Bangalore, India is notorious for its grinding congestion and painful, polluted commutes. The city’s information technology (IT) boom in the 1990s and early “aughties” led to sprawling, haphazard development and an expanding middle class with a penchant for private vehicles. In the meantime, the city’s public transit languished, in part because of this sprawling car culture, and in part because of poor management and a lack of political will to promote sustainable transport in the city.
But now it looks like the city bus may be making a comeback.
BUS DAYS IN BANGALORE
This February 4, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), the agency responsible for the city’s bus system, declared the city’s first Bus Day, calling upon local IT giants like Infosys, Wipro and Microsoft to help lead the movement.
Explaining the motivations behind Bus Day, BMTC managing director Syed Zameer Pasha said, “It’s not so much about increasing ridership as it is about creating awareness to cut vehicle congestion and pollution.”
On the first Bus Day, Infosys reported that 600 employees ditched their cars and took the city bus to their campus south of the city. Subsequent Bus Days — on every 4th of the month — have registered a 10 percent increase in the city bus’ daily ridership of 4.2 million people.
Support from leading IT firms — employing around 150,000 people along two main IT corridors — has been vital for the bus’s comeback. These businesses generally offer private buses to transport employees, but these buses run at peak hours only; this makes employees more likely to arrive at work disgruntled and suffering from the all too familiar side effects of painful commutes like headaches and indigestion. To enjoy more flexibility and less congested roads, many employees opt to get to work on their own. Increasingly, they’re getting to work on the bus.
MONTHLY PASS AND FLEXIBLE HOURS BOOST RIDERSHIP
For Rs1,350(US$28.90) a month, the BMTC offers unlimited rides, and its flexible hours are winning over workers looking to commute at off hours. For example, Anantha Padmanabha, a technical consultant with Wipro, takes the bus at 6:00 a.m. and returns home at around 4:30 p.m. Taking the bus at these hours, he has cut his commute time from an hour and a half to less than an hour on most days. Mr. Padmanabha is one of 5,000 Wipro employees (there are 18,000 employees total), who now make their daily commutes on the bus. And recently the BMTC increased the frequency of trips to “Electronic City,” where Wipro is located, to ensure that people like Mr. Padmanabha don’t wait more than five minutes for their bus to come.
BANGALORE ADDS 1,100 PRIVATE VEHICLES DAILY
There are 3.7 million private vehicles on Bangalore’s roads, and the city adds an astounding 1,100 vehicles per day. As a result, traffic slows to average speeds less than 15 kilometers per hour during peak hours.
The city’s much-anticipated metro is slated to begin operations in early 2011, but it will only cover about 42 kilometers along some of the city’s oldest corridors — nowhere near the campuses of giant employers like Infosys and Wipro. In the meantime, plans for a bus rapid transit system in the city, while promising, are still in very early stages. So for now, a lot’s riding on the success of the city bus’s campaign to boost ridership.