GoK Budget 2021-22 Proposal for Improving Bus Transport in Bengaluru

In the year 2019-2020, bus commuters in Bengaluru had hopes of improved bus commute thanks to the successful pilot of the Bus Priority Lane on the ORR, the announcement to expand it to 12 high density corridors, and the budgetary announcement of the expansion of BMTC’s fleet. However, due to the pandemic, the plans for expansion of the fleet and of bus lanes have been dropped. More worryingly, the fleet has reduced as buses were decommissioned and new buses have not been brought. Finally, BMTC’s financial strength has suffered as ridership has come down significantly.

We are in the midst of a mobility crisis worse than ever. Mobility is essential for people to access their jobs and education. But mobility has become much more inaccessible as:

  1. People have lost jobs and wages and find the bus fares even more affordable.
  2. Bus schedules have been cut for various reasons including reduction in bus fleet.
  3. With occupancy in buses restricted due to the pandemic, the available capacity has reduced even further leading to even higher waiting times.

While the urban poor are struggling to access bus services, the middle class and rich have increased adoption of private vehicles. Unless the situation is rectified, we will have the poor struggle to access jobs and education, while Bengaluru will also see greater congestion and pollution than pre-covid times once all offices and educational spaces open up.  It is in this context that the government and BMTC need to support people through ensuring accessible mobility.

BBPV has submitted a multi-pronged proposal to the government on what could be done to revive BMTC and ensure accessible and affordable mobility. The proposal includes tried and tested methods from across India and basic measures to ensure more people use public transport.

These measures can strengthen BMTC, enable it to provide improved mobility in Bengaluru and ease the economic burden on the urban poor.

Item/Head Approx. Cost
Free travel for women as implemented in Delhi’s DTC buses 800 cr (as per BMTC sources)
Fast-track implementation of 12 Bus Priority Lanes (BPL) with monitoring and institutional arrangements 200 cr (for 170 km, as per 2019 CMP)
Expansion of the bus fleet by 2500-3000 buses 1,250-1,500 cr (for procurement)
Financial support to BMTC in the form of Viability Gap Funding and tax exemptions 800 cr (if govt supports free travel for women, that will also contribute to this)
NMT Infrastructure for improved walkability and integration of cycling with bus commute 1,250-1,500 cr

Proposal Details: Rationale and Benefits & Outcomes

Mobility and Public Transport in Bengaluru

Urban transport is an important domain that requires serious attention in all cities. In Bengaluru, there are many crucial concerns regarding urban transport. During the budget season, it’s especially important for the government to consider sufficient allocation in the budget towards urban transport solutions that are affordable, equitable, and sustainable. Mobility is an essential enabler for access to education, livelihood, health, and leisure in cities. 

It’s well known that the right way to provide mobility is to promote public transport and discourage use of private modes of transport. The National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) recommended this in 2006. Even now, Bengaluru has not taken any substantive measures to discourage use of private modes of transport. The government has not made a holistic plan or substantive investments in public transport and associated infrastructure for safe walking and cycling. In fact, even after widespread public opposition and protests, the Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) for Bengaluru is still heavily invested in projects like elevated corridors which are part of the failed model that incentivises private modes.

Instead, efforts continue to promote “big ticket” projects like the metro as the main mode of public transport. The Metro’s exorbitant financial and other costs beg the critical question of whether and to what extent this investment really serves the public. A recent survey by the Delhi government is instructive in this context: After building a city wide metro network of ~370km over 20 years spending ~70,000 crores, a mere 6% of Delhi’s commuters travel by metro and 60% still rely on the bus. These eye-opening figures should make Bangalore’s planners seriously rethink whether expanding the Metro network beyond Phase-2 will really bring significant enough benefits to mobility in Bengaluru to justify the costs. 

Bus-based Public Transport has received very little policy attention and public funding for decades. The BMTC bus fleet has largely remained the same while the city’s population and private vehicles saw explosive growth over the past two decades. A small beginning to rectify this was made in the last couple of budgets by allocating funds to BMTC to procure new buses. Budget allocations provided for a net increase of 1500 buses (after scrapping old buses). After the successful pilot of the bus priority lane on the ORR, the 2020-21 budget had announced extending bus priority lanes across the city, along 12 high density corridors. While these are welcome moves, they are insufficient for improving public transport in one of the most congested cities in the world. Further, despite the policy announcements and budget allocations, actual procurement of buses and expansion of bus priority lanes did not happen, as last year’s budget allocations were used to tide over BMTC’s revenue deficits and sustain operations through the pandemic and lockdown induced crisis.

The pandemic has again brought the precarious financial health of BMTC to the fore. Without enough ridership during the pandemic, BMTC was forced to reduce the number of buses and schedules, bringing down its revenues significantly. This has affected its ability to pay staff salaries on time. Although the government stepped in to cover the salaries, the delayed payments even during festival times and other dissatisfactions among staff also led to a four day strike and suspension of bus services in the city (and across Karnataka). 

Being forced to depend on revenue to pay salaries and finance operations has led to serious concerns for commuters as well. BMTC has the highest city bus fares in the country, making public transport expensive for large sections of urban poor and a squeeze on their incomes. Coupled with the economic crisis post pandemic and lockdown and loss of incomes and jobs for many in the working class, affordable mobility has become even more of a concern. These concerns become even greater if one takes into account the fact that women are much more dependent on public transport, and have also suffered disproportionately in the pandemic year. But BMTC is not in a position to provide affordability mobility due to its revenue-driven approach to provisioning services. The high fares also make BMTC non-competitive when compared to two-wheelers or shared modes of travel such as auto/cabs for families and groups. This has led to proliferation of other modes at the cost of public transport.

Activities and Initiatives Proposed

Keeping this context and these issues at the forefront, BBPV would like to submit the following as our budgetary demands to the government of Karnataka. 

  1. Free travel for women: The Delhi government made DTC buses free for women in 2019. This measure by the Delhi govt was a highly successful intervention and very popular among commuters and the larger public as well. This measure proved to be a major relief to the urban poor and made the bus a more economical and competitive mode compared to other modes. More women took to buses bringing along the accompanying men as new paying commuters, increasing the revenue as well. While the outcomes and benefits of this intervention can be further studied, we can be sure that such a measure in Bengaluru will significantly improve the affordability of transport for the urban poor and increase the mode share of buses, thereby impacting congestion as well. It would be a significant transformative step to the government’s credit and a mobility game-changer if city bus transport can be made free for women.
  2. Fasttrack city-wide implementation of Bus Priority Lane: This will improve the travel time by bus and make the bus more attractive and efficient. Along with bus priority lanes on high traffic density corridors, route rationalization to improve connectivity to the corridors and across corridors and last mile connectivity from bus stops to homes also need to be provisioned for Bus priority lanes to deliver its fullest potential. Encroachment of bus lanes by other vehicles is a major deterrent to its success, therefore measures to ensure compliance such as deployment of adequate traffic police, cameras along bus lanes or in buses etc. must also be accounted for when planning the budget. In addition to allocating adequate funds for all of these, clear responsibilities must be assigned to the relevant authorities such as BBMP, Traffic Police, DULT, BMTC etc. and an effective coordination mechanism put in place to ensure speedy and effective implementation and success of Bus Priority Lanes across the city. 
  3. Expand the bus fleet: Increase the fund allocation to BMTC to buy more buses. Provide adequate funds to enable direct procurement of buses by BMTC without forcing adoption of PPP models like GCC. PPP models will weaken and impoverish public transport in the long run. While it may be beneficial for BMTC to pilot e-buses, larger procurement in hundreds should be taken up after careful evaluation; direct procurement and operation by BMTC gradually should be encouraged even for e-buses.
  4. Operational support for BMTC: It’s a well known fact that public transport will always be a loss making enterprise and it cannot fund its operations from its own revenue. Affordability is also a concern for commuters, especially the working class and urban poor, more so now in the deepening economic crisis post lockdown. Under the circumstances, financial support for BMTC to provide affordable mobility and provide services across the city irrespective of revenue considerations, is very important. This support could be provided in various forms:
    1. Viability Gap Funding to cover the gap between ticket collection and operational costs or by paying staff salaries (like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh do)
    2. Waive off various taxes that BMTC needs to pay to the government, like Motor Vehicle tax, Fuel taxes, taxes on spare parts etc.
    3. Free passes could be extended to a wider cross section of workers by the government, like was done for construction workers and garment workers. Labor department and social welfare department also could contribute to these as social welfare measures
    4. Additional resources could be raised through congestion taxes and parking charges and other innovative taxes on use of private vehicles
    5. Substantive share of State Urban Transport Fund, Smart City Mission and other such sources could be used for bus transport considering a majority of people travel by bus
  5. Improve NMT infrastructure: Walkable footpaths, safe at-grade crossings and walking paths at major bus interchanges and junctions such as K R Puram, Silk Board, Domlur, Jayadeva junction etc. are also essential infrastructure for bus commuters as well as to encourage more use of buses. These are basic facilities that any city that cares for the safety and wellbeing of its residents, let alone a city like Bangalore which aspires for global standards of urban living. GoK should provide adequate funds to achieve this vision for the entire city. Furthermore, installation of bike racks on all buses will allow greater integration with workers who rely on bicycles.

We also request the government to call for a meeting of bus commuters and advocacy groups like BBPV and others to understand the concerns and demands of the regular commuters and to improve the quality of bus service available for common people in the city. 

Cordially Yours,
Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike

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