Re-rationalisation”of the bus routes will be a starting point for the government to attract citizens to use public transport, feels traffic expert and founder of Gubbi Labs, a private research enterprise, Sudhira. “Any person travelling from Banashankari to Malleshwaram need to change over at K R Market. Instead, they can ply direct buses in large numbers to ensure that such transit points are not a hindrance to people,” he explains.
Relook at fares
Since public transport also implies economical commuting, experts feel that ticket fares should be moderately priced. This goes for BMTC buses, autorickshaws and taxis. Pocket-friendly daily passes could be another option. While the Namma Metro is being cited as an alternative public transport, many feel the pricing should be moderate and integrated with other modes of transport. Many world cities have adopted the practice of a single daily ticket that will help the commuter travel by bus, metro or tram.
High decongestion taxes have vastly deterred car owners from entering the heart of the city in many countries. The tax might appear draconian to some, but has been a success worldwide. London and Singapore are cases in point. Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Praveen Sood is in favour of such as system for Bangalore.