Citizen-activists in Bengaluru on Thursday asked Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy not to transfer out any buses to other parts of the state. Instead, they urged the government to redeploy the current fleet after scientific route rationalization to more useful routes if not add more buses.
This comes amidst media reports suggesting that AC buses run by the Bangalore Metro Transport Corporation (BMTC) will be transferred to other state-run coorprations like the North Eastern Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NEKRTC), the North Western Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NWKRTC) and the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC).
Activists also insisted that buses should not be seen from the lens of profit and loss but as a social welfare measure.
Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV) said they welcome the move to re-think the presence of Volvo AC buses and replace it with ordinary buses as it will greatly help the urban poor commuters and the corporation itself. “We, however, would like to emphasise that no buses should be taken off the roads till new buses are added to the fleet.”
Srinivas Alavilli, Co Founder of Citizens for Bengaluru, that has been fighting for public transport with campaigns such as ChukuBukuBeku and BusBhagya Beku, said “A fraction of the budget allocated for elevated corridor will more than cover for the losses – which are not “losses” – if you consider the enormous benefits of BMTC service handling 45 lakh passengers daily and reducing congestion and pollution. The BMTC needs to add 6000 new buses, and should not retire even one single bus considering the massive load it carries every day. Thousands of people want to take the bus and are unable to, due to lack of reliable and affordable bus service.”
While the city population has grown exponentially over the years, BMTC has failed to add any buses to its fleet in the last five years. Unscientific routes, and schedules have contributed to a decline in ridership and revenue, say activists.
According to its own report, BMTC ridership dropped from 51.3 lakh in 2014-15 fiscal to 44.37 lakh in 17-18. Incidentally, a period of average discount of 29% in tickets resulted in the ridership shooting up by 43% within 15 days’ time for its AC buses. Reports have highlighted that BMTC fares are the highest in the country.
At the same time, a total number of 6,19,745 vehicles (a majority of two-wheelers) were added on the city’s roads between November 2017 and November 2018 which meant an addition of 1697 vehicles per day on average.
BBPV further said, “Providing the differentiated quality of services for different classes of commuters is neither socially desirable nor economically viable as BMTC has found out through years of running these services. BMTC’s experience on Hosur Road showed AC bus ridership dropped after the introduction of high-frequency KBS-3 routes. What this indicates is that even for commuters using the AC services, high-frequency services are a more determining factor than AC services or not.”
Similarly, Citizens for Bengaluru, a pan-city civic group that has been fighting for public transport with campaigns such as ChukuBukuBeku and BusBhagya Beku, said, “When it is clear that numerous routes are underserved, or unserved, this is an extremely regressive move and will be a major setback for public transport. Bengaluru is already under-invested and under-prioritized by successive governments, leading to unlivable conditions of traffic congestion and pollution.”
Speaking in the sidelines of his village stay program, the CM on Wednesday had said, “There are over 1,000 air-conditioned Volvo buses being operated in Bengaluru city. They are incurring losses. It is profitable only when each bus runs 150–200 km a day. But that is not practically possible in Bengaluru. We are, therefore, thinking of handing them over to other Corporations.”
Elaborating further, Tara Krishnaswamy, co-founder of CfB, said surveys carried out by them and other such organisations, show that many garment workers, domestic workers and security guards barely earning minimum wage have no access toaffordable public transport.
She said, “They are forced to use illegal and unsafe tempos, walk several kilometres daily back and forth or live far away from family and close to work, meeting family only on weekends. This causes them to lose earning opportunities and makes the state derelict of the basic duty of enabling the right to livelihood.”
When asked for a comment, BMTC Chairman and senior Congress MLA NA Haris said, “There is no plan to move AC buses away from Bengaluru. Yes, there are losses, we will asses and rationalise journeys on these routes but there are profitable routes as well.”
Sources in the BMTC said a meeting will be held in the coming weeks between the MDs, Chairmen of these bus corporations along with the Transport Minister to arrive at a decision on the reallocation of resources.