City Pulse

Minibuses: Changing the life of the Bangalore commuter

October 12, 2015 By ICMyC User
  • Writer advocates the use of minibuses for smoother transport.

  • BMTC bus frequency is too low and the timings are unreliable and erratic, says the writer.

  • Is this form of traffic sustainable?

After living abroad for many years, last year I came back to India with the intent to travel internationally. As part of my travels, I stayed for 3.5 months in Central America that included 1.5 months in Mexico and two months in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala. I also traveled for a couple months in Thailand and Europe.

The two glaring shortcomings between our cities and the cities I visited (some of which are much poorer countries—Eg: Nicaragua, Guatemala) are, 1) the poor standard of our city transportation and 2) public cleanliness. Nowhere do you see piles of open garbage and construction debris lying unattended. Nowhere do you see the condition of city transportation as bad as it is in Indian cities. Here are some issues that are unique to Indian cities.

  • Uneven surface of road

  • Potholes

  • Irrational road humps every 50 meters (Has anybody estimated loss of petrol and time due to road humps?)

  • Roads are not tarred all the way to the footpath.

  • Unnecessary honking

  • Polluting old 2-stroke auto-rickshaws

  • Busy intersections without signals

  • People carelessly walking on roads

  • Drivers stopping vehicle on roads with no indication (not using hazard lights)

  • Poor quality of footpaths

  • Cows loitering on roads

Public city transportation is far better in every country that I travelled. India has made significant progress in many areas, but we have simply NOT been able to deliver comfortable, reliable and affordable city transportation for the masses. While some progress like building metro and road infrastructure has been made, they are still largely inadequate.

Affordable, reliable, speedy and comfortable city transportation is still far from reality. According to me, one idea that can dramatically change this for the benefit of the common man is the introduction of private minibuses. I used this in Panama and some parts of Mexico and Guatemala. And when I came back I wrote an email to Ola management, asking them to look at introducing "minibus" carpool service and asking them to see this working in Mexico/Panama.

Recently I came to know that Zipgo and OLA shuttle were planning to introduce these minibuses in Bengaluru. This got me excited! However, I read the Karnataka Transport ministry has blocked this initiative sighting a technical violation. The Transportation minister was quoted as saying "We will not allow these minibuses in BBMP limits where BMTC buses already operate". I perceive this statement from a Transportation Minister as regressive, not citizen-oriented. I would like to challenge him to use only BMTC bus as means of city transportation for a month to go everywhere in the city and tell us his experience.

The fact that the month-long Zipgo minibus service was a huge hit is a testimony to the pent-up market demand for such minibus services. It is the citizens who need to decide if this service is needed or not, not a minister or some lobby.

While building metro with a wide reach is a great long term solution, here is why I believe minibus can make a huge positive impact today for the common man in providing reliable, comfortable, speedy and affordable city transportation. Below I have attempted to make a comparison between different modes of transport with the minibus.

Buses v/s Minibuses

  • BMTC Buses are too long and wide to manoeuvre on narrow single lane city roads with many twists and turns.

  • Buses frequently cause traffic jams by being slow, and with their size. Frequently one can observe a line of vehicles behind buses as buses try to negotiate turns or pass road humps. In contrast, a minibus can easily navigate narrow single lane roads and can turn without leading to traffic bottlenecks. Buses are good for the wide or two-laned roads like the Ring Roads, but BMTC buses should not ply on 1-laned roads. BMTC should seriously consider introducing its own fleet of minibuses for other narrow city roads (especially one-laned roads). BMTC buses and minibuses could be complementary to each other.

  • BMTC bus frequency is too low and the timings are unreliable and erratic. Private players use technology and introduce minibuses based on market demand. They can also tell you when the next vehicle is coming (Zipgo has this ETA-Estimated Time of Arrival feature) while BMTC timing is quite unpredictable. As long as it is viable for private players they will meet the demand.

Minibus vs Car-Taxis

  • It would cost probably 4-5 times lesser to travel in minibus compared to car or taxis for 8 km (Rs 29 vs Rs 150).

Minibus vs Auto-rickshaws

  • It would cost probably 2-3 times lesser to travel in minibus compared to Auto-rickshaw for 8 km (Rs 29 vs Rs 100).

  • Auto-rickshaws are not closed. So commuters have to face dirt and noise pollution.

  • Minibuses with the high seating and shock absorbers are far more comfortable than Auto-rickshaw.

  • Auto-rickshaws are slower.

Minibus vs Private cars or Private two-wheelers

  • Minibuses would be cheaper compared to taking out your own private car. The cost of minibus service is likely comparable to travelling in a private two-wheeler.

  • With minibus, you have no hassle or stress of driving or parking your private vehicle.

  • With minibus, you can be productive while commuting. 

Our roads are just not meant for everyone to take their own private vehicles (esp Cars) or rent their own Car-Taxis or Auto-rickshaws!

With the introduction of the minibus, the roads will be less congested and start to look more orderly with less private vehicles. Just think about this: A 26-seater minibus has a potential to reduce up to 26 private vehicles (many of which are private cars). A fleet of 1000 minibuses could potentially reduce up to 26,000 vehicles on the road causing less traffic congestion, increasing speed, saving petrol, improving commuter productivity and making our roads look orderly.

There are 2,000 private car registrations per week in Bengaluru RTOs. We have to ask how our city roads will look like if this trend continues for the next 5 years. This is simply not sustainable. Improving and incentivizing public transportation and dis-incentivizing private transportation (Eg; Introduction of a hefty congestion tax for taking private vehicles on busy roads) is the key. This is nothing new and other cities like London and Singapore have done this to successfully improve city transportation.

If our city transportation is made orderly, there is going to be positive impact for both tourism and promoting Indian cities as NRI retirement destination, both of which can bring in substantial money and investment into the country.

The common man has been suffering from lack of comfortable and affordable transportation for too long. Please say "Yes" to private minibus services.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author who is an ICMyC user.

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