Can BMTC get Bengalureans to use the bus during COVID?

BMTC, which already wasn't quite popular with Bengalureans, is running skeletal services now. Can sanitation measures, support of private operators, help?

[This article is part of the Bengaluru Moving series, in which citizens share their vision for BMTC post COVID. This series is pubished in collaboration with Radio Active’s #BengaluruMoving campaign.]

Before the onset of COVID, BMTC was already struggling with very low share of traffic, and personal vehicles were clogging Bengaluru roads. Towards the end of this article, I have mentioned a few Key Success Factors (KSFs) that would help BMTC increase ridership. While these KSFs are still important, BMTC has been facing a new set of challenges with the onset of COVID, and hence must think of additional measures to overcome these.

Here’s how COVID has affected traffic on Bengaluru roads:

The result is that the roads are almost empty most of the day. BMTC is running a skeletal service, yet there are no crowds waiting at any bus stop. Even in the interior areas of the city, hardly any people are seen on the road. And shops – including eateries – that are allowed to open, have hardly any clients.

Given this, here are some options for the days ahead:

  • I do not think BMTC will be able to attract new customers (people who did not travel in BMTC buses even before COVID). These people mostly stayed away because of lack of first/last mile connectivity, mainly because IPT (intermediate public transport – auto, cab, etc) was not available easily, or was unaffordable. That issue is not resolved at all.
  • The recovery is a bit of a catch-22 situation: When there are no people to carry, why should BMTC run extra trips? Even if BMTC runs plenty of trips, people would not come out of their homes and resume their normal life (after all, they stayed home despite owning vehicles). More people will step out of their homes only when public confidence is restored. BMTC can increase its services when that happens.
  • In the beginning, I expect commuters from lower income groups will use BMTC buses, because they may not have a choice. Volvos are anyways not suited during COVID times, so those will remain closed.
  • If BMTC wants to attract its previous Volvo customers (who are now forced to travel in normal buses), it will have to adopt a very rigorous and visible sanitation program:
    • Hand sanitiser at every bus stop/at the bus door
    • Temperature check at door
    • Totally contactless ticketing (smart card or tickets sold at the booth)
    • Enforce one person/group per seat, no standees.
    • Stop all long routes, and start hub-and-spoke operations. Run shuttles between hubs. Increase the frequency multifold, so that passengers don’t panic at the thought of having missed a bus.
  • In past webinar discussions, all of us were expecting that the roads would soon be choked with private vehicles because people do not trust public transport. We reasoned that such massive traffic jams can be avoided only if BMTC enlists the support of private bus operators, and keeps private vehicles off the roads.
    • We also reckoned that private operators would have to follow the same COVID precautions, and all buses will have to run at one-third the capacity due to social distancing. This would mean a large loss to bus operators (BMTC and private), which would have to be compensated by GoK.
    • However, if the GoK offers cash compensation, all operators would claim high figures. To avoid that, the compensation should be in kind: bundle some profitable routes with non-profitable ones, and then allow an operator to pick these bundles.
    • We also anticipated that the operators would not provide the committed number of trips on loss-making routes. Therefore, a central agency must operate a fleet management software and ensure that all operators are plying the required number of trips.
    • Further, all vehicles deployed in PT and IPT must be fitted with GPS and monitored with a fleet management software. Each vehicle must be geo-fenced with the allocated route, and any deviation must be intercepted in real time with the help of the traffic police.
    • Tempo travelers are highly-cramped vehicles, and passengers cannot have the required distancing. Most of them have inadequate ventilation. During entry and exit, the passenger has to rub against all seats. They have an excessive amount of high-contact surfaces, most of which are fabric-based; and so cannot be sanitised. Therefore they must not be deployed at all.

KSFs for BMTC

As mentioned earlier, the following KSFs are important for BMTC at all times, COVID or not:

  • End-to-end connectivity (pickup within 300 m of the origin point; and drop within 300 m of destination point)
  • Availability at the required time (24×7). No waiting at starting and intermediate points.
  • Reliability (no cancellation of trip for any reason)
  • Alert users in case of rare breakdown/delay
  • Most direct reach: As far as possible, avoid the circular route or multi-hop/multi-mode routes.
  • Fast plus comfortable transit: Minimum walking to catch the onward trip
  • Ease of choosing multimodal route combination: Allow user to select between
    • Minimum walking
    • Fastest arrival
    • Most frequent trips
  • On-time performance
  • Comfort at bus stops
    • Availability of seats, shelter from sun and rain
    • No nuisance from two-wheelers (when it rains, riders park their bikes on the road, in front of the shelter, and occupy the shelters, blocking the pathway to lift/skywalk).
    • No puddles at bus stops
  • Comfort in bus
    • Availability of seats
    • No leaking roof or wet seats
  • Safety for women and children, especially at odd hours
  • Affordable cost: The longer the distance, the cheaper the ticket must be. Apply this to multi-hop, multimodal trips.
  • Advance alert (minimum of one week before) if a schedule is going to be changed
  • Instant alert if the schedule is changed due to last-minute factors
  • Ability to plan multi-mode, multi-hop journeys based on real-time availability of buses+Metro+trains (ITS data): Must be simple to use, and include walking distance as a user-selectable factor.
  • Ticketing without the hassle of finding change:
    • Multimodal smart cards (valid in all modes of transport)
    • The “through” journeys must be cheaper, even for multi-hop multimodal trips
  • Responsive to travel demand: Rapid deployment of extra trips if crowd size increases.
  • Meaningful information at bus shelters

[Disclaimer: This article is a citizen contribution. The views expressed here are those of the individual writer(s) and do not reflect the position of Citizen Matters.]

Also read:
Remember Bengaluru’s minimal traffic during lockdown? Here are nine pointers to sustain it
How should BMTC buses be run now, given social distancing challenges?
Reducing BMTC Fares = Reducing Congestion, Emissions, Losses

Comments:

  1. D T Devare says:

    1.Effect of Covid and KSFs have been very well articulated.
    2. To regain its share of commuters,BMTC should add more buses urgently.
    3.Main bus producers such as Tata Motors,Ashok Leyland are suffering due to low demand.If BMTC and other bus operators place orders,it will benefit the companies and also the common man in cities who has to depend on buses.
    4.Budget allocated to BMTC for new buses is getting spent on salary payment.The government must allocate higher budget so that new buses can be purchased.
    5.If properly implemented,PARKING POLICY will be a disincentive for use/purchase of personal vehicles and also a fair,equitable and handsome source of revenue which should be used for NMT and to support public transport.

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