The suggested Innovative Fare Structure is basically to enable every commuter of a BEST bus to buy a daily travel pass for Rs25 or termed as 24HourPass. In return, the commuter will get the opportunity to on any BEST route, any distance, any number of times by Ordinary, Limited or Express or even air-conditioned bus for 24 hours from the first boarding. Buses will ply without bus conductors, thereby releasing about 5,000 bus conductors in each shift. These conductors will issue the 24HourPass at the bus stops, in addition to tickets for Rs8 and Rs10 for those not inclined to purchase the 24HourPass.
One of the advantages for the commuter is that he can board a bus travelling in the direction of his commute, without waiting for his destination bus, then change to a bus that takes him to his destination. He can take a detour to attend to some task on the way. If most people did this, then the waiting time decreases considerably for all. However, the travel time itself is currently also dependent on the traffic speed. Buses will still be crowded and that can be addressed by increasing the frequencies. This is achievable by increasing the fleet size or by speeding up travel time or both. Speeding up is possible by introducing dedicated bus-only lanes, better still by introducing Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS).
The shared taxi or auto services operate at attractive competitive rates to and from railway stations to specific locations. They seem to be cumulatively carrying a sizeable number of commuters, who would have otherwise taken the BEST bus. During an auto strike, little more than a year ago, the number of BEST commuters increased to 40 lakh straight away. Shared Auto schemes do not serve the needs of persons carrying luggage, as they have make their way from the auto drop point. Nor can they travel by bus. Carrying luggage with co-passengers also does not work out. These Share-Autos congest the roads to the station, whereby the buses serving rail commuters have poor turnaround time. During the auto strike, the bus turnaround time decreased considerably and the buses carried significantly larger number of commuters.
Many commuters use aggregator taxi services. It is also a fact, especially on the Western Express Highway that many private taxi services or even private cars such as those used for airport drop, pickup passengers illegally from bus stops. The presence of conductors at these bus stops could stop the illegal pickups.
At this suggested fare structure, the 28 lakh commuters will fetch an annual revenue of more than Rs2,250 crore to BEST, based on 300 working days and 65 Sundays and holidays per year, assuming that all sections will see the advantage of buying the 24HourPass.
BEST’s annual expenditure on the transport wing is somewhere around Rs2,100 crore. This would mean the transport operations may not run in perpetual loss even at present situation with the suggested fare structure. If the daily commuter numbers increase to 40 lakh, then BEST’s annual revenue can rise to Rs3,250 crore, and if it increases to 50 lakh commuters, the revenues will increase to Rs4,100 crore.
How to achieve this is a million dollar question. Are we looking for safe and comfortable mobility, or only revival of BEST, or possibly both?
Before addressing this question, it would be well to keep certain additional data before us. The MMRDA’s CTS-2008 tells us that the suburban rail service carries about 75 lakh passengers per day. It also tells us that during the peak period, the commuters travelling on the suburban railway system number 3,60,000 passengers per hour (pph). However, the railway capacity is barely 1,80,000 pph. Because of overcrowding, 4,000 people die every year. Due to certain measures initiated by public interest litigation (PIL) and citizens’ pressures, this has come down by 10%. At that time, BEST carried 45 lakh passengers every day. Due to road congestion and other reasons mentioned earlier, the number of bus travellers has come down to 28 lakh.
To address that situation, a 146.5km Mumbai Metro Master Plan (MMMP) was conceived in 2004. However, the capacity it would provide was only 72,000 pph. Having taken eight years to complete the 11.4km of one line, the authorities have increased the lengths and capacity of Metro Plan in recent amendments to 172km and capacity to 98,000 pph, even as the need still is as high as 1,80,000 pph. There is now an ambitious plan to complete this in six years’ time. There are several reasons why this is unlikely to happen and therefore we must prepare for the worst scenario. This simply means that we must keep before us a target of public transport that has the capacity of 2,00,000 pph.
One of the way to improve the speeds of BEST bus service is to operate buses in a bus-only lane. To prevent non-BEST bus vehicles using this bus-only lane, the 5,000 conductor staff, who now would be issuing tickets or the 24HourPass at the bus stops, could be tasked to take photographs of defaulting vehicles and let e-challan system of Traffic Police do the rest. True, not all city roads can have a bus lane, but these would be short stretches hence affecting only marginally in slowing down of buses. This itself is good enough to attract back some of the commuters. If a BRTS network is provided instead of just Bus-only lanes, not only would the needed capacity of 2,00,000 pph be achieved, but speeds could be between 30kmph to 40kmph, as has been achieved in Bogota, the capital of Columbia.
Taking all these into consideration, the following steps could be initiated by stakeholders such as Government of India, BEST, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), Government of Maharashtra and its bodies such as Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), Maharashtra State Road Development Corp Ltd (MSRDC), Public Works Department (PWD) and Mumbai Metro Rail Corp Ltd (MMRCL), who are supposed to be collectively concerned with mobility, environment and quality of life of every citizen.
1. Every vehicle has to go to fuel stations. At these fuel stations a photograph of the vehicle number plate will be clicked, which will get sent automatically to the Traffic Police/RTA and check on violation of traffic rules and same shall be given to the car owner / driver as a consolidated challan and the fines recovered along with the payment for fuel. This will be linked with the e-challans being issued by the Mumbai Police. Repeat violations should get publicised to let people to know that punitive actions are being taken. Of course, this is part of Traffic Police, the RTA and arrangement with the fuel stations.
2. Get the 24HourPass scheme started. Sale of 24HourPass will be only at bus stops, where one could also get the Rs8 and Rs10 tickets issued. These would be sold by Bus Conductors who will no longer travel in the bus in accordance with the suggested scheme. The 24HourPass will have to be issued on any government or BEST issued photo id whose number would get printed clearly and so also the pass expiry time.
3. In addition to the sale of 24HourPass, the conductors stationed at bus stops will take photographs of any vehicle that is parked or travelling on the bus lane and automatically it would get forwarded to the BEST HQ for records and the traffic police and the RTA for taking further action. This could be linked with the Mumbai Police e-challan scheme introduced recently
4. Provide bus lanes wherever possible keeping in mind that by providing this the buses will travel more speedily, will be able to have higher frequency and carry more people per hour. Conductors will monitor that these Bus-only lanes will be used by buses only as described above.
5. Revoke the share taxi and auto scheme and decongest the station area of the autos and taxis. Only auto or taxi that is hired by individuals will be allowed to ply in Greater Mumbai. The last mile connectivity from bus stops to final destination could then be by walk or auto or taxi depending upon distances from the bus stop.
6. Design roads with primacy given to pedestrians and interfaces between walking and other modes of travel, especially public transport and para-public transport. Design shall be to permit non-motorized transport vehicles to travel safely and causing minimal hindrance to faster moving vehicles on primary roads such as express highways and link roads.
7. Create a network of BRTS that will collectively provide an hourly capacity of 2,00,000 pph in the North-South directions.
Railways have already reached their full capacity in the present state of their infrastructure and cannot augment their capacity significantly and quickly. BEST can ween away as many as 35 lakh railway commuters by adopting a comprehensive BRTS. This would mean that there is a potential to carry as many as 75 lakh persons per day. If achieved, the revenue could be as high as 75lakh/day x 300days x Rs25 + 25 lakh/day x 65days x Rs25 = Rs562,500 lakh + Rs40,625 lakh = Rs603,125 lakh = Rs6,031 crore/year.
The above computations and the ones in earlier parts do indicate that the targets of (i) providing adequate public transport capacities, (ii) addressing the annual casualties of 3,600 on suburban railway system, (iii) providing safe and comfortable and speedy road public transport, (iv) resurrecting BEST are quite achievable. Does it not demand that the suggested scheme of 24HourPass and BRTS be considered seriously? This is where the will of the decision makers to move away from the conventional conservative approach of increasing bus fares and curtailing existing concessions and subsidies comes into picture.
(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). While he has been an active campaigner against Noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at firstname.lastname@example.org