Bengaluru’s BMTC to rethink ‘only pass’ policy

BMTC MD C Sikha defended the policy allowing only pass users to travel, saying it is forced to strike a fine balance between service and COVID-19 related precautions.

Bombarded with a lot of complaints over its new ad hoc policy of only allowing daily, weekly, monthly passes instead of single journey tickets to travel, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) is now considering a rethink.

Both the daily pass at Rs 70 and the weekly pass at Rs 300 are too expensive for the economically disadvantaged who use buses to commute to their workplaces.

Since May 19, the regular BMTC resumed bus services for the first time since mid-March but are clocking only around 10% of its previous average daily ridership at around 33,000 passengers. This decision was announced keeping in mind that restricting cash exchange will help check the spread of the novel coronavirus in the wake of the lockdown 4.0.

But for many daily wage workers, these passes are out of reach and paying for these fares would take away a significant portion of their earnings, which were affected during the lockdown.

“We had introduced this payment mechanism thinking it would reduce repeat transactions given many people need to get on the bus multiple times. But there have been certain requests for reversal of the decision. We are currently examining the data and will shortly announce a decision with this,” C Sikha, Managing Director, BMTC told TNM.

She also said the pilot project (in 70 buses) of QR code-based payment system through mobile phones may be expanded if analysed data suggests good usage.

When asked about the hardship by the economically disadvantaged, she defended that the BMTC is forced to strike a fine balance between providing transport and also following precautionary guidelines.

She said, “This price band is certainly not about finances even though the BMTC is losing revenue as many commuters are not using buses precisely for this reason. But right now we are more concerned about crowding in buses. We don’t want people to take buses for 0.5 km which is easily walkable.”

She added, “For a bus passenger it might be two ticket transactions but for the conductor it will get multiplied so many times.”

Another BMTC official said to relieve construction workers of these high fares, BMTC and the Labour Department have collaborated to introduce free passes.

The official said, “All workers who are registered with the Labour Department need to come to any BMTC bus to get their free passes with two photocopies of their identification proof.”

But activists and bus riders are not happy with the BMTC’s decision and want urgent intervention.

Shaheen Shasa, a member of the Bangalore Bus Prayana Vedike (BBPV), a bus users’ forum, did a survey of the plight of those affected by this policy decision. She said that while it's important to restrict the number of people using the bus, making pricing as the primary means to do that will discriminate against the most vulnerable yet again. Her tweet threat on the issue is reproduced below.

She said, “The pricing of daily passes is exorbitant and exclusionary because it's a high price to pay for a single trip or a return trip for most people and it's excluding people who can't afford this pricing from using a public service.”

“To minimize contact for conductors collection boxes, flat rate tickets etc. can be explored. Hand sanitization can also be made mandatory for commuters before they enter the bus, by affixing sanitisers at the entry. This may slow down the entry/exit, but it may be worth the time. Verification of Photo ID is also currently mandatory for passes, this step can also be removed to reduce contact opportunities for conductors and commuters,” she added.

Sandeep Anirudhan, a Bengaluru-based activist promoting sustainable living said, “The foundational philosophy of BMTC itself is seriously flawed. A business is allowed to conduct a monopoly on the public commons, without any competition is ridiculous.  If such a monopoly is allowed, then it should be a deemed service funded by public funds, and free to the public to use.  A public transport service cannot be a profit seeking business. In this COVID-19 emergency situation, when people, especially the vulnerable are without incomes or jobs, the bus service as an essential service should be made free to all.”

He questioned, “If BMTC should operate as a profit seeking organisation, then who benefits when it makes profits? Do all the citizens get dividends?”

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