BMTC – Illusioned to Fail

BMTC – Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation has always been one of my favorite things about Bangalore. In fact, the public transport of a city plays a major role in forming the culture of a city. Be it the trams and cabs of Kolkata or the locals and kali peelis of Mumbai or BMTC in Bangalore. This blog comes in the wake of the Chief Minister’s announcement to cut services in the city to reduce losses.

The CM of Karnakata, HD Kumaraswamy came out with an announcement that the only way to reduce the losses of BMTC is to reduce the lossy AC buses. These AC buses have a shortage in users and hence are not pulling their weight. The commuter community reacted with disappointment and said this was a stupid decision and the government was drawing short sighted conclusions.

BMTC before its separation and rebranding in 1997 was called BTS and affectionately called Bitre Tirga Sigalla by Bangaloreans. The BTS was known for its scanty service. BMTC was an attempt to breathe new life into the failing public transportation service. It started with acquiring fresh capital and equipment. The government of the day pumped money knowing well that it was a going down the drain.

The turnaround happened in the second half of the 2000s. By 2006-07 BMTC had emerged as a unicorn in India’s public transport services. The period between 2006 and 2010 can be termed as the period when BMTC reached its peaks in profits and popularity.

The measures taken were not simple. Money was added, people were hired and a lot of new services were added. New buses, improved bus conditions, Digital marquee displays, bus stop announcements, and the addition of all the different new kinds of service.

This was the time when BMTC went on an expansion spree, they launched the AC bus service, the airport bus service, the pass bus, women’s bus, the training bus, Janti vahini – double coach, hospital bus service, BIG 10 bus service, MBS – long route buses, and special high frequency bus services on specific route, patron engagement campaigns like Bus Day and the launch of the MyBMTC App. One can wonder what happened to all these plans. One by one, many of them gave way.

Recently it was announced that BMTC has reported a loss of 300 crores for the FY 2018-19. Why? How? How did the unicorn of public transport just 10 years ago start losing money? On closer observation, it becomes clear that the unicorn has been bleeding for quite some time.

While BMTC made success and reported profits in the first decade of the millennium, at the turn of 2010, the drive to innovate and upstart started drying and the objective was to capitalize on the investments made. The prices of bus service in Bangalore has always been higher in comparison to cities like Chennai or Hyderabad or Mumbai, the patrons were OK with paying the fare. It could be because of the lack of alternatives or the fact that historically the economic divide has been better off in Bangalore.

The arrival of Namma metro, Ola and Uber, rental bikes and cars may have played a small role, but looking at the growth rate of the city, all these are not enough to handle to 9 Million residents of Bangalore. In fact in any city in India we face this problem, the growth is faster than the availability of infrastructure – but that story is for another day, let’s stay focused on BMTC.

Traffic

So why now did BMTC start losing money? BMTC like everyone is Bangalore is a victim of the ever-growing menace of traffic. The city’s roads are filled with 45 Lakh 2 wheelers and 13 Lakh private cars, in comparison, the 6000 odd buses that ply though the city are doing a commendable job in ferrying public in the city of 9 Million people. The exponential growth in traffic means the turnaround time for buses goes up.  A 25 Km trip to Whitefield from Majestic – which is one of the kinder routes, takes nearly 2 hours. How many trips can a driver make in his designated 8-hour shift? Not more than 3.

Fuel

Public transport corporations are notorious when it comes to revising fares based on the fuel prices. BMTC is no different, it did this as it pleased, every change in fuel price was warmly welcomed with equivalent fare revisions. The revisions also affected bus passes, daily passes that costed  ₹ 20  when they first came out, now costs no less than 70. BMTC also periodically reduced the fares if there was a price drop in the fuel market. But as one can expect, they were far and few.

Fares

The idea of cutting loses by reducing the service routes is the general knee jerk reaction. MTC, the bus service in Chennai does this often – but it couldn’t be a good example to talk about as the MTC is not a profit-making body. In fact, there are very few public run bus services that can be compared to BMTC. How then can BMTC make a second turnaround? Definitely not by cutting services – maybe by redesigning the routes?

MTC Fairs – Bus service in Chennai

A 2017 blog post comparing the different RTC’s paints an informative picture about the state of Bus fares across the country. It is important to note, none of the RTC’s are making a profit.

ServiceRegularAC Service
BEST – Mumbai720
BMTC – Bangalore615
MTC – Chennai315
PMPML – Pune5
DTC – Delhi2.55

Since Namma Metro entered the scene of public transport in Bangalore, the BMTC has reduced its fares. This cut has been across the board, including long distance route on AC buses. If a passenger pays 80 rupees for a 25 Km distance that the bus takes 2 hours to complete, it’s hardly surprising that the bus is losing money. Today the average mileage of BMTC is 3 Km per liter and one liter of diesel costs around ₹ 65.  This comes up to ₹ 500-550 per trip, this should be easy to recover. Considering it is traveling on a long distance and hence the number of passengers using the bus should offset the sad mileage.

Politics

The CM of the state announced that BMTC would redistribute the costly AC buses to other RTC’s owned by the state in the north. While this is a move to ‘cut the losses’ Bangalore’s need says quite the opposite. The Bengaluru Bus Prayaanikara Vedike in its research says Bangalore needs at least 3000 more buses to cater the public transport needs.  One might say there is no place on the roads to add these buses, but as we’ve seen already, of the 65 lakh vehicles on the streets of Bangalore, there are only 6000 buses. Hence adding more buses could actually bring down the other vehicles.

So where does this leave us?

  1. Don’t cut bus services – they don’t affect traffic and they will help the public better
  2. Recalculate and reroute AC bus routes
  3. Don’t reduces bus fares for AC buses – metro is not a competition  
  4. Reduce bus fares for normal buses – they will help the public
  5. Real estate game – building TTMC’s was not a master stroke, may cut your losses here and stop the real-estate game
  6. Non Operational income – ad revenues needs a new strategy, renting of buses to private parties and renting of parking space can be made into a lucrative non operational income – this needs work

Most importantly, don’t just call BMTC to have failed before attempting to revive it.

~*~

PS: Unfortunately I haven’t been able to cover the income generated via the non-operational activities like advertising, leasing and renting of buses, parking, and private party renting. Perhaps an addendum will come up shortly.

Also read: BMTC – Pocket full of Sunshine

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