As part of ABIDe, Prof.Ashwin Mahesh appears to have thoroughly understood all the limitations of having to deal with issues for commencing new city transport services within the existing framework of our polity & citizenry.
He touched upon prevailing operational practices & existing mindsets within BMTC as also those of the expectations of people with regard to BMTC services. He dealt with various issues in an extremely systematic & orderly way & explained all aspects – indeed in a most impressive manner.
In short, as regards, Big-10 & Hop-On /Off services (commonly referred to as ‘Kendra Saarige’), the efforts appear to be well aligned with the city’s needs & commuter interests & might be a precursor for better things ahead, & in this respect, the services seem to be pointing in the right direction.
Some of the aspects he explained in detail were as follows :
- Lack of appropriate professionals & planners within the city administration as also within the BMTC, necessitating the need for an assisting body such as ABIDe or the erstwhile BATF.
- The difficulties for planning & operating local area feeder services leading to the main arterial roads where the Big-10s operate – since this would involve additional tickets & higher travel costs to commuters, though this is inevitable. As regards feeder routes, Praja could play a role in identifying feasible routes in the many suburbs.
- The obstacles for removal of existing superfluous destination-oriented services after the introduction of Big-10 routes. This was mainly due to demands from local residents & heads, who insist on exclusive direct services from their local areas to the city center/s, even if they were infrequent, as has been the norm for several decades. Whilst currently there is likely to be some degree of resistance to accept immediate changes, duplication of routes could be removed only with efflux of time & once the benefits of these services are accepted by & large by most commuters.
- Lack of political will to take unpopular, harder decisions & enforce them, such as re-introduction of parking charges in the city.
- The difficulties with regard to introduction of right of ways for buses to escape intersection delays by providing bus-exclusive underpasses as also dedicated infrastructure such as bus lanes, though these are in the planning stages & may become a reality in due course.
- The possibility of introduction of tickets for a fixed time period rather than by trip & distance, though this may not have a large no. of takers since people typically use bus rides for work commutes by the trip or with monthly passes.
- The general focus & efforts to change the long-held biases in commuters’ minds that transfers during a trip were unwelcome & that it would result in loss of time with additional cost. The corollary here is that more frequent bus services can be operated if the bus route patterns were less diffuse than with the present destination-oriented services. Thus, transfers were inevitable if wait times at bus stops have to be shortened, & common ticketing (ie. single ticket for the entire trip) could assist.
- BMTC staff earn incentives based on rider-ship & ticket sales & some routes attract higher passengers than others. Thus, there is a system to employ staff rotationally to ensure that such benefits are divided across all staff. This sometimes results in certain inefficiencies, but solutions are difficult as staff welfare is equally important. An example he quoted was the use of the nearest bus depots that could not be used exclusively for the more profitable routes, such as the Big-10s that are anticipated to be profitable in the future.
- The obstructions to fast bus entry & exit at bus stops with other vehicles stopped at bus stops, typically private buses waiting at stops for a sizable commuter load to commence a trip. An example he quoted was the bus stop at Kasturba road near Corporation (Hudson circle).
- Possibilities for allowing pedestrians to get to bus stops more easily through parks (instead of having to take circuitous routes around it) were also being explored.
- Eight of the ten Big-10 routes were already in operation & the remaining ones may commence operations soon. There are proposals to start these services on other arterial roads such as Hennur road & the total no. of services may eventually be more than 10.
- The Big-10 service on old airport road was already seeing high commuter loads & the no. of buses on this route have been increased.
- The idea of running Big-10s across the city to cover two arterials in a continuous, uninterrupted manner, whilst skimming the central area was also being explored.
- Possibilities for running circular routes in concentric circles away from city center were also being checked.
- Prof. Ashwin emphasized that promotional efforts such as costly advertising & running the services for a short period with low fares were neither possible nor necessary.
The new bus services aside, the neglect of the welfare of pedestrians with diminishing sidewalks on streets with each road widening exercise were also discussed. Prof.Ashwin mentioned that no pedestrian issues were encountered with the Silkboard flyover since it had only one set of ramp/s. Also, along Race-Course road, the pedestrian walkway width was being increased.
However, at many other flyovers that have multiple ramps, such as the ones on old Airport road, Dairy circle & at Jayadeva hospital, pedestrian facilities are non-existent. The new pedestrian underpass on Nrupathunga road had it’s exit along the road median & this was posing difficulties.
Following the session with Prof.Ashwin, a Praja meeting was also organized.
Experiences in several cities overseas have shown that car users will not voluntarily opt out of their cars unless restraints & barriers are set up & pushed in place for car use, such as high parking costs, congestion /cordon pricing, longer travel time, etc..
The Big-10 services, along with the Hop-On /Off & circular routes may some day be successful in bringing down vehicle volumes in the city after it inches ahead progressively with incremental steps being taken by planners & acceptance by the many different groups of commuters. The desirable quicker shifts from private to public modes for commuting to free up our choked roads might thus, take a long while to happen on the ground !