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Why is Mumbai lagging behind in providing an effective bus service to and from the airport, when Bengaluru, Delhi and Hyderabad have all got such services? Is it possible that such a bus service could expose the futility of building a metro rail or monorail?
The buses are air-conditioned. They are low floor and have space for baggage. They are attractive. And they even provide space for wheel-chair passengers, or to your bicycle along. There are 235 services from the airport daily. They operate every six minutes on an average, to different destinations in a city that does not have dedicated bus lanes, that has more vehicles and worse road congestion than Mumbai. It meets the estimated demand of the passengers coming by air. There is a help desk kiosk which is distinctly visible and actually helpful. This is Bengaluru's Vaayu Vajra service.
Vaayu Vajra has 11 routes serving different areas, reaching passengers to locations from where they can easily get a taxi, or an autorickshaw, or a personal car pickup for the last mile. This saves that many car trips and the city is already planning to introduce BRTS on certain Ring Road routes to begin with.
The annual air passenger traffic in 2010-11, according to the Airports Authority of India was 29.9 million in Delhi, 29.1 million in Mumbai, 12 million in Chennai, 11.6 million in Bengaluru, 9.6 million in Kolkota, 7.6 million in Hyderabad and 4.3 million in Kochi. Based on the assumption that a third of the air passengers travel in their personal cars, a third use intermediate public transport like taxis or autorickshaws and the rest use buses, on average two passengers travel per taxi, while 30 travel by each bus. The required frequency of buses for Bengaluru works out to about one every eight minutes, whereas there is actually one bus every six minutes. Adherence to schedule is sacrosanct, therefore an adequate number of buses have been deployed and the fare structure is suitably higher than the normal stage AC bus services called simply Vajra. A similar calculation for taxis reveals that about 115 taxis are required every hour.
Let us examine the scenario in Mumbai, by first checking the bus requirements and the frequency of taxis and autorickshaws, for a similar breakup of travel mode. The frequency of buses required in Mumbai is one every three minutes and about 285 taxis per hour.
What is required is a sincere desire to provide a proper service in Mumbai and for those visiting Mumbai, following the initiative in Bengaluru. In Mumbai the BEST operates services to areas that are socially relevant, but commercially unviable. It is necessary to provide these services, as otherwise economically backward people would not be able to travel to work, particularly if they are living far away from the workplace. But providing an airport bus service is beneficial, as it is not only socially relevant but also commercially viable.
We know that there are many air travelers who take a morning flight and return by night every now and then. The last thing they want is to have to wait for a taxi that does not come to the boarding point regularly. As mentioned, the hourly requirement of taxis at Mumbai airport is 285 (for domestic as well as international terminals). Then why are 600-plus taxis parked at the airport, as counted in a Google picture? In the absence of a bus service like that in Bengaluru, the need today is nearly 600 taxis per hour, combined for domestic and international flights together. The 600 count was from the international airport (as seen in the picture). For some reason, there is always a significant shortfall of taxis at the taxi boarding bays at the domestic terminal despite the fact that 600-plus taxis are parked at the international terminal at Sahar. We do not face this sort of problem at Delhi airport. There is a taxi with a number at a given parking number, where one can even take the trolley and board the taxi. Delhi also has bus bays and now the Airport metro.
The way to go about it in Mumbai is first, provide bus services every three minutes so as to enable a taxi driver to take his sweet time-to rest and have meals, which is a genuine need, but beyond the stipulated period of say two hours, the parking charges should be steep, compelling him to move out to the air passenger pickup point. This will mean that at no time an air passenger has to wait for a taxi at the same time he has an alternative to take a bus instead.
Bus fares for the airport bus services of Vaayu Vajra kind should be high enough to make it viable. The agency that provides the service need not be confined to the BEST; we have the NMMT, TMC, MSRTC, KDMC providing services catering to segments suitable to them. Therefore, for the airport service, a special vehicle should be set up which will specify the bus design and manage the operations while the BEST, NMMT, TMC, KDMC and MSRTC may provide buses and drivers and maintain to desired standards. Adherence to departure times from the airport should be sacrosanct. We know that the NMMT air-conditioned buses ply to Bandra and Dindoshi and are very good. Many prefer it to the BEST's King Long.
As for tampering of meters, the issue is different and not related to the pre- or post-flight travel. However, the drive from the parking lot to the pick-up spot could be used for testing or calibrating the meter.
Through these measures, I believe that all relevant issues would have been addressed. Then why is providing bus services such a difficult task? If the bus services are provided and it amply demonstrates that problems have been satisfactorily addressed, perhaps the futility of implementing big-ticket projects like the Metro and Monorail would become apparent and may get dropped-that may be the only reason. Looks like air travelers will have to be little more vocal about this while waiting at the taxi stand queue.
[Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on the Government of Maharashtra's Steering Committee on Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) for Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's (MMRDA) technical advisory committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of the Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA). He was a member of the Bombay High Court-appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He has been an active campaigner against noise pollution for over a decade and he is a strong believer in a functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected].]