The evolution of bus travels in India - Part-3
The City Bus!
Urban transportation is a hot topic across the globe. An efficient urban transportation system plays a very important route in reducing pollution and maintaining efficiency of a City! Urban Transportation has not been something that governments in India ever focused on. Urban Transportation could be handled by trains or buses - Mumbai, the financial capital of India, has a super efficient, terribly overburdened suburban railway system which plays a very important role in moving people in the city that never sleeps.
Buses are a very important component of City transportation - they have the unique ability of being a mass transporter, and also provide "close-to-last" mile connectivity. While a metro train or a suburban train wouldn't get you as close to your doorstep as possible (unless you stay right outside the station), buses are often able to do that. In my definition, a bus stop less than 500 metres from your door-step could be considered a "close-to-last" mile connectivity.
Coming to Urban Bus Transportation in India, dedicated city bus operators exist in few cities in the country - some that I could remember offhand would be Mumbai's Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST), Delhi's Delhi Transport Corporation (This was a corporation to handle both city and suburban operations, but now limited to only City operations), Chennai's Metropolitan Transport Corporation, Bangalore's Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation, Ahmedabad's Amdavad Municipal Transport Services, or Indore's Atal Indore City Transport Service. There could be more of these, and the list is by no means exhaustive. I did skip the transport bodies operated by different municipal corporations in Maharashtra - a system that I applaud.
Urban Transportation is a service that should be handled by the Local Self Government - funds from the LSG should be used to subsidize urban transportation, and buses should be run at frequencies that ensure every passenger has a comfortable ride and doesn't resort to use a personal transport option. However, quite often than not, the urban transport bodies are state run, or run as a subsidiary of a larger state run transport body - either of them aren't conducive to a good city specific organisation.
A great example of how an Urban Transport body should work would be Mumbai's BEST. Although not the best, it used to be T H E best for quite a long time. The buses worked perfectly as feeders to trains instead of competing with them. During its good old days, BEST could be seen as a very dependable operator who could be counted on when you exit the railway station, to continue your journey to your workplace or the final destination. While the trains in Mumbai ran along a North-South Axis, the buses took care of the East-West connectivity in the city. However, the transport utility saw its standards fall steadily as the leadership took wrong decisions one after the other - corruption and inefficiency creeped in, and people kept moving to other means of transportation, including cabs and private app based bus operators. BEST did come a comeback by implementing a cut in their ticket prices and operating buses at higher frequencies on high density routes.
Although I have no first hand experience, Delhi's DIMTS also seems to be a well run transport body that complements the Metro system and connects places where metro trains don't go. Bengaluru's BMTC is a state run body, run as a subsidiary to the state's transport utility, Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation. Although a subsidiary of the state utility, BMTC had its own administrative organization and financial freedom. However, BMTC is a body that focuses more on the profitability of its operation than on public service. Urban transport utilities must focus on public service and getting people off personal vehicles than on profitability. Profitability would appear as they get more people on board buses. Bangalore is perhaps one of the most congested cities in the world, and traffic snarls are part of the city's travel.
Maharashtra, in general, has a fairly well established urban transport mechanism - majority of the Municipal Corporations in the state own and operate their own city transportation system - be it Navi Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan-Dombivli, Pune, Kolhapur or Solapur. These buses dot the municipal area, and provide fairly good services. I don't recollect seeing such services down South. Its mostly state run services in the south - and, quite often, older buses that saw better days running long routes are relegated to run city services. Seeing poorly kept, run down, buses close to the end of their life is commonplace. Dedicated city buses are rare - Karnataka did really well on this part by introducing city buses funded by their "State Urban Transport Fund" - although city specific utilities were not formed, the state utility did do a fairly good job with these city buses.
During my month-long visit to the US in 2017, I was fairly impressed with public transportation in New York. The bus service aren't subsidized as such, but the had cross-functionality, and common mobility cards could be used without any hassle. India has been talking of a common-mobility card since quite some time. Some cities like Bengaluru has been talking of them for an even longer time. Kochi, in Kerala, did introduce a common mobility card largely coordinated by the city's Metro system. The card, called Kochi1, is accepted on most of the city buses as well.
The way forward for Urban transportation in India -
The COVID-19 Pandemic forced urban Indians to stay indoors for a fairly prolonged period. The effects of people sitting inside was visible in the air quality in various cities. This should be taken as a serious indication of how cities get polluted. The Government should take cognizance of this and introduce efficient city transportation - a combination of buses, metro and metro-lite trains should work best for us. BRTS could be built in cities that can afford it (In terms of space), and should be made mandatory for cities being developed newly. It would take some time for the country to embrace public transportation without fear as the country exits from the pandemic, but a large focus on city transportation is an absolute necessity. And, when that happens, the transportation must be subsidized in order to bring in more masses!