One of the things that strikes me repeatedly, as I’ve been looking at traffic issues, is how there are some things that would simply not be apparent to the regular road user. Getting those things fixed will be critical, going forward. And a good deal of our investment of attention and effort should focus on such things. Here are just two challenges that BMTC, our bus service provider has to contend with, that I would not have imagined before I starting looking at their operations.
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1. An under supply of depots: For many layouts that have come up in the last 15 years, there is no bus depot yet. Even relatively established neighbourhoods like J P Nagar suffer from this. This means that the buses plying on routes that operate in such layouts have to be parked elsewhere, and there is an un-necessary amount of dead mileage to bring them to the route each morning, and take them back to the depot each night. It is estimated that with a few more depots alone, BMTC could improve its operational efficiency by 6 or 7 per cent. That’s the equivalent of adding 300 buses to the current fleet!
2. While BMTC runs the buses, the bus stops are owned by BBMP. And so are the roads, or in some cases they are owned by BDA (flyovers), or the PWD. The NHAI is also getting into the mix, in the outskirts of the city. The construction of bus shelters, and the information put up at these shelters, has to be clearly coordinated with the bus services themselves. But this becomes very difficult when different agencies own the different assets to be managed. There’s also a fair bit of advertising money to be earned from the shelters, which creates some distracting issues as well.
There’s also something else that I learned recently. In some of the old contracts with vendors, BMTC followed ‘L1’ type tendering, and selected the lowest price quote among the vendors for things they wanted. But the bus is a very valuable public space, and of late there’s been some interest in earning advertising money from it. So some of the newer tenders are following an ‘H1’ type of system, where vendors offer to pay BMTC for the right to provide some product or service, in exchange for ad space on the bus. Whoever offers more money gets the bid.
On the face of it, this seems like a creative way of earning more money. But this may be hard to carry off. The vendor has a core competence in the product or service he is offering, not in earning money through ad space sales. H1 bidding creates a scenario where he now has to focus on two streams of work instead of one, potentially putting the purpose of the project at risk. It may be safer to go back to the old system, simply to focus on core objectives, even if it means giving up some money.