Of different kinds of buses

Is BMTC perpetuating a class difference with Volvos and regular buses?

The other day I was having a rather interesting conversation/debate with some of my colleagues and friends which I thought was worth reporting here. This was a conversation about equity in Bangalore’s BMTC buses. My friends were analyzing equity and accessibility in BMTC buses. Somehow the conversation veered towards the topic of Volvo buses and whether the city needs different kinds of buses, and this is where there was a sharp difference of opinion between my friends’ thoughts and my own.

My friends were of the opinion that there shouldn’t be different kinds of buses for different kinds of people. By creating different kinds of buses, the BMTC was in fact perpetuating a class difference (maybe not intentionally, but what happened was that rich people only traveled by Volvo buses, and the poor were relegated to travel by the regular buses).

They also mentioned that on routes on which Volvos and regular buses plied, it had been noticed that there were a far more number of Volvos which were running compared to regular buses forcing commuters who could not afford the Volvo service to either miss buses because they were too crowded or hang on to buses thereby endangering their lives. They were of the opinion that rather than a very exclusive Volvo service and a rather poor regular bus service, what was required was a universally good bus service which was equitable and accessible to all and more importantly which did not differentiate between classes.

My opinion was that by having multiple classes of buses, BMTC was catering to multiple audiences and in fact getting the middle class who would have otherwise have traveled by cars and/or 2 wheelers to shift to public transport. And the reason why they did so was because of the comfort factor. The other reason why I probably supported a Volvo service was because I used that service pretty frequently and had found it comfortable myself. I argued that there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ policy and thus the need for Volvo buses. Also, the higher fares got from Volvo buses could be used to cross-subsidize fares for the regular buses (my friends tell me that in fact the exact opposite of this is happening, that the fares from regular buses are being used to subsidize the fares for Volvo buses) .

However when I went back home and the more and more I thought about it, their argument seemed to make a lot of sense. As a child of the eighties and the nineties, I don’t think that any Indian city had air conditioned buses. This was especially true of Bombay where I’m from and I’m reasonably sure this was true in Bangalore as well. Yet the buses were well maintained and used by all classes alike. The fares were modest and did not affect the family budget all that much.

True, people may have wanted better bus services, but as long as the basic service was of a certain acceptable quality, people were relatively satisfied. The new trend of having A/C buses has certainly caught the fancy of the middle class and the authorities too seem to be encouraging them as it gets them more visibility and more revenue ( though I’m not too sure about the revenue part).

So coming back to the question of whether a city like Bangalore requires one kind of bus service or different kinds of bus services. There is probably not one answer to this question. However I’m absolutely convinced that all people should have access to a good bus service and that they should not be forced to travel in an inferior quality bus just because they could not afford the better quality bus service.

At the same time I think that Volvo buses are here to stay and any decision to do away with them would not be too wise. Thus one option would be to upgrade city buses to offer the level of comfort being offered by Volvo buses (this of course should be done over a period of time).

Considering the fact that the government is spending huge sums of money on infrastructure/transportation and that there is more than sufficient funding coming via JNNURM, this option is very possible. The fares should be affordable to all sections of society, and for all those who say that fares have to be kept real (read high) for the bus service to remain viable, please remember that the bus service can be sustainable and achieve profits as well through volumes, rather than concentrating on margins which is what I suspect is the order of the day.

I look forward to the day when we have good/great quality buses which are universally accessible with affordable fares.


  1. Naresh Sadasivan says:

    Singapore is usually a great example to emulate. One of their better ideas is to allow the bus operator to also operate cabs (and trains too). Therefore you avoid multiple classes of buses like we have in Bangalore; instead the operator gets an opportunity to provide multiple classes of transport at different price points without creating serious economic class divide.

  2. Raju Macharla says:

    I agree with the statement that no one size fits all. I agree with everyone deserves good buses and good service. However, I am of the opinion that these two issues are separate: having a good buses for all and luxury buses for those who want to pay extra for the luxury. One should not come at the price of other.

    On a different note, although I am not an authority in saying this, I found the “normal” buses in Bangalore to be pretty decent. Not sure, why someone thinks that they are not good.

    To the extent I noticed, many started using public transportation and many are thinking of switching to public transportation after the introduction of Volvo buses in Bangalore. However, someone may need to do the data gathering before proving this point. This trend of using public transportation is very encouraging and promoted well for the obvious benefits: less congestion, eco-friendliness, less stress, and more.

    I do not see much validity in your point that what we had 20-30 years ago and we shall continue the same. This is not a tradition or values that we are talking about. Thirty years ago, we didn’t have that many TVs, we didn’t have that many automobiles, not that many computers, etc. Now, we hardly find a house without any of these items.

    The availability of different types of luxury is there in everywhere: trains, airlines, etc.; Private or public. Why to distinguish only BMTC, not sure!

  3. Satheesh A says:

    I appreciate the idea that was clean and great. JNNURM buses are good and liked by both the classes.
    Only way is to enforce people to keep them clean. BMTC should have a wash factories around Bangalore to clean their buses atleast once a week.

    We are great admirers of old stuff … so the BMTC. They could not get rid of old blue buses even though they are polluting and of no use. They breakdown every now and then … creating traffic jams or reducing average speed on Bangalore roads.

    What ever may be the case … we need more buses and mostly syncing of Depos in timing buses.
    We see same number bus competing at one time and no bus for next 30 minutes. BMTC has to receive ideas with open mind and take recommendations given by FORward150 and other RWAs on centralized planning for bus schedules.

  4. shashi kumar y says:

    Mr.Vivek, I agree that bangaloreans need different types of class service. But the negative aspect of that is, the BMTC uses that concept as a drug addictive like what you have mentioned in the article. The BMTC will try add more & more VOLVO’s and thus forcing the other class of citizens to shift to personal mode or they drill deep hole into the public pocket.

    Next is regarding the revenue. What your frnd’s said is true. The revenue earned from the ordinary services is used to compensate for the losses incurred by the VOLVO’s. Though BMTC head office officials mention in media that VOLVO’s are doing great but in actual terms it the other way round. To get more info about that, you become close to any of the crew of the VOLVO and enquire about this by taking the issue in negative side(means VOLVO’s are running in loss na).

    One last quote. If the BMTC concentrates more on providing better connectivity and service, then they obviously earn revenue what so ever be the condition. But if they look the other side way.. they are wrong. At present they are concentrating how to earn more and more revenue.

    If we the public doesn’t voice, till then the BMTC will take us for granted.

  5. Manoj Gunwani says:

    It sounds silly to me that providing differentiated levels of service based on price should be taken as “perpetuating a class difference”. The problem here is the inability of BMTC to provide clean, affordable and efficient transportation to the mainstream which is its primary charter. Please don’t bring misguided socialism into the issue.

  6. Deepa Mohan says:

    I too feel that when we have different classes of service in the Railways or even in all airlines, why not in buses as well? People should have a choice of paying more for more comfort,if they wish. I can tell you that I, personally opt for the “mango man” (aam aadmi) bus at non -peak hours but sometimes, when I am tired, and it’s very crowded, I sometime wait for aVolvo and take that…it also has less stops and so gets me to my destination faster ( it’s like an express train vs.
    A passenger one.)

    Having been part of the dialogue process between mango public and BMTC….I can attest that the Volvo services are,indeed, being subsidized by the “passenger” buses….but I see no easy solution to this, as the aim is to get the dependent-on-car commuter weaned way to using buses regularly.

    But…in any case. Thoughtful article

  7. Siddharth S says:

    Different service is quite ok as long as there is a real diference in the classes-Bangalore the difference is quite fine as there are only 2 classes-the AC and non-AC all others almost extinct with respect to the fares. Unlike in Chennai where buses of same number have 3-4 classed and different fares and bus stops but the same service and crowd we atleast dont have that issue here

    Compared to other cities 2 things BMTC is appreciated well atleast in south is the maintainence and cleanliness compared to the others. But service wise it isnt so up to mark bus better than what it was 10 years back.

    Volvo though bled initially for BMTC has now improved with patronage thanks to bus days and various others aspects. If BMTC can provide much beter services at reduced rates of atleast 20% it will be a boon for bangaloreans

  8. Vasanth Ramu says:

    Marcopolos are an alternative aam adhmi A/C bus. Although not as swanky as Volvos from outside and not as powerful as Volvos, inside it offers good comfort. A/C although not as great as Volvos, better than custom fitted A/Cs that most of the company shuttles use. Also NVH levels are very less inside.

    Volvos are expensive to buy for BMTC and cannot be run subsidized. Marcopolos can be operated to localities wherever people cannot afford luxury of Volvo (Localities with lower middle class people).

  9. Arkin Akshar says:

    I find the “point” you’re trying to make very frivolous.
    How come you haven’t raised your voice against Airavats, Rajahamsas, AC classes in trains, Business classes in airplanes for so long?
    I find it a big pain to travel by the ordinary BMTC buses, because they are plain filthy, smelly, hot & sultry, w/ rude conductors and almost no place to sit.

    But here are my 2 cents:
    I find it ridiculous that the BMTC spends so much to buy + maintain Volvos, when AC Marcopolos, AL and many other indian bus makers offer similar buses for half the price of each volvo.

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