13,000 to 15,000 buses – that’s what Bengaluru needs right now!

“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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Ashwin Mahesh
About Ashwin Mahesh 85 Articles
Ashwin Mahesh has been involved in public policy for Bengaluru through his work with the Karnataka government. The views expressed here are his own. He is a member of the Lok Satta party. He is also CEO of Mapunity Information Services, and a director at Oorvani Media, publisher of Citizen Matters and India Together. He is also a visiting faculty with the Centre for Public Policy at IIM Bangalore.

3 Comments

  1. While these suggestions make total sense – who in government will listen to them, let alone act on them? Which (Indian) government service can keep track of demand and provide services to be responsive to that demand? BMTC resources are massively mis-allocated – you see ORRCA Volvo buses which are half empty, but refuse to pick up anyone else while plodding along next to it is an ordinary bus with standing room only on the foot board. Let the market work! Private services like zipgo, should be allowed and regulated. It has become a situation of “BMTC will not do anything to ease the situation of commuters and neither shall we allow anyone else to remedy the situation”. Perhaps it is time to take this government to court by a public interest litigation and force them allow private carriers in Bangalore.

  2. Well, your suggestion is downright dangerous, if done alone. Have you thought about
    1. Traffic congestion it may cause ?
    2. Have you seen low occupancy levels across BMTC fleet ?
    3. Have you seen the size of the BMTC buses even on narrow 1-lane roads ?

    While I agree public transportation is the ONLY solution for a high-dense city like B’luru, your suggestion to just increase fleet has to be in tandem with

    1. Congestion & Registration tax to discourage private vehicles
    2. BMTC doing everything possible to improve its occupancy at all times
    a. which could mean running minibuses at off-peak times
    b. BMTC should improve last mile connectivity by Tata winger-type vans for narrow, internal roads
    c. BMTC fares should be lowered further esp AC bus

    Here was my open letter to Ekroop Caur , CEO of BMTC

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1P-3usET9vXTK8qcvVJRS5zLRC9eJlTKJQyVizvUhfpE/edit?usp=sharing

    Open letter to Transportation minister with actions to take before June 2016
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/19FnyLd6JzQpJHvnr0MqromaenS7vivjCOHg13OCpgZ4/edit?usp=sharing

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