The famous Kempegowda Bus Station, the largest bus station located in central Bengaluru, turns 50 this year. Starting operations in 1969 and commonly known as Majestic bus stand, the bus station stands on what was once a lake and a major water source of the city, Dharma Budi lake. It covers a sprawling twenty acres of land and is owned by the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC). Every bus commuter in the city relies upon Majestic as the bus stop has different platforms for 6,172 (as on January 21, 2017) Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) buses that commute within the city. While celebrating the history of every Bengalurean’s favourite ‘Majestic’, it is important to take stock of the state of public transport in the city.
Waiting for a bus at any bus stop in any locality in Bengaluru, one can hear the conductors shouting “Majestic, Majestic...” indicating the bus is going towards the famous bus station. The station with semi circular platforms is where people go to change buses or even to catch a bus to go out of the city. These semicircular platforms are numbered according to the availability of buses to a certain location. There also is a different platform in the bus stand exclusively for 800 volvo buses. The platforms are connected by overhead bridges and subways.
On the left of the BMTC platforms are the KSRTC platforms. According to the KSRTC website, it connects on an average 29.25 lakh kms daily with a fleet size of 8,729 vehicles, and Majestic is the only bus station division of KSRTC, i.e. where all the buses are parked.
Even though the bus stand is in Gandhi Nagar, right opposite to the Bengaluru City Railway Station, the whole locality is famously called Majestic. The story is that at one time a movie theatre called ‘Majestic’ stood at this place, and that’s how the name stuck. Prasanna, a student in Bengaluru, recollects, “If I ever ended up boarding a wrong bus by mistake, I would remain calm as I knew I could simply get a bus to Majestic and figure it out from there.” This is the sentiment that every Bengalurean, especially students and those who were new in the city and navigated through the city by buses before it became infamous for its horrific traffic jams, can relate to.
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Public Transport in the City
Commuting has been the biggest concern in Bengaluru. The traffic jams in the city take away most of one’s time. Apart from BMTC, it is the Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation (BMRCL) that provides public transport in the city. Metro, however, is still an ongoing project and is not yet well-connected to all corners of the city. According to activist Manasi Paresh Kumar, “In Bengaluru, a bulk of its vehicular population are two-wheelers with the count at 45 lakh vehicles or 70% of the total vehicles; about 1.3 lakh are taxis; 13 lakhs are private cars and the rest are autos, bullock carts etc. Only 6,173 BMTC buses, Metro network and a few trains make up for the bulk of the government-run public transport system.”
Interestingly, the solution for the traffic jam problem plaguing the city is not being sought by improving public transport but by building more flyovers. For instance, currently, Bengaluru has the highest bus fares in the country. As on September 12, 2018, the BMTC bus fares in the city were as high as Rs. 19/- upto 10 kms while for cities like Chennai, Calcutta it is only Rs. 8 and Rs. 9, respectively. According to various media reports, when AC bus fares were reduced by 37% in 2017, BMTC had 42% more passengers and more revenues. Recently, there was a proposal to further increase the fare, claiming increase in fuel prices and “huge loses” as the reason. However, this proposal, which was seen as an attempt to damage the public transport system that would leave the poor in the city immobile, was protested against by several activists.
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According to Vinay Srinivasa of Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV), around 50 lakh people use BMTC buses for their daily commute. Apart from the office-going middle-class, BMTC commuters include large sections of urban deprived communities such as domestic workers, security guards, construction labourers, street vendors, municipal workers and garment workers. Following the several protests, the move to further increase the bus fares has been stalled.
In February 2017, the media had reported that the BMTC wanted private players to run 1,500 buses just for the IT workforce. This move was also protested against by the BBPV and other civic bodies, organising Bussu Bhagya Beku (We need a policy for buses), demanding to double the fleet of the buses by halving the fares. According to a report in the Bengaluru Citizen Matters, “The State budget in March 2017 announced 3,000 buses along with 150 electric buses to be added to this fleet. But this number covered the 1,000 buses which had to be scrapped from service, thus net increase in the number of buses wasn’t substantial.” According to media reports and estimates made by activists, Bengaluru needs at least 4,000 more buses and the metro rail project needs to be completed soon to solve the problem of traffic congestion in the city.
A recent report in the Deccan Herald noted, “According to the draft Revised Master Plan for Bengaluru–2031, the modal share of public transport in total overall trips is only 48%. Private vehicles constitute 52% of the total 10 million trips per day in Bengaluru. Ideally, a city should have 75% of model share of public transport. In Mumbai, the public transport share of total trips is 82% due to a good commuter rail network. As a result, it has a lower proportion of private vehicles compared to Bengaluru.” According to a Bengaluru Citizen Matters report, Bengaluru officially has close to 70 lakh registered vehicles. This is the second largest vehicle population in the country, coming behind Delhi which leads the way with a little more than 1 crore vehicles on its street. Mumbai with a population of 20 million has just over 35 lakh vehicles.
This is the result of the investments being made on flyovers and expansion of roads to accommodate more vehicles. For example, as NewsClick has reported earlier, the current Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government has proposed a series of elevated corridors aiming to solve the traffic problem in the city. Costing Rs 26,690 crore and running a length of 87.87 km, the projects involve the construction of 6 corridors: one running North-South, two running East-West and three connecting corridors, which has received a severe backlash from the civic bodies.
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