5 changes in the BMTC that have transformed the Bangalore bus story

Bengaluru’s BMTC is one of India’s largest bus operators, and its network has made commuting in the city a breeze.


[Editor’s Note: In a 3-part series, Govind Gopakumar discusses the role of bus transport in shaping the social, political and cultural contexts in which people in the city live.]

Bengaluru (or Bangalore as it is often referred to in English) is often seen as India’s dream city – a city where urbanites want to live in and that other cities in the country can only aspire to imitate. It has acquired multiple monikers  – Garden City, Silicon Plateau, Pub City, Boomtown, Pensioner’s Paradise. These monikers suggest that Bengaluru’s residents can pursue a lifestyle that is not attainable to the same degree in any another city. This rising population brings with it some special challenges for the provision of essential infrastructures such as water, waste, transport, electricity, and communication services that keep the city functioning like a well-oiled machine. Buses (especially intra-city buses) and their associated infrastructures such as roads, bus terminals, bus bays and shelters provide a vital service that allows the mass movement of residents irrespective of class, caste, gender or other physical barriers.

Scene at Roopena Agrahara bus stop

India’s largest intra-city bus network

Bengaluru and its surrounding areas house nearly 9 million people within a roughly circular region about 30 km across. An enormous demand for transportation is created as these 9 million people move about to meet their daily needs. One notable aspect of transportation in the city is the rapid rise in private vehicles – motorbikes, scooties, cars and SUVs in every conceivable shape and colour – as a means of intra-city travel. One does not have to be a transport planner to know this, step onto any arterial road in the city at peak hour and the sight (and sound) that greets you is of gridlock from the sheer volumes of private vehicles. With more than 45 lakh private vehicles registered in the city, the competition for road space on Bengaluru’s roads is acute and becoming more so with each passing day. In this context, bus transport in Bengaluru, as the major mode of public transport, can play a vital role in decongesting roads. Since 1997, when Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) was formally separated from Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), BMTC has provided intra-city bus services in the city. BMTC runs one of India’s largest intra-city bus transportation networks with 6373 buses operating on 6655 schedules. In comparison larger cities like Chennai with 3652 buses and Mumbai with 4336 buses operate far fewer buses. BMTC operates these many buses through a three tier organizational structure composed of a corporate office, five divisions, and 37 depots. While the corporate office gives policy direction to BMTC, and the divisional offices supervise the functioning of depots, it is the depot that is tasked with the daily running of buses as per schedule, manage labour, and ensure fare collection.

Older blue and white buses in Bengaluru

The transformation of Bangalore’s buses

In recent times BMTC and bus infrastructure in Bengaluru has changed rapidly and significantly. These changes can be characterised into three areas – technological, infrastructural, and operational.

Low-floor buses: A key technological change in bus transport has been the introduction of low-floor buses. Low-floor buses are designed specifically for intra-city bus travel. The earlier blue and white buses in the city were designed on top of a truck chassis. As a result the floor of these buses traveled high above the road surface. Anyone travelling by these buses had to clamber up four tall steps to reach the floor of the bus. A common feature of low-floor buses is that in all these buses, the floor of the bus is much lower above the road surface. This allows much easier entry and exit.

A low-floor air-conditioned Vajra bus

Automatic doors: In addition to low-floors, these buses also possess several other design modifications such as automatic doors, scrolling signboards and individual seating that are expected to make travel easier for commuters. One key difference is the presence of automatic doors. Unlike the passageways in the blue and white buses, newer buses are fitted with a wide central door and a front door, each of which can be controlled remotely by the driver. An additional feature in the newer buses is the electronic signboard that continuously scrolls from left to right as it displays the route information of the bus. This board displays not only the route number of the bus, its final destination but also the exact route the bus will take. This information is displayed in both Kannada and English. The older blue and white buses had special windows in the front and rear of the bus through which hand painted signs on metal sheets displayed route and destination information. The large-scale introduction by BMTC of low-floor  (especially air-conditioned) buses may have reduced some physical barriers but at the same time the requirements of poorer people for affordable busing may have been compromised.

Traffic and Transit Management Centre at Vijaynagar

TTMC: A key infrastructural change has been the construction of at least ten Traffic and Transit Management Centres (TTMC) at various locations in the city. Built where major bus stations were located, TTMC are designed to decongest road space by incorporating bus transfer with large spaces for private vehicle parking along with commercial and retail spaces. Commuters can choose to park their cars or bikes at the TTMC, take a bus while going to work and then choose to shop there in the evening before returning. Most of these TTMCs have space for parking private cars and motorbikes. Many TTMCs have also rented out their spaces to large supermarkets such as the Reliance Mart at the Vijaynagar TTMC or the More at the Jayanagar TTMC. The presence of large supermarkets with parking has made some of these TTMCs very popular with auto-mobile consumers but what is often not clear is whether those who come there do so just to shop or whether they also leave their vehicles and then take the bus and go elsewhere.

A Big 10 bus in the city

The Big 10: At the operational level too, BMTC has made some far-reaching changes to bus transportation in the city. The introduction of direction-oriented buses is one such operational change. The routes of direction-oriented buses are designed so that they provide services along a particular axis or direction. The Big 10 buses, for example, run outward/inward along 10 different radial directions. A direction-orientation for bus routes is considered a much more efficient means of transportation because it tries to move people with minimal overlap of bus routes. So a bus operator has to run far fewer buses. BMTC is still in a learning stage with implementing such direction-oriented routes.

And big fares! A more significant operational change is in BMTC’s priorities as an organization. In recent years, BMTC has emphasized its financial independence by not accepting government handouts in the form of subsidies. While this has certainly enhanced its decision-making autonomy, it has also meant that BMTC has been quick to pass on any cost increases to commuters. In the past three years BMTC has increased fares by 80% even though diesel prices have only increased about 30% in the same period. As a result Bengaluru now has some of the highest bus fares among major Indian cities.

Part 2 of this series will focus on the experiences of women in buses in the city.                          


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Govind Gopakumar loves Bengaluru but what he loves even more is reading, writing, and talking about Bengaluru. Fortunately for him, there is an institution in most places that houses such misfits – a university. In one such university, far away from Bengaluru, Govind bides his time plotting all the while about his next visit to the city he loves. Govind is an Asst. Professor and Associate Chair ... more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Govind Gopakumar loves Bengaluru but what he loves even more is reading, writing, and talking about Bengaluru. Fortunately for him, there is an institution in most places that houses such misfits – a university. In one such university, far away from Bengaluru, Govind bides his time plotting all the while about his next visit to the city he loves. Govind is an Asst. Professor and Associate Chair ... more
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