THE Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), in its earlier avatars as the privately managed Bangalore Transport Company and the State-owned Bangalore Transport Service, was much lampooned. Today, the buses, which remained painted red for years, as if symbolising the dangerous driving style of their drivers, have got an image-makeover: they now sport a cool blue or serene beige colour. That is not all. The corporation is arguably the only urban transport company in the world that is turning in a profit (Rs.80.01 crores in 2004-05).
Ever since the BMTC was separated from the Karnataka Road Transport Corporation to become a separate entity in August 1997, it began its long haul - from being villain to saviour; from being pauper to corporate prince.
Catering to the transport needs of Bangalore and the suburban areas within a radius of 35 kilometres, the BMTC carries over 30 lakh passengers every day, runs 4,000 buses, operates 60,000 trips on 1,500 routes, and employs 18,000 people. The BMTC's daily service kilometres have gone up from 4.01 lakh kilometres in 1997-98 to 8.81 lakh kilometres in 2004-05. In 2005, it is expected to go up to 9.55 lakhs kilometres a day. To match the demands of a city of 70 lakh people and to wean them away from using other modes of transport, the BMTC plans to provide inter-model flexibility to passengers, introduce new buses, and generally enhance the supply position by introducing modern buses. It will be adding 500 more buses in 2005, including 25 Volvo buses. The introduction of intra-city Volvo buses will be the first effort of its kind in the country. Each bus, 12 metres long, costs Rs.66 lakhs and can accommodate around 120 people.
According to Upendra Tripathy, Managing Director, the BMTC is the best in the country in terms of sustainability and has created impressive infrastructure. For example, during the 2004-05 financial year, 12 new depots were added taking the depot strength to 25; as many as 536 new schedules were introduced taking the total schedules to 3,925; and the fleet strength was increased to 3,925 by adding 613 new vehicles. Today, the corporation has over 800 bus shelters across the city.
The corporation launched a slew of passenger-friendly initiatives in 2004-05: it started 134 Grameena Sarige services to link the suburban areas and outlying villages; frequent services on the Outer and Inner Ring Roads connecting passengers from south Bangalore and north Bangalore and also east Bangalore and west Bangalore; launched 56 night services buses to provide services from the Kempe Gowda Bus Station to various residential extensions; introduced five air-conditioned buses running between the Kempe Gowda Bus Station and select points in the city with fares varying between Rs.10 and Rs.15; and put on road five `Sarathi' patrolling vehicles to ensure timely operations of buses, proper stoppage of buses at bus stops, and occupation of seats reserved for women, senior citizens and physically challenged persons. An electronic ticketing machine to issue tickets was also introduced.
The corporation also introduced a web-based information system, which gives the details of services, timings and origins and destinations of buses, and a route map. Says Tripathy: "Earlier our system used to be off-line, but in the next six months we will be putting in place an interactive voice response system that is programmed to tell a passenger in real time when exactly his bus will be arriving at the stop at which he wishes to alight. We have also started tracking around 300 buses online via the Global Positioning System. Using 16 variables we can trace the performance of the bus, know about slipped trips, and say whether it was on time, etc."
Tripathy cites improvement in the administration as the reason for the corporation's success in recent years: "Our public-private partnership has helped tremendously, and even though we are a labour-oriented organisation we have managed to bring down the staff ratio from 7.5 per bus to 5.8 per bus, and have introduced a good financial management system. Today in a bid to get competitive prices we have set in place an e-tendering system in the process of materials procurement. In other words, anyone who wants to supply an item like diesel (the BMTC uses 1.3 lakh litres of diesel every day) or chassis will have to quote the rates via the e-tendering system. To eliminate cash and cheque disbursals, whether they are to employees or suppliers, we have introduced the electronics clearing system. Suppliers are happy with our `Prompt Payment Scheme'; their bills are settled within five days of their presentation, in lieu of which they give the corporation a 2 per cent discount."
Tripathy also disclosed that the BMTC had tried, though not too successfully, to run buses on bio-fuels. Also on the cards is the installation of LED displays on all buses. Flashing in English and Kannada, the displays will spell out the destination and route of the bus.
But Tripathy is realistic when it comes to the transport problems that face a burgeoning city like Bangalore: "The problem is with the roads in Bangalore. They are too narrow. Also, the carrying capacity of Bangalore is eight lakh vehicles, whereas we have 24 lakhs, out of which 74 per cent are two-wheelers. But we are trying to offer the commuter the best public transport we can. If we do not, others (private players) will take our place and, worse, for every bus that is off the roads, 50 two-wheelers will take its place. The chaos and congestion will then be uncontrollable."