BMTC gets little budgetary support despite escalating losses due to higher fuel costs

Demands raised by urban transport experts for an affordable, accessible and safe public bus service have been ignored by the state government.

Groaning as it is from an estimated loss of Rs 1019.72 crore as stated in theProgramme for 2020-21′ section of the Annual Administrative Report of 2019-20, the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) has now been hit by another whammy, the increase in fuel costs..

“As of July 15, 2022, there is a difference of Rs 32 per litre on diesel supplied to retail fuel stations and bulk consumers, like the BMTC,” says a source from the BMTC. That is the additional cost that BMTC is faced with as its buses line up at retail petrol pumps for their daily diesel requirements as the Centre cancelled the subsidy it was giving to bulk buyers like state transport corporations.

Given that the BMTC currently has over 6700 buses in its fleet and consumes about 2.5 lakh litres of diesel per day, the increase in its operating expenses is huge.  “Our buses now have a bill to bill payment system for all diesel-related expenses,” said a BMTC official. Measures are being taken to ensure that diesel is topped up at the closest accessible fuel bunks without causing any traffic gridlock.

Performance indicators

In the Annual Administrative Report of 2019-20 (the latest report) the net loss incurred by the BMTC is stated. But on the BMTC’s website, under the Performance Indicator section, only the Gross Revenue is stated, no mention of the gross expenditure or net profit/loss for the year 2021-22.

The Gross Revenue according the performance indicator: 

2019-20: Rs 2119.97 crore

2020-21: Rs 1853.059 crore

2021-22: Rs 1698.87 crore

Net loss for the year 2019-20: Rs 549.34 crore.

As per BMTC’s Annual Report for 2019-20, the latest administrative report available on its website, the working expenditure for the year was Rs 2669.31 crore. The gross revenue earned by the BMTC, which includes revenue from passenger fare (Rs 1765.9814 crore), fines (Rs 0.9493 crore), parcels, and revenue earned from advertising (Rs 24.62 crore) and rent (Rs 3 crore) was about Rs 2119.97 crore, resulting in a net loss of around Rs 549.34 crore.

The losses have accumulated because of lockdown, slow resumption of service and drop in ridership, which as of July 15th was 27 lakh passengers per day, says a BMTC source, as compared to 33 lakh passengers in 2019-20.

Now, as the pandemic wanes and offices and business open with the easing of COVID restriction, demand is rising for BMTC to majorly revamp its operations to provide Bengalureans an affordable and reliable public transport system. Though as yet nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, the steady increase in BMTC ridership numbers in recent months, as indicated by the rising sales of digital passes, indicates that more city residents are depending on the BMTC for their commuting needs.

Longer working hours

But the BMTC management, it would seem, has different ideas on how to revamp its functioning. For instance, is the BMTC making up for the insufficient budgetary allocation from the government by freezing new recruitment, while exploiting its drivers and conductors in terms of making them work longer hours without any overtime pay?

Sarjapur Bus Depot
Sarjapur Bus Depot. Pic: Bhakti G

Read More: Govt support is only way BMTC can survive COVID: Experts

No new recruitments

On July 7th, Sukesh, a BMTC bus driver at the Sarjapur Bus Depot, told us how his duty hours now are from 7:20 am to 7pm. Sukesh works for over 72 hours a week. “We are allotted about two hours of break daily,” said Sukesh. “But the traffic in Bengaluru has always been unfavourable to us. Realistically speaking we get just an hour to rest, grab our meals, use the restroom and maybe have a chit chat with other drivers and conductors.” 

The in-hand salary that Sukesh received after all deductions was Rs 25,000. Though he added that with seniority the salary does increase. Although there has been no non-payment of the salaries, Sashi Kanth, bus driver with the BMTC, said there has been a change of the date when the salaries get credited in their accounts.

A source from BMTC said that there are 4311 conductors, 8691 employees who are categorised as drivers-cum-conductors and 11,141 drivers, comprising a total workforce of 24,143 people who run the BMTC services.

“There have been no new recruitments for the year 2022-23,” a BMTC official said. The hiring of drivers and conductors did not happen for nearly five years due to a number of circumstances. Almost 2,500 employees have retired, been moved to other companies, or quit their jobs in the past two years. Some are no more.

“We operate as many buses as we can during peak hours, and we scale back our services during non-peak hours,” said a BMTC official on how they are managing with fewer staff.

Read More: Free bus travel is not an option for BMTC, targeted subsidies to the poor is

Budget allocation in 2022

Just before the state government announced the budget for the financial year 2022-23, the Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV) a forum advocating affordable, sustainable and accessible bus service, initiated a petition, gathered 6500 signatures and demanded that the CM should allot Rs 1000 crores to the BMTC. 

Shaheen Sasha of the BBPV said, “There is no clear indication in the budget speech or the Budget report as to how much current allocation to the BMTC is. But the funds allotted to the BMTC will only cover the operational expenses.”

Indicating that BBPV’s demands of travel free for women, lowering bus fares by 50%, waiving the cost of student bus passes, and deploying more buses to meet the expanding needs of the general public that BBPV made to CM Basavaraj Bommai have been ignored.

The only concession made to the public is to make the monthly passes flexible, valid for a month from the day it is issued, which can be bought online. The revenue from such digital passes, available on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, has gone up from Rs 21 lakh in April to Rs 2.5 crore in July (till 20th). The cost of digital passes range from Rs 70 for daily pass to Rs 1500 for a Vajra Gold monthly pass.

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