An Opportunity to Streamline Commute Services in Bangalore

An edited version of this was originally published on CRI as “An Analysis of Commuter Services Projects in Bangalore” on July 21, 2011.

Bangalore is the most sought after investment center in India today after Ahmadabad, if some of the financial and investment experts are to be taken seriously. The explosive growth that Bangalore saw in past 2 decades is phenomenal. With such unprecedented, explosive growth, Bangalore quite naturally saw some very tough problems. Bangalore continues to see these issues and more pop up every day. NGOs and Citizen Charters cry foul on rapid, improperly planned urbanization, security issues, commute problems, issues with civil supplies etc. One of the most talked about issue in Bangalore, like in other cities is Commute. Local Public Transportation in Bangalore, as some would call is a mess.The question is what are Bangalore Local Authorities and Government of Karnataka doing about it.

Call it coincidence, but today Bangalore has a great opportunity to show how beneficial it could be if Infrastructure Development projects can be streamlined. This post will try to analyze and show how Bangalore has that opportunity.

An analysis of Commuter Services Projects in Bangalore

During this analysis, all foul play (corruption, wheeling-dealing etc) shall be ignored. This analysis will fundamentally look at number of people requiring services in accordance with existing and planned infrastructure. Also, cost is ignored as it is reasonable to say that funds are unlimited with Governments at various levels in India.

First here are set of few infrastructure development projects that B S Yeddyurappa Government can’t stop quoting in every single Ad that they publish in Newspapers every now and then:

  • KSRTC and BMTC Services. TTMCs and KSRTC satellite centers
  • Namma Metro, Proposed Banagalore Commuter Rail Services
  • Long due BRTS in collaboration with CEPT, Ahmadabad
  • Flyovers and Underpasses in several traffic gridlock across the city

These are few of the crown-jewel projects that Karnataka government would, and should, use for publicity of its work. These projects are right now independent projects which are more of reactions of this government to the problems seen, as Bangalore continues to expand in terms of population, area etc.

KSRTC and BMTC Services. TTMCs and KSRTC satellite centers

KSRTC and BMTC proved that a good business model can help government run organizations to show good performance both financially and in services. One may refer to KSRTC Financial Balance Sheet and BMTC Financial Balance Sheet online for more. Since this post will not go into money numbers, capital and expenditure will not be discussed here. It is unfortunate that proactive approach of BMTC is not appreciated in public discourse by administrators or by newspapers which would spew venom at every given opportunity. For instance consider this performance evaluation paper on BMTC. Read it to correlate and understand how such papers might have shaped BMTC as we see it today.

To get a peripheral view point, some salient points in terms of services offered by BMTC

  • Average ridership of BMTC is approximately 43 Lakhs.
  • Number of Kilometers covered by BMTC buses increased from 3163.34 Lakhs in 2005-06 to 4580.20 Lakhs in 2010-11
  • A very interesting set of numbers to talk about is the fleet of vehicles:
    • Number of Vehicles added to the BMTC fleet peaked at 1215 in 2009-10
    • Also number of vehicles scrapped peaked at 664 in 2009-10
    • This means major overhaul happened in BMTC infrastructure in 2009-10. Since then BMTC services expanded rapidly
    • This is a very crucial point, which National newspapers would miss although they attribute several issues in Bangalore to BMTC
  • Couple the above point with number of Schedules added by BMTC.
    • This number peaked at 580 in 2008-09
    • During this time, number of vehicles added to the fleet was 926,
    • Number of vehicles scrapped was 294 during the same time
    • So, fundamentally it looks as if more area within Bangalore was covered during the period 2008-10
  • One last number of our interest would be number of kilometers covered per day
    • It increased steadily from 8.67 lakh kilometers to 12.55 lakh kilometers
    • The growth was 0.47 Lakh kilometers from 05-06 to 06-07, 1.15 from 06-07 to 07-08, 0.84 from 07-08 to 08-09, 0.97 from 08-09 to 09-10 and 0.45 lakh kilometers from 09-10 to 10-11
  • Another of BMTC’s ideas in improving its services is called TTMC – Traffic and Transit Management Center. The idea is to build a bus complex with parking lots for people to park their vehicles and travel by bus. But more than that, one very important achievement of this service is to provide a place for people to wait for a bus.
    • Jayanagara TTMC opened in September 2009 saw phenomenal success
    • Vijayanagar TTMC was inaugurated in March 2010
    • Whitefield TTMC was opened in Jan 2011
    • Koramangala TTMC was opened in Feb 2011
    • Yeswanthpur TTMC was opened in May 2011
    • Several other TTMCs are going to be opened soon in areas like Domlur and Banashankari areas which are some of densely populated in Bangalore
    • It is to be seen how successful this model would be but it looks quite possible that these centers would considerably reduce traffic stress due to BMTC buses by diverting Bus stops to a pathway inside the complex rather than on road
  • Even if TTMC model fails, these complexes would provide for bus shelters to the fleet of KSRTC and BMTC buses. Thus in anyway, TTMCs are an investment and an asset for BMTC, but not a liability. Compare this to how disastrous Parakara rail stations in Chennai have turned out to be. Chennai government still has a very good opportunity to convert every parakara rail station into a bus transit point and align bus services to the rail services and scheduled timings. Today Parakara Railway stations are a big liability to the government.
    Domlur TTMC

    Construction of TTMC at Domlur is reaching completion (click to enlarge)

    Whitefield TTMC a few days before it was opened in February

    Whitefield TTMC was opened for public in Feb.

    Yeswanthpur TTMC

    TTMC at Yeswanthpur was opened in May (click to enlarge)

A very important point to note on TTMCs is that “some of the projects are developed under JNNURM”. Now, it would be a very good exercise to do a quick Google search on how many States use JNNURM funds and for what projects.

KSRTC services show a story similar to that of BMTC.

  • The daily average booking via Advance Booking System (both online and at KSRTC counters included) has gone up to 15000 tickets. On peak days, the total bookings reach 25,000 tickets. So fundamentally at least 15000 tickets getting  booked via internet and KSRTC counters alone.
  • KSRTC added a new service level in 2009 to its existing list called Airavat Club Class, providing more diversified services to a specific target consumers
  • KSRTC today operates as a >1700 Crore revenue organization. It would be another interesting exercise to compare this number with other RTCs
  • Number of vehicles in its fleet is 7599 vehicles, covering effectively 24.19 lakh kilometers per day on average providing services to approximately 24 lakh passengers every day
  • The most important factor in intercity bus travel is travel during weekends, holidays etc., and KSRTC’s answer to this problem is Satellite Bus Stations
    • First KSRTC Satellite bus station was developed on Mysore Road in 2005
    • After its success, satellite bus stations were planned for several others areas like Jalahalli, NGEF, some of which are today operational
    • The effect of these satellite bus stations is that passengers are now trying to avoid catching bus from Kempe Gowda Bus Station (Main Bus Station) in the middle of the city
  • These cover only some fundamental changes which helped bring some changes to commute within and out of Bangalore via road

All these achievements are without any change in organizational structure. This proves that “system has not failed”. System does work. But wait, are these enough? No. Why? More on that later.

Namma Metro, Proposed Banagalore Railway Commuter Services

Namma Metro is probably the most awaited service in Bangalore. Work on Metro has  been in progress since 2006. First services were expected to roll out on Apr 4, 2011 but due to several unfortunate and unnecessary delays the services are yet to start. Metro’s first line is from Byappanahalli to Cricket Stadium. As many of Bangaloreans know, first line is not going to bring in any huge difference. In fact, impact of Metro will not be felt until Line 3 is operational one or two years after line 1 starts operations. For the uninitiated, Delhi Metro services also saw a similar transient phase. Actual usefulness of Metro services was not felt until a couple of years after first services were rolled out in Delhi. Voices, that too from foreign policy research centers, which cry foul on Namma Metro seemed to have been quiet when Delhi Metro work was in full force. One most important factor foreign policy research centers fail to understand is the kind of demand for low cost and safe public transport services in Indian cities. The situation is so bad that any low cost trasportation service, rail or road, will be instant success even if the services never run on schedule.

The cases in example are MMTS in Hyderabad and Parakara rail in Chennai. Parakara Rail is always on schedule as it is elevated railway. But one has to endure foul smell from uncleared drainage and sewers through most of the journey from any station to any other station. While this is the case with Chennai, in Hyderabad, MMTS trains run late on a regular basis and foul smell through some parts of the track is an added bonus. We do not even need to consider local train services in Mumbai. Despite all these difficulties, public embraced these services. This is not out of respect for these services or love of their cities however foul they smell. It is more of necessity. This reality in India is not captured by any policy research organization when it comes to commute services. The requirement today is for some means to commute at a reasonably low price. Every other parameter in the commuter’s equation has a very low weightage and priority. Thus, any kind of service will find acceptance, if it is of reasonable price.

First, briefly on Namma Metro:

  • The number of passengers expected to travel on the Metro everyday is estimated at 10.20 lakhs in 2011 in 16.10 lakhs in 2021
  • A total length of 42.3 Kilometers is the planned track length of Metro.
  • Metro fares are expected to be at 1.5 times more than BMTC prices

On reports of railway commuter services:

  • The Hindu reported in June about talks of a railway commuter service covering some of the most important traffic gridlocks in Bangalore
  • Five lines have been proposed for a start
  • Most important point to note here is that some of the areas in these five lines are not covered by Namma Metro till Line 3 is constructed, which probably would mean some thinking heads are still at work in Bangalore local administration
  • February Budget also highlighted that Government of Karnataka is taking commuter rail seriously and the June news report of The Hindu confirms it

Normally, one would see Metro and railway commuter services as a competition to each other. The Hindu news report mentioned above is a good example. What such reports miss is again, the demand for commuter services, rail or road. We will get to the numbers in a moment. Government of Karnataka and local authorities of Bangalore have shown good deal of interest in Commuter rail services to complement Namma Metro. It remains to be seen if and when railway commuter services will become a reality in Bangalore.

Long due BRTS in collaboration with CEPT, Ahmadabad

BRTS – Bus Rapid Transit System has brought in some very encouraging changes to the way people commute. Three most important examples in this regard are Curitiba in Brazil, Bogota in Columbia, Jakarta in Indonesia. All three cities have shown conclusively that BRT can be successfully adapted to a given city which has an unquenchable thirst for quick and hassle free transportation service. In India, Pune, Ahmadabad have shown that BRT does work. Bangalore should fundamentally benefit from such service, if implemented.

Bangalore, especially because of such a huge work force, is an ideal candidate for implementation of BRT. Success that BMTC tasted with Volvo City Bus service called Vajra Service is testimonial to the fact that BRTS would be very successful in Bangalore. Vajra service was started as a pilot in two routes in 2007. Its success meant 69 buses were added to BMTC fleet by 2009. The whole program achieved breakeven in early 2010. As some Bangalore Citizens would put it – “people of Bangalore are ready to pay for these services as they offer a respite from pollution and also they are quite affordable to a lot of people”. This project was attempted in Hyderabad too with the same model as that of Bangalore. This is another very important area where local administrations in various cities need to work on. Models cannot be copied from elsewhere and implemented “as is”. Considerable amount of time and research has to be put in to adapt such models to local tastes and preferences. Bangalore has shown with BRTS how to work with models alien to them.

A good example in understanding how some IAS officers saw this important point is from Vijayawada. Praveen Prakash was Municipal Commissioner in Vijayawada during 2002-03. During his time, some very important changes happened to infrastructure projects in Vijayawada. One intriguing story is with respect to “road construction in One-Town in Vijayawada using a sophisticated Australian Technology”. When Mr. Prakash was appointed Municipal Commissioner of Vijayawada, he took everybody by surprise when he took samples of road constructed in Vijayawada using this technology and sent them to laboratories in various parts of AP and some other states. All reports conclusively showed how the technology works in Australia but doesn’t work in India. Mr. Prakash revoked contracts and got all roads relaid. Eenadu Newspaper did a special on this. Today any long time resident of Vijayawada will tell you how Mr. Prakash’s proactive work on some fundamental issues helped Vijayawada cope with unprecedented growth through 2001-2007 with considerable ease. It is really unfortunate that stories like these are not documented as case studies for every city in India to benefit. In case of Bangalore, there was considerable fear that Bangalore would simply copy some BRT service from one of the cities where it is successful and put it in place. Fortunately, BMTC did something very different.

News reports indicated that Bangalore has been working out a plan to develop BRTS. February Budget cleared 25 crores for BRT service on Silk Board Junction-Hebbal corridor on the outer ring road (ORR). But the best part is in how authorities arrived at a plan for BRTS. The involvement of Central for Excellence in Urban Planning at CEPT, Ahmadabad – Center for Environmental Planning and Technology – is a great move and it brings in lot of hope for the project. CEPT played a very important role in Urban development projects in Ahmadabad, especially in BRTS. Moreover, CEPT is a non-governmental organization. This would mean project analysis, schedule, planning etc., would be quite robust and reliable. Many would ignore the involvement of CEPT but thats the key part. CEPT has already got a successful project experience with BRTS, Ahmadabad, which means there is a possibility to work out the project at a lower cost and better quality. As a side note, this also indicates how a proactive government can help research in academia to really come to benefit of citizenry. CEPT was an institute unheard of in India until Government of Gujarat involved them in BRTS, Ahmadabad and the best part is “CEPT is an autonomous organization”. Do we still need to think about why we should “make all educational institutions autonomous”?

Flyovers and Underpasses in several traffic gridlocks across the city

ORR in Bangalore is already seeing some very rapid changes with fly-overs and underpasses being constructed. In fact, not just ORR but Madiwala, Sarjapura Road, Magadi Road, Mysore Road, JP Nagar and several other traffic intensive junctions and gridlock areas have seen a lot of work in the form of flyovers and underpasses. Most of these projects were started after 2008 state elections.

One of the most commonly heard arguments about these projects is “not needed and a waste of money”. Another lament against these projects is “all beautiful canopies have been felled for construction of these roads and flyovers”. Such views seem to show narrow mindedness in some “activists”. No one expected in 2005-06 that ORR would experience traffic jams. Once these projects reach completion, ORR should see a reduction in traffic jams. Also, even in most developed countries, you wont find canopies on main roads experiencing heavy traffic. Canopies on road-sides of New York Square, really? You would find canopies in residential areas. Bangalore still have a very decent green cover in residential areas. Moreover, these projects have brought down traffic jams and thus reduced pollution to an extent.

However, coming back to the most important question once again – are these changes enough? No. Why? Read on.

An integrated approach to commute – need of the hour

All the four most important changes in public transport services and infrastructure in Bangalore are reactions of this Government in response of issues seen by the Public. Ridership on BMTC today stands at approximately 43 Lakhs. Once Metro opens, it would support approximately 10 lakhs per day. Let us take a rough number of 10 lakh commuters on Commuter Rail service. Number of vehicles plying (registered) on Bangalore roads stands at approximately 36 lakhs. Let us assume that out of these 36 lakhs, approximately 8 lakhs are four wheelers used by individuals to commute to and from work. Let us also take 27 lakhs as a round figure of number of 2 wheelers. Thus a total number of 35 lakh personal commute vehicles are today on Bangalore roads. Even if we take a conservative guess of 30 lakh vehicles, the number is still very high. Challenge is to persuade these 30 lakh vehicle owners to use public transport. With new services to support only 20 lakh (by a conservative guess), Bangalore authorities have a great challenge ahead. But fortunately for them, there is an opportunity as well.

Call it Bangalore’s or Government of Karnataka’s good fortune, there is a great opportunity in how things have aligned properly. Normally, it would be very difficult to plan so many projects at a time. Such projects, if started off all at once, would take up a long time to reach completion leaving the city in utter chaos till then.Consider Bandra-Worli Sea link. Foundation stone was laid in 1999 and traffic started plying on it in 2010. Despite several voices calling it waste of money, traffic stands at 37,500 vehicles per day as of today on Bandra-Worli Sea link. Since this post will not go into cost details, this example will not be dealt with any further. But a good exercise will be comparing Bangalore-Hosur Expressway and Bandra-Worli Sea Link while gauging cost and benefit equation. The necessity today is not Engineering Grandeur but Innovation in Engineering, and management of available infrastructure. The need is to integrate all commute services, at local level. Bangalore has a unique opportunity to show to rest of Indian cities on how this can be done.

The opportunity that Bangalore local authorities and Government of Karnataka have is in managing all the services with complete picture in mind. As the analysis shows above, if personal vehicle owners can be persuaded not to travel to and from work by their vehicle but to park their vehicle at nearest TTMC and take a metro or a bus or a commuter rail, based on what cost-time equation works out, it would turn the traffic situation around. Currently, BMTC is the only reliable public transport service in Bangalore. With Namma Metro and commuter rail services getting ready, Bangalore local authorities could provide integrated and coordinated services that would bring down cost and time of travel considerably.

Today, to travel from North End of Bangalore (say White Field) to South End of Bangalore (say Jayanagar) on a BMTC bus, on an average BMTC bus on a normal day would take 1 hour. On a bad day, it would take almost 2 and some times 3 hours. If coupled with properly managed commuter rail and Namma Metro services, the total journey time from North Bangalore to South Bangalore would come down to well within 30 to 45 minutes. With TTMCs already providing a place to park a personal vehicle, most of the vehicle owners would prefer such a service.

While Namma Metro wouldn’t suffer traffic jams, commuter rail would need no new infrastructure, except for some rolling stock. All that is needed is good management of existing railway line with proper allocation of time schedules and track usage for a successful commuter rail service. Success (in terms of ridership) of Hyderabad MMTS services should be considered seriously by Bangalore authorities in designing Bangalore Commuter Rail service.

Bangalore authorities, especially BMTC, have shown a veritable knack of working out monthly plans and passes for commuters. Today Vajra passes (Volvo City Bus Passes) are a favorite with many of the commuters in Bangalore. Bus Day success is not something that could be treated as a coincidence. There is no reason why Bangalore authorities wouldn’t be able to work out similar monthly plans and collaboration schemes between BMTC, Namma Metro and Commuter Rail.

News reports like 1, 2, 3, 4 show that Bangalore authorities seem to be identifying this opportunity. We will find out in a few months’ time.

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