A report submitted recently to the State government based on visits to neighbouring States, recommends various steps such as privatising maintenance, complete automation of ticketing through the use of Electronic Bus Ticketing Machines, and increasing the range and availability of daily travel passes to improve the operation of public transport buses

What can the Chennai learn from success stories in the operation of public transport buses in neighbouring States? Actually, a lot, according to a report submitted recently to the State government.

Three technical teams made up of officials from various State transport undertakings of Tamil Nadu visited Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to study best practices in urban mobility.

The report which is a product of the visits recommends various steps such as privatising maintenance, complete automation of ticketing through the use of Electronic Bus Ticketing Machines, and increasing the range and availability of daily travel passes.

The study on the urban transport plan adopted by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) is especially revealing.

While the Metropolitan Transport Corporation has an operational limit of 50 km and caters to 57 lakh commuters a day, its operational fleet is only 2,980 buses. The BMTC, on the other hand, has a lower operational limit of 40 km within which its fleet of 6,200 buses ply. Nearly 42 lakh commuters use public transport buses in Bangalore per day.

Essentially, the MTC carries 15 lakh passengers more than the BMTC on an average every day deploying only half the number of buses. Official figures show that MTC suffers from chronic overcrowding during rush hour as the average occupancy is nearly 100 passengers, when capacity is only 72.

The CMDA's Chennai Traffic and Transportation Study says that the city needs a minimum of 5,000 public transport buses to be able to meet existing demand.

Transport Secretary Rameshram Mishra said that while the MTC does fall short on absolute numbers, the existing buses in the MTC fleet are modern and efficient, as the average age is around 2.2 years. He said that all the recommendations made in the report would be looked into and “a lot of things could be improved”.

Bangalore also has nearly 500 AC buses, compared to Chennai's 100. BMTC operates many of them as high-speed, minimal stoppage buses along ring roads and radial corridors. BMTC Managing Director Syed Zameer Pasha says that the basic strategy was “to put as many high-end buses on the road as possible in order to encourage ridership”.

BMTC also evolved a slew of daily and weekly passes in order to boost ridership. For example, the Rs.1,350 passes specifically meant for IT employees can be used only on buses that ply to the Electronic City.

More than 10,000 commuters use the pass every day.

The concept of ‘Bus Day', which the MTC used to observe in the 1980s, was introduced by BMTC to encourage everyone to use public transport buses. On Bus Days, the pollution level in Bangalore's arterial corridors drops by 10 per cent, says Mr. Pasha, citing figures from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board. Due to reduced congestion, the buses also clock a 10 per cent increase in speed, he adds.

BMTC recently invested Rs.600 crore to create Traffic and Transit Management Centres (TTMC) in most of its depots. These urban mobility hubs would house ‘park and ride' facility, restrooms and commercial complexes.

Chennai was supposed to get similar TTMCs under JNNURM funding and a proposal was mooted in 2006, says R. Balasubramanian, a former Managing Director of MTC. Currently working as the director of the Pune-based Central Institute of Road Transport, he says that a promise was made in 2006 to induct 1,000 new buses every year.

“The situation was very bad then. Most of the buses were very old. On an average, 400 buses broke down everyday. It is obvious that bus services are limited in the city. The AC bus fleet also needs to be expanded. Free mini bus link services from residential areas to the nearest bus stop must be tried,” he adds.

(This article has been corrected for an inaccurate description of MTC's average occupancy during rush hour.)