Traffic / Transport Solutions


Saturday, June 21, 2008

professionalised bus services - the only answer

text of the posting made by me on the Hasiru Usiru Yahoogroup on 10th June:

I am amazed. All of us are agreed that better public bus transport services is the answer. But, rather than demanding effective competition from professional players, which in my opinion is the only factor that can make BMTC accountable, we continue to suffer its incapacity meekly. Various attempts have been made by various people and teams, and at various stages, to make BMTC's functioning more user friendly (Their operations are supposed to be profitable - so, there's no problem there). But, they have all had just marginal impact, if at all.

There are more attempts being made even now. I can only wish them all good luck. As far as I am concerned, I have given up. I am talking from my experiences while working with BMTC for over two years in the capacity of the co-Chairman of its Commuter Comfort Task Force (CCTF), and later while implementing the "Yelli Iddira?" service.

Leave alone "Yelli Iddira?", leave alone route rationalisation. Also, they can continue to display the route names only in Kannada as per the dictates of organisations like the KRV (Kannada Rakshana Vedike), though in the process they will be losing out on the custom of the huge non-Kannada speaking floating population. All I am asking is that they display just the route numbers in internationally recognisable Arabic numerals (as they are called) on say atleast 90% of the buses prominently (Just check out for yourself, when you step out, whether what I am saying is true or not). Can anyone manage that, to begin with? I would like to see.

I would again like to reiterate that BMTC is amongst the best of the public bus transport services in the country, and has also been steadily improving its services over the years. There's absolutely no denying that. Also, most present users are content with its present level of operation. And, if BMTC was to cater to the needs of just this section of the population, it could have carried on in the present fashion - no problem. But, with the trips made by this lot contributing to just 45% odd (in my opinion, it should be much lower) trips made by the citizens on the whole, and the city population growing at an exponential pace, the remaining 55% trips made using personalised forms of transport are going to get our roads progressively more cluttered than they presently are. So, if there has to be a solution, we have to get these people to switch to using the public bus transport services, at least for commuting, which cannot happen unless there is a quantum improvement in the service quality, much above the present level. Appealing to the people's conscience over environmental issues can work for say 10%, higher fuel cost can contribute may be another 15%, but the bulk 75% conversion can happen on account of this one factor alone.

So, what I am suggesting today is that we direct all our efforts at engaging the minister concerned into effecting policy changes to bring in effective competition, which is the only way we can solve the problem as well as make BMTC more accountable.

For more, click on

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

road to prosperity

Road to Prosperity - UP offers investment opportunities in Transport Sector - the UP government ad (in all leading dailies today) caption says it all. They have decided to allow private sector to operate passenger buses (stage carriages) on all routes, including notified/ nationalised routes.

This is exactly what is required in as key an infrastructure area as public bus transport services. The resulting prosperity in the rural areas, and the de-congestion in the urban areas, are going to be the new drivers of the state economy.

Salient points (as appearing in the ad), and my comments are as below:

a) Government has decided to allow private sector to operate passenger buses (stage carriages) on all routes, including notified/ nationalised routes.
Comment: Excellent

b) Selection through a competitive bidding process to operate on area/ route permit basis.
Comments: The idea of competitive bid is obviously to maximise revenue for the government. Now, this is a key infrastructure sector, which has been badly neglected all these years due to bad government policies. As such, rather than just attempting to maximise revenues, the government should evolve a process which will facilitate the entry of professional organised sector players, even if it amounts to foregoing a bit of the revenue in the process, initially. The indirect benefits to the state's economy, by the opening up, will eventually prove far more beneficial than the revenue foregone.

And, rather than allocating routes, it will be better to identify some 3 players initially, and allow them freedom to select/ fix routes, schedules, type (luxury/ ordinary, etc), as well as fares.

After allowing for some three months from the date of operationalisation (for stabilisation), additional players may be brought in, however keeping the overall capacity at not more than 25% of the total estimated demand.

c) Operator should be willing to service every revenue village in his operational area.
Comment: If the roads are maintained properly, and if there are no restrictions on the fare leviable, this will be automatic. And, if an operator charges high initially, others will soon come along, and level things out.

d) Company/ Consortium should bring in a fleet of 4,000 or more buses.
Comment: If as suggested earlier, some three players are identified initially, this should be OK. This provision appears to have been introduced essentuially to eliminate the BLUELINE kind of operators. But, this seems to be going to the other extreme. A figure of 1,000 is more realistic.

e) Buses, particularly on trunk routes, required to have all kinds of gadgetry, in addition to safety and disabled-friendly aspects.
Comment: While safety and disabled-friendly aspects need to be insisted on, the other aspects can be left to the operators to choose whether to provide or not.

f) Operators should have mixed fleet - luxury, ordinary, large/ small, etc based on route requirements and passenger demand.
Comment: Again best left to the operators to decide, based (as stated) on route requirements and passenger demand.

g) Buses should not be more than one year old at the time of grant of permits, and maximum age thereafter - 10 years for trunk route operation; 12 for feeder route operation.
Comment: very much desirable

h) Expression of interest accompanying bank draft of Rs 15,000/- invited.
Comment: Should be OK. But, as I have already stated, revenue maximisation should not be the only criterion.

Beyond the above, I will be in a position to comment only as and when addition info is available. Unfortunately, the government/ department web-site is not exactly very informative.

However, another important aspect that has necessarily to be looked into is the need for 'all bus stands to be taken over and run (or better still - leased out to professional contractors) by local bodies, like City Corporations, Municipalities, etc, making the facilities available to all service providers against user charges.

More on these, and other aspects are outlined in the very first posting on this blog, and at

Now, whatever is Karnataka waiting for???

Monday, April 28, 2008

too heavy a price to pay

text of the letter sent to the press:

The reports (and accompanying pictures) in the press over the last week on the bus accident in Bodeli, Gujarat, leading to the death of 45 people, 41 of them school children, made for extremely sad reading. Whether it resulted from poor maintenance practices or driver negligence, repeat incidences of similar nature, across the country (there were two involving our own BMTC in the 3rd week of March), are a clear indication of the moribund state of the public bus transport services sector, languishing as they remain largely dominated by the state. Even where private players have been allowed, too many controls remain for the organised sector players to be interested in making an entry. And, the fact of he matter is that unless the organised sector players come in, there is no salvation for this key infrastructure sector. And, we will continue to pay a heavy price.

Safety is just one aspect. The other costs on account of incapacities and inefficiencies can be valued at a zillion.

Monday, March 31, 2008

veritable death-traps

text of the letter sent to TOI:

I refer to the report about the car crash in Krishnagiri (on the Bangalore-Chennai express-way) resulting in the death of two young men, and serious injuries to a young lady, published in your columns on the 29th, under the caption 'car did 90 km in one hour'.

The whole idea of building 'tolled' express-ways is to enable fast travel, and, with modern cars matching up in performance, 90 kmph speed is passe'. Now, out of the toll amounts collected, apart from keeping the roads in good repair, one would have expected that the contractors are required to carry out rigorous patrolling to ensure that traffic violations (by a local bus), of the kind that led to the accident, do not happen. Very clearly, that's not quite the case, turning these express-ways into veritable death-traps. The bereaved relatives will be doing a great service to the public by lodging hefty compensation claims in order that appropriate lessons are learnt for the future.

Also, no credible effort seems to have ever been put in by the State in educating the rural folk living along these road stretches, and using them for their daily chores, on even basic safety aspects.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

dependability of BMTC in question

text of the letter sent to the press:

Within the same week, there have been two instances of BMTC buses being involved in serious crashes, supposedly due to 'brake failure'. In one, the conductor died, even as many were injured, and quite seriously too, in both.

Now, with the kind of advanced technologies that go into vehicle design and manufacture these days, one hardly hears of such happenings elsewhere. Very clearly, therefore, these mishaps are resulting out of the poor maintenance practices followed by BMTC - doesn't quite inspire much confidence amongst the public, particularly when it is poised to take on the additional responsibility of providing critical connectivity to the new airport.

Ironically, also, even as these reports have appeared in the press, there is another about the conferment of a 'Citizen Extraordinaire' award by a Rotary Club on the MD. Admittedly, extra-ordinary efforts are required to make a monopoly government organisation accountable!

Monday, March 24, 2008

A critique on BRTS

The following is the full text of the comments under 'guest column' on page 2 of TOI today.

Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) when operated with high capacity buses gets to be called High Capacity Bus System (HCBS).

Curitiba in Brazil supposedly pioneered this model, following the 'success' of which quite a few other cities across the world have adopted it. In India, a team of technocrats from IIT, Delhi have been advocating this model from long, and as a result, the city of New Delhi has just about launched this scheme along one route, with a few more set to follow soon. The Delhi experiment has been receiving a lot of flak in the local media, which the supporters of the model would like to label as the propaganda by METRO/ MONO - rail, and automobile lobbies.

Now, whether BRTS or HCBS, both call for dedicated lanes in the centre of a given road. Allowing for 20 + 20 ft for the dedicated lanes on either side of a 10 ft wide median to accommodate the bus stops, it will leave just 50 ft for everything else on a 100 ft (between the outer edges of the drains on either side) road, like the one in Indiranagar. Thus, after providing for 20 ft lanes on either side for the general traffic, which by themselves are going to be terribly crammed, you will be left with a balance of 5 ft on either edges for drains, foot-paths, utility lines, etc. Plainly, that will mean the end of the majestic trees along this road.

The question further is how many roads do you have of this width in Bangalore?

Now, going by plain logic, supposing in any given route direction, BMTC is operating at a frequency of a bus every 3 minutes, and the buses are moving at an average speed of 10 kmph, there will be a gap of 500 M between any two buses. As such, if a lane is dedicated exclusively for the buses, it will then push out 100 other vehicles from this 500 M stretch (making for 200 vehicles per km), assuming an average vehicle length of 5M, and near bumper-to-bumper traffic conditions. This is total under utilisation of high demand city road space. If the cost of this much of land is factored into the project costing, particularly in cities like Bangalore, then the differential between the METRO-rail and the HCBS will narrow considerably.

The above apart, the access structures to the bus stops on the central median, can be fairly complicated and costly, particularly if you are following the Curitiba model. Also, while getting the traffic to move smoothly along straight road stretches is generally not a serious issue, the challenge is in getting them to negotiate the junctions smoothly. In this, the BRTS, for all its engineering, fails to provide satisfactory solutions.

There is a telling picture of a stretch of road in some city, which has adopted the model, showing an empty stretch of over 100M behind a bus on a dedicated lane, even as the adjoining lane (in the same direction) is totally cluttered with vehicles of all kinds, particularly two-wheelers. Very clearly, even with having introduced the HCBS on dedicated lanes, it has not caused citizens to switch from the use of their two-wheelers, leading to the problems aggravating even further.

Thus, while dedicated lanes may be OK on stretches leading to and from bus depots, or on stretches where the frequency is higher than say a bus every 15 seconds, on regular roads, they are totally ill-advised. Rather than dedicated lanes, total ban on private vehicles (meaning - vehicles other than buses, taxi's and auto's) on select stretches, during peak hours, would any day be preferable.

All these apart, BRT schemes are invariably envisaged as operations by Companies promoted by Municipalities, with 'artificial monopoly' (as different from natural monopoly situations, like in the case of power distribution) franchises being tendered out for different districts/ routes. In the case of the Indore city set up, for example (a presentation on which was made in Bangalore recently), the Company takes all decisions with regard to routes, fares, types of buses, schedules, etc, with hardly any discretion being left to the service providers. While the revenue generation out of cash sales comes straight into the hands of the individual operators, out of the earnings from sale of monthly passes (which are managed by the Company), a fixed sum of the order of Rs 22,000/- per bus per month is made over to them. If the targets are not achieved, which could very well happen considering the various kinds of forces at play, it will eventually lead to a subsidy regime.

Also, with far too many controls and restrictions still in place, I expect, TATA's, TVS's would still want to keep a safe distance, leaving the field to the local mafia chieftains to play ball with the Company authorities, more or less like the PWD operations in most states.

All in all, BRTS is not exactly a satisfactory model. In the case of Bangalore, the Bangalore Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA) has been instituted. There is a proposal to strengthen and broad-base it. Once that is in done, what Bangalore needs to do is to facilitate the entry of players of the stature of TATA's and TVS's to provide the services in open competition with the BMTC, on a level playing field, with the minimum of restrictions. Public bus transport services today is too vital an infrastructure area not to have the competent services of such players.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

technology can help but to a limited extent

text of the letter sent to the New Indian Express:

I refer to the news report captioned 'wi-fi enabled bus to make smart travel a reality' published in your columns today (12th March, '08).

What does not seem to be appreciated by the public in general is the fact that however good and technologically advanced a bus may be, as long as its operation is in the hands of the government-owned monopoly BMTC, it can make a marginal impact if at all on the overall travel experience.

The BMTC has had on its fleet some 50 VOLVO buses, which are comparable to the best in the world, from over two years. But, even now, the utilisation of these, apart from the overall ridership they enjoy, is pretty dismal by any standard. A GPS-enabled service for tracking these buses through SMS, known as 'Yelli Iddira?', which helped improve ridership considerably, was abandoned unceremoniously after it had served the purpose of getting BMTC some publicity mileage, leaving the users who had come to depend on it totally in the lurch.

Very clearly, therefore, technology can do only so much. The real change can happen only with policy revisions enabling effective competition from organised private sector players. The attendant benefits that will accrue to the city as well as its citzens, in addition, will also be really huge.

BMTC's grandiose schemes

text of the letter sent to TOI:

I refer to the report in your columns today (12th March,'08) under the caption "Decongesting Bangalore - Research Institute for Transport Soon".

The very first policy recommendation that the Centre for Sustainable Transport and Urban Planning (CSTUP), proposed by BMTC alongwith allocating it a Rs 30 crore corpus, could be to open out the 'public bus transport services sector' to competition from organised private sector players on a level playing field. But, it is quite inconceivable that a body promoted by BMTC, an interested party, will ever do that. And consequently, while promoting such a Centre may not be such a bad idea, it is best left in the hands of either an IIM, or a reputed Architecture and Town Plannning school.

It could cost far lesser too. And, after all, we are talking about public money.