Opinion: “Use technology, repurpose Volvos to boost bus services in Bengaluru”

BMTC's services and ridership have reduced drastically during COVID. How can these be brought back to pre-COVID levels while also ensuring passengers' safety?

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

Since the time I moved to Bengaluru almost a decade back, I have found a loyal companion in the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transportation Corporation (BMTC) bus. BMTC’s extensive bus network has helped me and 36 lakh other commuters reach our destinations across the city every day. 

Today, public transport has become one of the prime casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic. At present, only 4,300 BMTC buses are operating, down from the usual 6,000. The ridership too has reduced to 11 lakh commuters a day.

During the  nationwide lockdown from March to May, BMTC buses were deployed only for essential service providers. After Unlock 1 on May 19, the services were opened for all. In line with the needs of the times, BMTC bus travel experience has since been modified. One passenger per seat, daily/monthly pass instead of point-to-point tickets, and trimmed timings are just some of the changes that have been implemented. But there is still plenty of scope for enhancement of services, particularly using technology, which could make every trip safe and convenient.

Following are some pointers on what BMTC could do:

  • Enhance the MyBMTC app

The MyBMTC app had received rave reviews when launched earlier this year. In my opinion, several other important features can be added to this app, along with the basic tracking and navigation services it currently provides.

For instance, the app could also show the number of seats available. This is particularly important when the number of passengers permitted on each bus has been limited. Such information should also be dispensed to commuters via SMS on a subscription basis, which will be helpful for those who don’t use smartphones.

  • Introduce smart card system

The ticketing process could benefit massively through proper use of technology. Instead of mandating purchase of the costly daily (Rs 70) or monthly pass (Rs 1050), a smart card system akin to the Metro card can be used. This rechargeable card could be swiped while boarding and deboarding from the bus, to deduct the corresponding fare amount. This will also reduce the possibility of human contact.

  • Enhance bus fleet

It is uncertain when BMTC would be able to resume its full services. As several experts suggest, we may have to ‘live with the virus’. In which case, social distancing will have to be enforced indefinitely. In otherwise ‘normal’ situations, several BMTC buses carry passengers way beyond their permitted capacity. Now, the BMTC must actively look at adding to its fleet of buses, which has been long pending.

  • Identify congestion hotspots to dedicate more buses

While this may take long owing to several functional and administrative hurdles, BMTC should analyse its route maps to identify congestion hotspots and peak hours, to dedicate more buses for those particular routes and timings.

  • Repurpose Volvo buses as non-AC buses

The ambitious Volvo buses have for sure made the bus journey more comfortable. But a significant number of these buses are under-utilised in terms of daily passenger head count. BMTC may think of converting or repurposing some of these buses as normal non-AC buses.

  • Partner with private players for short commutes

The corporation may also examine contractual partnership with private players, especially smaller-capacity buses, for short-distance commute. 

Extraordinary problems call for extraordinary solutions. If anything, this pandemic necessitates innovation in the day-to-day working of society.

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