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Public Bus Transport – The Fare /Quality Nexus

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Unlike international practices, public transport, mainly bus services in India being a low-income country, have generally been governed by low fares at low levels of service. One type of low-quality service was acceptable to all then & even now, except for the better off cities (such as Bangalore, Mumbai & Delhi), public transport is generally based on these principles. As a result, there had been leakages – keeping fares low to assist poor travelers & low-income groups involves a leakage of benefits to better off passengers. The lower the fare, for a given level of service, the higher is the leakage. Conversely, for a given fare, increasing the level of service will also increase leakage. Most public bus operators in the country are thus, deep in the red, with increasing subsidies.

BMTC though, since bifurcation from KSRTC has been managing without subsidies, & with low pilferage of revenues. The low fare /low level of service had been producing a flight to 2-wheelers & cars. This in turn had produced a very heavy load on the road system. BMTC’s network continues to be diffuse & tries to connect the maximum number of origins & destinations to limit transfers to just one – SBS or Shivajinagar or KR Market (implying low frequency of service on individual routes).

The fare /quality issue has finally begun to be tackled – BMTC has introduced differentiated services (Volvo Vajras & lately, Suvarna skip-stop services with reserved seats /without over-crowding) to try to capture the quality-seeking passengers, with higher service /quality levels at higher fares.

But, is it too little too late ? The flight to private vehicles continues unabated & might intensify if the current pace of motorization is not halted & restraining measures are not pushed into place.

No matter how excellent the supply side of public bus transport is, the service will only have as much quality as the traffic conditions allow. The city does not seem to want to introduce public bus transport priority measures on city roads, & appears to be pinning it’s hopes on the Metro-rail, still several years away, & with limited coverage. The consequences of this approach might be negative for both, road-based bus operations & the Metro-rail. A low-cost, effective option is thus being neglected & only other expensive ones, like Metro /LRT /Mono remain on the table. At the very least, this means that fewer corridors can be provided with prioritized public transport modes.

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