Dear Govt of Karnataka, Don’t let Metro and BMTC put kerchief!

BMTC's service is poor, while Metro serves few people, even as the government seems to reserve key corridors for BMRCL. What is needed to find the right multi-modal approach from a commuter's perspective?

Dear Government of Karnataka,

Of late, there has been a lot of hand wringing over the traffic congestion. Various solutions are being proposed by citizens claiming to be experts, advisors and well wishers. Most of these solutions revolve around adding extra asphalt, at grade, overhead and underground.

India’s Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari summarised this predicament clearly when he said, in a recent event “I added 55 flyovers in Mumbai thinking it will solve traffic congestion, but it hasn’t solved anything”.

Recently, however, there has been a growing realisation that Public Transport is the most efficient way forward. So the focus has shifted in some circles to moving people over moving cars. In this pressure to solve the traffic congestion, there has been much dissatisfaction over BMRCL being unable to scale up Namma Metro quickly enough and BMTC being pilloried for running an unsatisfactory service. There have been calls for allowing private players in the bus sector while on the other hand Metro has been ‘putting handkerchief’ (as in booking seats by placing handkerchiefs, so that no one occupies the space) over most projects, scuttling all efforts to get cost-effective commuter rail or bus lanes / BRTS into the city.

A Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority should license and plan all transport services. All agencies, like RTO, BMRC and BMTC, should only be implementing and operating agencies. It needs an Urban Transport Fund (UTF) to fund projects or help the individual agencies raise capital for implementation.

Why is transport becoming a fish market with everyone stepping over each other’s toes?

It’s because, there is no unified transport authority, who can take a call, in favor of the commuter. There is a crying need for an empowered Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) with legislative backing that is vested with the powers of planning, funding, regulation and ombudsman, like DGCA for aviation or TRAI for telecom.

Bangalore Metropolitan Land Transit Authority (BMLTA), formed in March 2007 through a government order, was supposed to act like a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority. But this was not given proper teeth, for the sake of helping JNNURM scheme. And then its activities were quietly given a burial and merged into DULT.

In the bus sector, the UMTA needs to ensure there is proper sharing of bus stops, define rules of sharing “profitable” and “unprofitable” routes, workout a level playing field for BMTC and define service levels for all players. Road infrastructure needs to be treated like air space or spectrum. It cannot be a ‘free-for-all’. UMTA needs to certify worthiness and planning of routes for all players effectively. It should also be an ombudsman capable to resolving issues like price gouging, surge pricing* etc.

*Petition against surge pricing

In the absence of regulations on usage of roads by public and private vehicles, and no regulation on pricing, private cab aggregators introduced ‘surge pricing’ recently, in many Indian cities including Bengaluru and Delhi. This petition by a Delhi resident asks Uber to stop charging the customers exorbitantly, using the surge pricing option.

In the train sector, the Metro cannot claim to be the resolver of all transportation-related problems. Other modes like Commuter rail or surface light rail need to be considered and integrated very well. We have seen ridiculous suggestions by politicians, like scuttling BRT and stopping commuter trains at periphery, to appease the Metro. It is important for the UMTA to acquire the expertise to determine the appropriateness of the modes and enable the planning of the same.

The UMTA also needs to look into multimodal integration. It has become a practice for BMTC to build TTMCs where they have land, instead of where it makes sense. We have Metro building flyovers to the foot of the Railway stations only to make commuters climb another one, instead of seamlessly connecting those two at the same grade.

We have BBMP not building autorickshaw and taxi stands near bus stops and interchanges where the passengers are likely to get to them, instead shooing them away making them clog the place.  In all these, the non-motorised users and pedestrians are given a convenient go-by because they don’t belong to any agency. The RTO has been conveniently underperforming and ineffective in anything other than being viewed on as a moneybag.

So the way forward is clear. The UMTA cannot be a committee making reports or suggestions to agencies. It needs to be an authority with powers to make decisions on the modes and routes to be followed by the agencies. It needs to have an Urban Transport Fund (UTF), which will be used to fund projects or help the individual agencies raise capital for implementation. It will be the agency that will license and plan the services. All agencies, like RTO, BMRC and BMTC, should only be implementing and operating agencies. They cannot be allowed to plan the transport for Bengaluru. Unless this is immediately done, all money being spent on building fancy systems will be rendered inefficient in no time at all.

Yours truly,

Sathya Sankaran
Member, Citizens for Sustainability (CiFoS)
Member, Praja RAAG

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  1. Ganesh GJ says:

    Flyovers – Need to build Flyovers Main road route wise (Bus Route) rather than building it here and there which is useless. Ex. Mejestic to Sarjapur. All signals has to be replaced one by one which comes in the route from Mejestic upto Sarjapur.

    BMRCL – I think there was no sufficient core market research in place before starting the routes which was led to loss. If the same had been build across major traffic hot spots like Silk Board, Sarjapur outer ring road, Electronic City, ITPL, Whitefiled, Tin Factory, Baneeergatta, etc, BMRL would have fell short of place for keeping money. They could have really helped lot more people and utility.

    Light Rail – Need to very quick in setting up this, because Metro will not be enough for destination like Attebele, Electronic City, ITPL, Whitefiled.

    Hoping to make a better Bangalore!!

  2. G V Dasarathi says:

    I totally agree, Sathya. We do need a transport planning body at the macro level, that thinks of moving people instead of vehicles.

  3. Blore citizen says:

    Well good idea for a central body to oversee an integrated transportation system.
    My only concern would be the bureaucracy. Now an extra organization, bunch of bureaucrats, waste of public money, and extra set of approvals, etc.

    See my Open Letter to Transportation minister Ramalinga Reddy here. He can TRANSFORM Bengaluru transportation by June 2016


  4. Rao Sudhindra says:

    1. Identify (a) congested location (WF,Majestic, BTMLayout etc.) (b) maximum longest route > 5 KMs (Madiwal to EC, Madiwal to ORR, Old madras road to WF ITPL, Nayandhalli to yeshwanthapur via nagarbhavi etc)
    (a) Provide inter-section loop transit using tram-train hybrid transport technology
    (b) Provide bi-directional tram-train hybrid transport technology.
    (a) &(b) both cost effective public transport solutions and rapid construction possible . It’s well proven in many countries recently dubai.

  5. Blore citizen says:

    Sudhindra Rao,

    Your suggestions are good. But the congestions are not just at major roads.
    Look at the 1000’s of internal roads in Bengaluru leading to a residential neighborhood…these are 1-2km long…but they they are all severely congested with bumper to bumper traffic. This is what I wrote to Transportation minister

    SEE BELOW-Why we have to curb registration of new vehicles(dangerous trend)..

    PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION is the best solution for high-dense city like Bengaluru that has and will continue to witness large population growth in the foreseeable future. The unending tear-down of independent houses and construction of 4 floored apartments in its place in the old areas of Bengaluru and the new high rises in the not-so-distant suburbs, implies Bengaluru’s high density will significantly increase in the next few years. Replacement of house with an apartment building in the old B’lore area, implies the same old, internal, narrow roads of Bengaluru now has to support the commuting needs of 8-12 families instead of just 1 family. If all these new families start to rely on private cars, one can imagine the traffic nightmare in the near future. For those who think we can build (flyovers) our way out of this congestion problem, no you are wrong! You can build a few elevated corridors and flyovers but what about the 1000’s of internal roads ? These are already severely choked with bumper to bumper peak hour traffic and imagine these roads 4 years from now, if we allow private cars to grow like it is growing today. Traffic on these internal roads will absolutely come to a standstill. Take Ittamadu maybe with an estimated population of 10000-15000. The roads are narrow, even the main roads. A disturbing trend we are seeing is 1-man SUV’s like Duster/Mahindra on such roads. Right now the car/SUV ownership per capita is very low maybe 5-10%. Imagine if we allow the current car registration run rate to continue for next 4 years and if per capita car ownership goes to 15%, we will be in severe crisis during peak hours as traffic will come to a halt on the main roads of Ittamadu!
    Action is needed from policy makers by June 2016 to stem registration of private vehicles by means of hefty congestion and registration tax!

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