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Bus Services Suffer from an Image Problem

A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure” – Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister.

Conventional bus services, the world over are generally perceived as slow, infrequent, inconvenient, uncomfortable, and distinctly lacking in status & quality.

What is required for bangalore is a complete change in the way people travel.

Invoking cosmetic changes & marketing conventional bus services are unlikely to make major impacts, other than marginally improve patronization (we have seen this all these years). Bus services, unfortunately carry a long-standing negative stigma regarding poor performance & inadequate customer services, despite BMTC being one of the best performing transport corporations.

‘Public Bus Transport’ often brings with it the same connotation of unpleasantness as ‘Public Toilets’ can, & therefore generally serve the low-end users. Overcoming this negative image is quite impossible in the city as no matter what steps are taken, the two-wheelers & cars always win the battle with respect to quicker mobility & convenience, & the flight of users from buses to private vehicles will continue, as & when they can afford vehicles.

There is'nt a single example in the world where the image of bus services has changed from this undesirable perception with conventional bus services operating with mixed traffic. Instances where the image of bus services have been changed for the better are only in cities where BRT has been adopted, such as Bogota, with the TransMillenio, Santiago (TransSantiago) & Mexico (MetroBus). Apart from this, many more cities have adopted BRT options (well over 40).

In the case of the airport Volvo Vajras, they have made a pretty good beginning primarily due to the very long distance, with taxi & car options being not only very expensive, but more inconvenient than bus. Even this service is being debated endlessly for the time taken as the service is determined by prevailing traffic conditions (the service can never be better than what the traffic conditions allow it to be).

Rail systems, particularly in India are maintaining an edge over public bus services with regard to creating a more modern & sophisticated image, with the traditionally fast, yet uncomfortable Mumbai rail, the newer & better Delhi Metro & also the Kolkata Metro.

Thus, attracting the upper middle class & higher-income users onto buses becomes even more difficult with the upcoming bangalore metro unless this negative image is completely revamped in every aspect of service, efficiency, performance & convenience. Bus services to support, complement & feed the Metro, must be equivalent in services to the Metro, else it might, in some ways lead to the failure of the Metro in reducing congestion as patronization for the Metro is largely dependent on access to good, reliable & fast feeder bus services.

Such high quality, competitive services can only be provided by BRT with separate lanes & punctual, reliable services. Until a BRT system is in place in the city, the image of public bus services will continue to struggle with this negative stigma attached to it.

narayan82's picture

start at the begining

Delhi Metro has a very good Brand Image. I thnk its a good example of PPP. The Citibank Ad, for the co branded metro card is a step forward... Meanwhile i think public transport has to introduced at the very begining stages of use. So for example schools/colleges must be encouraged to use public transport. Else from a very early age one gets used to the Car and Bike method and then giving it up becomes even harder. Public Bus Transport does have a poor image - but that can change as we see in the volvos in Bangalore. Once he bus stations become "swankier" and incorporate Multiplexes in them people will start re looking at it.
Narayan Gopalan
User Interaction Designer
tsubba's picture


important post naveen. just make sure that there is a context to your post, i will state the obvious. uncool, unsexy is one aspect of public perception. unreliable, inefficient, incompetent etc... is another aspect of it. we will leave reliability out of this discussion because that is a bigger issue. and we have been discussing that in other threads. here about the image problem... beaten up, unclean, overcrowded buses, chaotic bus terminals, non existent bus stops etc., make it appear unsexy. but these are really symptomatic of efficiency and competence. without investing in another volvo, or another glass and chrome building, if the saarige is able to organize what exists in a more coherent systematic manner then its image will automatically improve. like kids, people also need to be comforted with repeated reinforcement and reassurances. buses are always clean and well maintained. service is courteous. toilets in depots are clean. all busstops are well lit and have a shade, are clean. are not dusty. have pavements. are easily accessible. have well organized auto stands nearby. routes are intuitively organized. these types of basic things must constantly be reinforced by actual experience as well as by propoganda. i would rather the saarige raise the overall service levels in a sustainable manner rather than chase a niche segment. it is as important to retain existing customer base, as it is to attract new ones. actually, chasing the niche market is a high risk proposition and if not done cautiously and with good judgement could end up burning bmtc. after all the make up & fair & lovely, there is no guarantee that the niche segment will actually commit. also it is impossible for a system like common transport to constantly keep up with the ever increasing expectations of the niche segment. and much harder for it bend over backwards to get into psychology and behavior sciences. these they should leave it to jholawalaru and krantikaarigaLu. irrespective of the amount of makeover bmtc portals are never going to be sexy like the verandah of leela palace, valet service and a limousine ride. but, if they can establish an image that 'this is what we do, and we do it extremely well', i think that will generate respect, and respect is prolly a much more sustainable image to develop, rather than sexy.
Naveen's picture

Srigaara - BMTC's Image


TS - Your response was hilarious !

This was posted since Narayan, Shastri & George had some good thoughts for boosting BMTC's image & marketing it better, but I feel that such efforts will have limited reach, ability & success & propoganda cannot continue for long as costs for such promotions will start biting & hurt it's bottomlines.

I agree that if the saarige organizes itself in a more coherent & systematic manner, its image might improve. We need the saarige to take care of mobility for the masses, but I feel sorry to see them waiting without certainty of when the next bus would arrive - the punctuality & reliability aspect is missing. The traffic conditions are partly to blame for this, as also for BMTC's insensitiveness towards customers. BMTC, on paper is the best operating public transport body, but this is largely based on revenues & profits. I doubt if it is based on customer satisfaction survey/s.

Chasing the niche segment has benefits for all - this segment might start using BMTC if services are good & this in turn will lower the dependence on private vehicles, which will clear the path for other ordinary services, as well. BMTC has been losing it's customer base & the pull factors for using private modes is very strong, & therefore, it's package must include services for competing with cars thro' BRTS. Unless this is done, I dont see how it will continue to retain it's share in terms of percentage. By nos, it has held on, but this is because the no. of trips has increased with rise in population - so, in actual terms, it has lost some share, & will continue to do so.

The country, particularly this city, has arrived where expectations of the populace, particularly the niche segment place great value on time as economic activities depend on this. I feel it is really time now to start addressing these segments - they would need to employ professionals who analyze & understand expectations from various segments. If we ignore the requirements of customers, especially the niche segments & do not provide equivalent services for them, then we must also be prepared to keep building roads & flyovers for them - this is going to cost us much more than taking a gamble & try to wean them on to buses, not to mention the increased pollution & other social costs of vehicle usage.

I'm sure the niche segments do not expect BMTC portals like the verandahs of leela palace ! Nor do they expect valet service & a limo ride !! All they expect is a good, comfortable ride on time to their destinations, & perhaps AC in hot climate.

Respect for BMTC will surely come along by all segments if these few conditions are met - & will sustain as long as they continue to provide the same quality of service !!!


narayan82's picture

Coherency and Image

Just read both your posts. An image cannot change without good service, and reliability. But then reliability and Good service can do much better with a good image! They both go hand in hand. BMTC seems to have the expertise and willpower to change thier backbone. This si buy re looking at routes, getting beter busses, developing TTMCs...etc This in no way will loose thier existing customers. The Image meanwhile will be able to bring more customers to them. The market isnt really a Niche and Elite. Its more of the Lazy 2 wheeler market (me being one of them!) The guys who travel in the backseat of the car in a 3 peice suit isnt really going to shift. But the day he doesn't look at a public transport user in a deragatory manner is what the image must achieve. For example, will a CEO be all right with his immideate Junior coming to work in a Bus?
Narayan Gopalan
User Interaction Designer
tsubba's picture


aha now i see. you are talking about networks also. thats two networks threads in one day. see i deliberately mentioned that i am not talking about reliability here. as we have discussed before reliability is a network issue and a traffic issue. i was hoping to discuss that in narayan's thread. here i was generally talking about 'image' problems beyond reliability that goes with the look and feel of buses, bus stops, amenities etc etc. due to inefficiency and incompetency. one of primary things that impacts image is bus stands/stops. that is the frontend of bmtc's business. i wonder why bmtc has allowed its image to be haraajed at the mercy of the paalike? do you know if there is any specific reason why paalike has to maintain bus stands? is it a booking keeping issue or is it a revenue issue? is it that the paalike didnot want to part with revenues from ads? if bda/paalike is not constructing metro stations and the railway stations and the airport why is the paalike constructing the bus stops?
narayan82's picture

Image (Contd)

Sorry I think i used the wrong word. What I mean was about the "image." As we had discusse earlier this can be changed by private Participation. Where bustops an service is handed over to private parties. Hence this Co-Branded venture will have the benefits of both. For example BBMP can outsource bus stop maintainence and upkeep to a private party who collects revenue through advertising, sale of passes/tickets at the bus stop and maybe vending machines inside. When I stayed in Edinburgh (Scotland) many Managers and High profile people use the bus. The busses are clean well maintained and "look good." There was nothing wrong being seen in a bus. Here its quite the opposite.
Narayan Gopalan
User Interaction Designer
tsubba's picture

private participation

one of the issues with private participation is, there are only certain types of locations where private entities are interested in advertising. this is a real issue. if i remember correctly paalike had to redo tenders for stops at some locations. and totally abandoned the idea in others. comment guidelines

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