Webinar Series: ‘Better Bus Bengaluru’
Webinar Series Report
The final webinar as part of the “Better Bus Bengaluru” campaign with #BengaluruMoving was held on Friday, 28th August 2020 (5-6:30 PM) with the theme: “Streamlining + calming traffic, and making cities inclusive for all”.
The critical importance of coordination amongst agencies: Enhancing coordination amongst various planning, public transport, traffic police, transport and civic agencies is crucial to making Bengaluru bus friendly. This also is essential to ensuring people can walk and cycle, and also ride the Metro. The lack of this coordination is frustrating commuters of public transport and also those who use their vehicles, as the state of infrastructure is woeful. Not only is the lack of coordination amongst agencies destroying efficacy of public transport, it is also resulting in frequent breakdown and blockages of the infrastructure. For a city till over two decades ago that was safe to walk and cycle everywhere, to a situation now that is not possible almost everywhere, is a sufficiently substantive indicator of the failure of planning and decision making processes and operational dynamics. Such lack of coordination is also contributing substantially to avoidable environmental and public health nightmares – indicative in the rapid rise of air pollution and stress. Most crucially, such harmonious coordination amongst agencies can advance public transport, substantially improve design, building and maintenance of mobility infrastructure, and ensure traffic flows are managed optimally.
Engaging agencies in advancing healthy mobility: It is critical to make agencies coordinate systemically with each other towards set goals. If the goal were to appreciate values of qualitative and substantive improvement in public transport, and of developing and safeguarding mobility infrastructure, then agencies would avoid wastefulness evident now in the constant building and breakdown of built infrastructure that causes disruptions in mobility, and increases environmental and health impacts. Soon enough, this could turn transformative into imagining how road space is allocated for bus lanes on priority, in enforcing lane discipline and safe driving, protecting pedestrian and cyclists’ rights, and to design, build and maintain public infrastructure so anyone, especially differently abled, can navigate about the city with least trouble.
Focusing the discussion on transformations: City planners, designers, civic agencies and public transport managers need to be encouraged to approach civic management from an imaginary of accommodation of multiple interests and demands. In the process they need to also be encouraged to become comfortable with and accommodative of public involvement in decision making, particularly in design, planning, budgeting, building and operational dynamics of public transport and civic affairs. Alongside, the public at large must be encouraged to appreciate the importance of rule based mobility – particularly in driving, of the crucial importance of protecting public property, and of consistently engaging in public matters. The police need better training and imagination of their roles, more as enablers of transformations for the better, rather than operate in a command and control manner which is widespread.
In the Media
Past Webinar Reports
Session 4 Report: Making public transport affordable to all
Session 3 Report: – Fearlessly cycle, walk and bus everywhere – Making urban mobility infrastructure accessible to all
Session 2 Report – Bus From Anywhere To Anywhere Else – Making Bus Lanes A Priority
Session 1: Inaugural Session Report.
Webinar Series Overview
With about 4.5 million bus ridership every day, Bengaluru’s bus based public transit system should receive a lot of attention. That in a metropolis enamoured by complex technologies.
Instead, the metropolis has been consistently choosing hard-engineering and absolutely inflexible rail based mass transit systems. This fetish for intra-city rail-based urban transit systems emerged in the mid-1990s with promotion of Elevated Light Rail. Due to its prohibitive cost and low carrying capacity, it was let go. But by mid-2000s attention shifted to heavy rail with Bangalore Metro being promoted.
Following a decade of building the elevated metro through the core of the city, the swastika type 50 kms long Phase I of the metro has cost at least 2 billion dollars (Rs. 16,000 crores) to build. It supports about 500,000 daily trips, a tenth of the bus system. Metro Phase II, when completed (now in 2024, not earlier), is expected to carry a little over twice its current carrying capacity when costing about three times capital cost of Phase I.
if such massive investments were made in strengthening Bengaluru’s public bus systems, along with strengthening street geometries.
Bengaluru’s streets, well graded with fully accessible pavements and streets on which one could walk or cycle without fear of being cut by a cable, sucked into a drain or of being hit by a truck.
driving without anxiety on roads that are sans potholes, with well-demarcated lanes and just about everyone driving peacefully.
with such harmonised traffic flows past appropriate street furniture where one could hang out with friends, without worrying about the smoke, dust and all that.
bus shelters that are a pleasure to sit in and wait momentarily for the next bus.
being able to walk or cycle without a second thought, safely, securely, from just about anywhere to anywhere else, and knowing you could jump into a bus anywhere, anytime, to complete the journey home, or to work, or school.
the kind of city Bengaluru would be then.
Join the movement to
safely – – – securely – – – sustainably
Privileging Mobility Infrastructure over Private Benefit to secure Public Health for all: Ensuring safe zones for walking and cycling, and privileging bus based transport, also translates into securing public health. Cities like Bangalore are already hot spots for various life style diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. A major cause for this is sedentary lifestyle and incapacity to walk, cycle, and stay healthy through easy access of public spaces. Providing safe and accessible mobility infrastructure for all would encourage people to be more active, thereby keeping them healthy too. Bangalore has tried many such possibilities of making certain streets car free on specific days of the week. It has also worked on large scale critical mass cycling events, to encourage cycling and raise awareness. All of these events, while helping raise awareness, has faded after the initial euphoria. A key reason is that our roads are simply not designed for pedestrians and cyclists, and buses.
Ideating how to privilege accessible mobility infrastructure: Given the economic downturn, families are struggling to make ends meet. Thus saving on daily commutes will be a key part of this savinfs strategy. More investment in accessible public mobility infrastructure and buses, will translate into maximising possibilities of safer and least cost travel. This is good for the economy and good for public health. Focussing discussion on how can we now ensure accessible mobility infrastructure for all, and as part of a ground up planning strategy, where people in every ward can find a place in promoting safe walking and cycling, ensure safe Bus stations, work to improve basic seating in buses and shelters in bus stations, is a critical need of our times. This democratic exercise in planning can also help build transparency and accountability, as budgetary allocations can also be subject to public review, and thus investments can go where public need them most.
Session 4: Making public transport affordable to all
Friday, 21st August
Bus systems have improved substantially recently: Bangalore’s public transport has
improved quite a bit in recent years. The bus fleet has increased to about 6000 buses.
The metro rail project is expanding, rather slowly. But the metro cannot cover all the city,
as that would be simply unaffordable. But with over 80 lakh (8 million) vehicles in the
city, the ratio of people to vehicles is gone beyond the point of being healthy and
sustainable. While there is a critical need to energise investment in bus based public
transport, equally there is a need to integrate buses with Metro, and with cycling and
walking. Transition between all these need to be seamless and productive for all. There
is still a long way to go to enhance non-motorised and carbon neutral modes of travel,
and to also ensure buses can reach every point of the city, inside, on the periphery and
in between neighbourhoods.
Ensuring buses aren’t avoided because its expensive to ride them: Great, functional
cities also have very affordable public transit systems. In Bangalore, in contrast, many
walk to work and school and over long distances, as buses aren’t available or simply
because buses are expensive to ride. The metro is also beyond the reach of most, and
besides, it is not well connected to most parts of the city, and in most cases the metro
lacks last mile connectivity substantially. The Metro is also unavailable as a public
transport mode during pandemics and such other emergencies. There is, therefore, a
critical need to factor in the importance of making public transport affordable to all, even
if that may not be commercially viable. For the benefits of greater use of public transport
are far too many, with most benefits beyond the realm of monetising. What’s important is
that tax revenues are better spent on public transport and on building accessible mobility
infrastructure, instead of privileging private modes of travel with wasteful investment in
mega elevated corridors that destroy the character of the city, its functionality and
contributes to significant deterioration of its environmental quality.
Designing public transport for enhanced accessibility and affordability: It is widely
held that the design of our buses, especially the recent raised floor coaches designed by
Volvo, are simply not suitable for senior citizens, children and pregnant women. Besides
they are almost totally inaccessible to the disabled. Most cities across the world are
redesigning buses and mobility infrastructure to make them accessible for all. Many cities
are also moving towards making public transport free for all, as an expression of public
transport as a basic need. There have been debates in Bangalore as well to include
public transport as part of city’s obligatory infrastructure and to allocate budgets that can
ensure public transport is free for all. Such imaginaries are crucial in shaping the future
of Bengaluru, and it is worth investing time in such exercises so a future where public
transport is free can be made possible. step back and rethink of how it wants to imagine
itself in a few years from now. Besides, it helps to imagine how the bus systems can
operate to help street vendors to move their supplies (as they did till the 1990s) and for
cyclists to hop into buses with their cycles.
Building imaginaries to make the impossible achievable: The pandemic has exposed
several gaps in how public transport works today. It also has opened several windows to
imagine possible transformations. It is a time to engage people in thinking up ideas to
make public transport affordable, accessible and the main mode of travel for all. Besides
it is a time to find ways to integrate all forms of public transport and enhance capacity for
Session 3: Fearlessly cycle, walk and bus everywhere – Making urban mobility infrastructure accessible to all
August 14, 2020
Post pandemic norms: Living in cities post pandemic situation requires taking measures of physical distancing and being able to move and congregate in sanitary conditions. Human beings as social animals cannot be locked indoors for long, and over extended periods of time. Basic instincts to socialise and congregate will bring them out into the open, not just in advancing critical economic and educational activities, but also for cultural and recreational reasons, and quite simple to get some sun light and fresh air. It is possible to imagine our cities with people safely moving about, at least in some important socialising spaces, provided they can be zero traffic zones. In such zones one should be able to walk, cycle and bus without hesitation. But it would be even better if almost all places in and around the city can similarly function.
Securing accessible infrastructure for all: Can we ensure safety for all when they walk, cycle or take a bus? This would require ensuring fully accessible infrastructure which can encourage and accommodate such movements, and particularly take into acute consideration the needs of differently abled/disabled. In effect if we can design and build public mobility infrastructure that is safe and accessible to a person who is blind or hard of hearing, or is physically challenged, we would be building infrastructure for all. Moreover, bus stations can be designed so there are safe places to park cycles, shelters that are designed well and with seating, and ingress and egress from buses is not a challenge. The right to mobility, after all, is an intrinsic part of the Right to Life.
Making accessible mobility infrastructure possible: City and State budgetary exercises do not hesitate in allocation of massive amounts of public monies to build elevated corridors, flyovers and underpasses. But when demands are made to provide equal allocation, if not more, to fully accessible public mobility infrastructure, there is resistance. As a consequence, fully accessible public mobility has suffered enormously over decades, and infrastructure that privileges private modes of travel has become mainstream. In such a situation, it is critical that a carefully identify the forces that promote such wasteful privileging of private oriented public infrastructure, so that all have an equal chance at mobility and not merely the middles classes and super-rich who can zoom over the rest in their fast cars and SUVs on elevated corridors built by everyone’s monies.
Session 2 : Bus from anywhere to anywhere else – Making Bus lanes a priority
August 7,2020, Friday
The chaos of Bangalore’s streets: With increase in vehicular traffic in the city, it has become simply impossible to get to any destination on time. Further, walking and cycling have become a thing of the past; in most streets it is also a death-wish. The city has completely lost the charming non-motorised transport that took young and old across – by walk, bicycle, cycle rickshaws, even jhutkas (horse drawn carriages) to schools, to work, to the market, just out for a visit, and even as ferrying goods. Current mobility is overwhelmingly by cars, autorickshaws and two wheelers. With increase in dependency on personal modes of transport, and on motor vehicles, our roads are now known world over for their traffic jams. Instances are numerous of ambulances getting stuck in slow moving traffic, pregnant women unable to reach hospitals on time and people dying simply because they couldn’t reach hospitals.
Bus from here, there to everywhere: To increase public transport and move away from personal modes of transport, is a no brainer to decongest streets. This means there is a critical need to ensure buses can move faster and reach their destinations on time, and also be able to ply more frequently. This not only increases the trust in the bus system, it also ensures traffic reduction with several benefits. Quite often on is waiting endless for a bus at poorly designed bus stations for a bus that never comes. This situation must change if the trust in a bus based public transport system must improve. The pandemic, after all, has put the Metro into a coma, and this is unlikely to change in the near future until herd immunity develops. Yet the super expensive Metro is incentivised, whilst the low cost bus option (which can be safely realigned for COVID times) is not. This perception needs to change. While both Metro and public bus systems are not commercially viable, the latter far less expensive to build, operate and maintain, than the former. And what’s more, buses carry about 10 times the commuting population of Bangalore compared to the Metro: 50 lakh trips compared with 5 lakh trips daily.
Making Bus Lanes everywhere a priority: In an ideal situation, buses must have their own lanes, with real time monitors tracking their flows and information systems that assist the commuting public to use buses seamlessly, mixed with their walking and cycling trips, perhaps also an auto/taxi ride. There is a critical need for predictability of the bus system, so people will wait at bus stations knowing fully well what time their buses will arrive. Today this is not possible because a bus, which carries 50-60 car loads of people, has to struggle to move through thick traffic, frustrating those in the bus and those waiting for the bus. It should seem rather intuitive that a bus that relieves traffic flows as it negates the use of at least 50 cars must have privilege of passage through creation of bus lanes.
Privileging all to bus and the exclusion of none: Bangalore started bus lanes on certain roads, but it was relegated to what is considered the IT Corridor. This sent a message that time of those who work in IT sector is important, and that of a trader, or student or an elder, or an industrial worker, homemaker and maid, is not. This class bias has to go if all neighbourhoods have to have bus lanes they equally deserve. It is therefore critical to ensure that the formation of bus lanes is a task driven ground up, with every neighbourhood/ward encouraged to designate bus lanes, and the budget to make this happened is equitably made available.
Breaking the myth that bus lanes slow traffic: It is possible to accommodate priority bus lanes on almost all thoroughfares of Bangalore. The argument against this often is from those who drive car: that bus lanes impede their right of way. While it is everyone’s democratic right to move, safely and in a way they prefer, the power of arrogating the car spatial power over that of the bus, or cyclist or pedestrian, is of recent occurrence. It is also deeply undemocratic and skews the ratio of public investment in city travel astonishingly wastefully favouring car based travel, shifting the burden onto the majority who travel at least public expense. There was a time in Bangalore when cyclists and walkers predominated its streets, and the bus was the most visible motor vehicle. Studies reveal that in those times, mobility was quicker than it is now, and it was not simply because there were far fewer private vehicles. Equally it can be argued that too many prefer to drive their own private vehicle today, and therefore the city is choked with traffic.
Moving Bus Lanes forward: It is important to promote bus lanes everywhere across the city. The case for bus lanes must be made more in lower income and working class neighbourhoods, who rely on and benefit from it immensely, and to also spread it to middle and upper class neighbourhoods, so that the bus becomes a class equaliser. This will also ensure buses don’t get stuck in traffic and can reach their destinations on time, creating a host of positive impacts on the street, its life and also the overall environmental quality of the city. Besides, bus lanes can save the city enormously wasteful expenditure of road infrastructure (by reducing intensity of its use), reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions, and also aiding the improvement of the overall quality of environmental health of the city. A conversation on such issues will improve understanding of how well current bus lanes have worked, and what more can be done to ensure dedicated bus lanes are made an integral part of Bengaluru’s streets. This discussion is imperative with people drawn from different walks of life, who either use the buses on these dedicated lanes, from those who lobbied for this idea and planners who implemented this project.
August 3,2020, Monday
Greenery everywhere: Bangalore was known as the ‘garden city’ due to its tree covered canopies, many private and public gardens and a network of open spaces. All of these were very carefully thought through by foresters, architects and planners of the city, from the early decades of the 20th century. In recent decades, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, this praxis found new vigour under the leadership of Mr. S. G. Neginhal, IFS (Retd.) Forester in-charge of greening the metropolitan area. Such spaces accommodated walking, cycling and taking the bus as an intrinsic nature of being a city dweller.
Bustling neighbourhoods that supported a Bussing Culture: Bangalore’s streets, till recently, were vibrant spaces for people from all walks of life. Folks walked, shopped, bicycled, waited for buses or just simply hung out for a chat with friends. Culturally, to hang out in M. G. Road, Brigade Road and Majestic, was the right cool thing to do for just about anybody.
Globalisation, economic growth and its impact on Bangalore: As the city expanded to embrace opportunities of globalisation of the economy, public transport was under funded and people began to rely on cars and motorbikes. As traffic overflowed into pavements, even choked kilometres of roads, the city chose to widen its roads to accommodate increased traffic flows, and also to build their way out of the chaos with flyovers. Trees became the first victims of such road widening projects across the city, and were trees were never replanted on street sides, as no space was left, even for walking. Public bus systems were grossly underfunded as much of the State’s and civic agency’s resources got diverted to mega road widening and flyover building projects, and the Metro. Investment in buses was inversely proportional to the soaring population. This resulted in lesser, more infrequent and more crowded buses, pushing people even more to rely on private vehicles. Narrower footpaths also made street vending spaces rare, thus turning lively and secure street spaces, particularly for women and children, into disturbing and dangerous landscapes.
Environmental consequences: Increase in tarred and concretised surfaces across the city added to the heat, especially during summers. By the early 2000s, the city had started reporting ‘heat islands’, almost all over the central business district, which now expanded to tens of square kilometres inclusive of residential suburbs that were turned into mixed use neighbourhoods, from what they were in the past decades: a few square kilometres of pleasant business blocks spread leisurely around the famous sylvan space – Cubbon Park. Not only did such heat islands make it difficult to walk or cycle, or even street vend, especially on hot summer days, massive influx of capital and material built up the city into a heat trap. Overall, it became a rather unhealthy city for most, and the glass and concrete clad buildings became major guzzlers of water and energy, as they were all turned into airconditioned spaces taking the charm out of what was not too long before considered an ‘air conditioned city’- because you didn’t even need a fan!
Spatial transformation post COVID-19 Pandemic: The Covid Pandemic has brought to focus the critical importance of make our cities healthy, to it is safe outdoors and indoors. Safe not just from recklessly moving vehicles, but from the harsh sun and the pounding rain. Safe in every sense including the quality of air. To ensure safety also in physical movement, what with the pandemic requiring physical distancing to stay healthy and alive. This demands changes in the spatial character of the street, in how public spaces are designed (even re-designed) navigated and used. The public at large needed to come out, to buy groceries, or even just get a breath of fresh air. But there was simply no thought to this critical need for healthy living, as all parks and open spaces were shut down.
Some had to work through lockdown, without any access to public transport: Certain categories of work did not stop during the COVID influenced lockdown. For a majority who live in highly congested neighbourhoods, and who rely on public transport to live and work in the city, the COVID influenced withdrawal of public transport has had a brutal impact on their lives and livelihoods. Forced to walk on tree-less roads to work has worsened their health. Thousands of pourakarmikas (sanitary workers) slogged to maintain cleanliness in the streets. Hundreds of thousands of domestic helpers similarly slogged to maintain sanitary conditions at homes and in apartment blocks. Security guards kept vigil of apartment complexes and neighbourhoods. Without any operational public transport, most had to walk long distances, in scorching summer heat to reach their workspaces and get back home, often late into the night. They did not have the privilege of working from the comfort of homes..
Calming and Aesthetics matter, and so do urban wildlife: Presence of greenery, particularly trees and shrubs, is a critical calming factor for all. This is especially the case in prevailing challenging times, and those that lie ahead. It is being reported that mental illness (especially depression) is the hidden pandemic. As humans, it helps us to listen to melodious call of the cuckoo, the crackle of the crow, the cheerful chatter of the bulbuls, the sweet song of the tailor bird and magpie robins, the chirp chirp of the flowerpecker, and so on. A city without trees and greenery, is a city without its wildlife: sans character, sans a soul.
Reimagining the greening of Bengaluru so one can walk, talk, cycle and bus in its sylvan calm: There is no better a time than the pandemic to think up ways in which our cities can be made greener, cooler, aesthetically more appealing and also highly functional with minimal carbon footprint. This is a time when it helps to listen to people’s views on how we can regreen our city and reclaim its charm. Be it a tender coconut vendor who satiates the thirst of the weary walker, or a peanut or guava seller who peps up kids, or the charm of snacking with road side pani puri vendor, such typical living landscapes of Bangalore’s streets need to be revived to make city streets safe to walk, cycle and bus on.