“Better than nothing” is not progress. It’s just better than nothing. If we set our metrics so low, we can never develop.
Take the example of buses. The city needs about 13,000 to 15,000 buses to reach the kind of service levels that are seen in places with excellent bus service globally (1,250 buses per million of population). Also, each year, as the population grows, the fleet strength has to grow by about 200-300. That’s the need.
The actual fleet strength now is 6,500. And each year, 600 buses are scrapped, so these need to be replaced to keep the fleet strength even at 6,500. And another 300 need to be added to keep the service efficiency at current levels, given the rising population.
Together, these mean two things. One, we need another 8,000 buses to bring the service levels to what they need to be, and make a meaningful dent on private transport use. And two, we need to add 900 buses a year to remain at least at the current low levels of service.
Doing both will surely help. Keep in mind that half the city travels by 6500 buses daily, and the other half travels by 55 lakh private vehicles. It’s a no-brainer to keep strengthening the public transport options.
Repeated efforts by almost everyone who has thought about public transport to increase the fleet strength over 10,000 have not yielded any result. Incredibly, governments that say they are worried about traffic congestion and air quality have not acted on the single most important thing they can do to address these problems – improve the supply of public transport.
Alongside this come the occasional announcements, like “we are going to add 600 buses now” or “1,600 buses” this year”, etc. Frankly, given the production schedules and capacities of manufacturers, even if we announce an addition of 1,500 buses, it takes two years or more to actually induct them into the fleet. And while we are celebrating this step, we seem to forget that the actual demand for new buses is 1,800 over two years, so by adding 1,500 we’ll actually fall behind compared to where we are.
We have to look at the NEED to decide whether we are doing enough. Otherwise, we simply end up with “better than nothing”. And that comes at a terrible cost.
In other sectors, the problem is even worse. Housing, education, healthcare … these need to be made affordable for a lot more people, but the gap between supply and demand in those is so vast that no one is even trying to address them anymore. We’re like ostriches with our heads in the sand, hoping that the world we don’t see doesn’t exist. And the poor in our society live with the needless suffering that this produces.
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So when are you starting to travel regularly by BMTC bus?