Public transport users share a love-hate relationship with buses. While they offer a cheap mode of travel, they hate the rusty grab-handles, rickety old seats and faint odour of sweat, paint and dirt.
The BMTC buses in Bengaluru, too, evoke the same emotions in their users. There have been numerous complaints over the years about poor maintenance of the buses. Broken windows, failed brakes, torn seat cushions, rusted grab-handles, dimly-lit or damaged head and tail lights, poorly functional engines and more are common sights.
E-complaint platforms like The National Consumer Complaints Forum (NCCF) and the Indian Consumer Complaints Forum (ICCF) see various grievances from BMTC bus users about the quality of these vehicles. At the NCCF, 803 complaints have been lodged so far, out of which just 251 have been resolved.
No proper grievance redressal
Vinay Srinivas, an NGO activist for Bangalore Bus Prayaanikara Vedike, says, “There is no proper grievance redressal mechanism in place for bus users. They (BMTC) have a toll-free number and an email ID, but both are not effective enough. Not many people get through the toll-free number and fewer more use the email ID to address complaints and concerns”. There is also a portal on the BMTC website where users can post complaints, but according to Vinay Srinivas, this has little impact.
However, a BMTC official who did want to be named, denied the allegation.
“We get complaints on our toll-free number and on the Computer Redressal Management System (CRMS), which we immediately address. Whenever a complaint is lodged, we provide a docket number to the passenger and sort out the complaint," he said.
Nevertheless, it's worth asking why these complaints come up in the first place?
How the BMTC is run
Karnataka is the only state in India where the budget doesn’t have a separate allocation for buses. Instead, the state government allots subsidies to the BMTC, in the form of concessions for senior citizens, students, armed forces etc, which amounts to approximately Rs 60 - Rs 80 crore, explains Vinay Srinivas.
“BMTC earns its own revenue, of about Rs 5 crores. The main sources are bus tickets, daily and monthly travel passes, advertisements and the buildings we’ve rented out, to the Traffic and Transit Management Center, for example," says the BMTC official.
Whatever is the financial gain to the BMTC, it is then allotted to depot managers across all the main bus depots in Bengaluru, like Majestic, Shivajinagar etc.
"It is the job of the BMTC depot manager to ensure that all the buses in the depot are regularly checked for technical and infrastructural issues and immediately repaired, like problems of seat quality, leaks from buses and more," adds Vinay Srinivas.
Srinivas Allavili of Citizens of Bengaluru, says, “BMTC is acting as a private entity in Karnataka. The government has forgotten that it is supposed to be a part of the public sector. It is now completely run as part of the private sector, like any other private company.”
He believes that the reason the BMTC is so expensive is because the state government taxes the BMTC the same as private companies. They do not get any tax break, which makes it difficult for them to regularly maintain and renovate the buses.
However, here is where the problem arises, according to the activists. “At the depot manager’s level, there is a lot of corruption. Money is siphoned off into the wrong hands and doesn’t reach the pockets that take care of the maintenance of the buses," alleges Vinay Srinivas.
“When serious problems of brake failure occur in buses due to lack of maintenance and regular checks, accidents happen. And at these times, the poor bus drivers are suspended - depot managers are not questioned about why such a failure took place and the BMTC doesn’t own up to it,' he claims.
The BMTC stance
BMTC officials, however, aver that the buses are regularly checked. They claim that every bus depot across Bengaluru has a workshop that looks into a bus’s tyres, engine and docking, which is a basic daily check for vehicles.
According to them, a pollution check is conducted every 15 days by a separate department altogether. The pollution level for BS4 buses is to be below 20%, for BS3 buses between 30% - 35% and between 28% - 35% for Volvo buses. Surprisingly, BMTC officials claimed that the RTO rule is to check pollution levels only when the density increases above 65%, which is 30% above the standard density level set by the government. This means that there is a significant amount of emission from the buses before a check takes place.
P.G.R Sindhia, former Transport Minister of Karnataka, says, “There has never been any proper allocation for public transport sector in Karnataka. I think the (current) government should give money along with benefits and soft loans to the BMTC."
“Lack of money is not the only thing responsible for poor maintenance and quality of buses. It is also the administration’s fault. Buses are supposed to be checked for their engine, brakes, petrol compartment, seats, tyres and headlights on a monthly basis. They should also be given a complete check when sent to renew their fitness certificate," he adds.
According to a report by The New Indian Express which was confirmed by BMTC officials, the BMTC had not purchased any new buses in the past three years. Now, however, they have purchased 3000 new buses, 150 electric buses and 150 Volvo buses. Of the 3000, 1500 are run by the Government of Karnataka and the remaining 1500 are given out on contract to private firms. The standard lifespan of a bus is when it either reaches 10 years, or covers eight lakh km.
Srinivas Allavili thinks that the lives of approximately 5.02 million passengers who use public transport, will be improved with the government’s help. Better maintenance of buses will also reduce emission of harmful gases in the city’s air. “With more buses, the public will be encouraged to take public transport more often. Buses are always looked as a poor man’s transport option, and not as a conveyance that everyone can use. Because of poor maintenance of buses, people don’t use it. Buses should be comfortable and fast," he adds.