Friday, June 14, 2024
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Can Bengaluru Metro’s last mile connectivity gaps be filled by players beyond BMTC?

Last mile connectivity was always the biggest gap in Bengaluru’s Namma Metro scheme of things. As the Metro spread out far and wide in the city, this gap stood out as a perennial sore point. But the entry of BMTC Metro Feeder buses has finally begun to make an impact, while triggering another key question: Can the last mile be filled by players beyond BMTC?

For years, commuters have had to depend on their cars or two-wheelers to fill that glaring gap between home and Metro Station, and from station to office/ workplace and back. Inevitably, this added to the city’s congestion, while exposing the lack of adequate parking spaces at most Metro stations. Feeder shuttle bus services were seen as the best bet to address this.

Deploy 15-seater minibuses

But are the long nine or 12-metre BMTC buses the right option for feeders?

“Bengaluru has big congestion issues with narrow roads around Metro stations. Our regular big buses will not work. We should really start thinking of deploying 15-seater, 20-seater mini buses as last mile feeders. They will also work in terms of the economics, and be competitive to other modes,” explains Pawan Mulukutla, Executive Director, Transport and Clean Air Programme at the World Resources Institute (WRI) India.

There has to be a method in the feeder system, its design and frequency. Pawan suggests setting up a Last Mile Cell at the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) with access to all the commuter data. Feeder bus frequency could be based on the number of people getting in and off the stations during peak and off-peak hours.

BMRCL and BMTC should align the frequency of buses, understand the patterns of where people are living around metro stations, and connect those. As Pawan points out, “This should be the way rather than saying let’s deploy buses every 30 minutes and that’s our frequency. The benefit of the Metro is lost if the last mile is not immediately available.”

Uber shuttle buses

Talking of options, experts say it need not be all about BMTC buses. Says independent mobility analyst and consultant Sathya Arikutharam, “The city should now consider what Delhi has done, by giving licence to Uber Shuttle buses. They can aggregate mini buses, by repurposing so many modes. For example, company shuttle buses are mostly idle in the afternoons. They can be repurposed for smart travel so that people don’t need to think of two-wheelers or cars at all for going out.”

The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) approval allows Uber to encourage upper middle class commuters to switch to public transport. The aggregator could set dynamic pricing but it should not be less than the peak fare of DTC air-conditioned buses. Sathya says the transport department here could regulate all these parameters and allow Uber shuttles to operate in designated zones.

Metro Mithra issues

Autorickshaws, if run professionally with a predefined fare structure, could be a real option. The Metro Mithra service was introduced at a few stations with this objective but failed to take off.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of security issues at these stations. There are rowdy drivers who don’t want to operate by meters and professionalism. That is why Metro Mithra autos were not able to get parking spaces at the Metro stations. They wrote to the police commissioner but in vain. They also requested BMRCL to ask the security guards to ensure some sort of harmony. Everybody is responsible but nobody is accountable,” laments Sathya.

Community minibuses

To bridge the last mile, local communities too could run minibuses on a private-public partnership (PPP) model, says Pawan. “Such partnerships can involve residents’ welfare associations (RWAs). For instance, in the J.P. Nagar – Konankunte area, there are so many big apartments with at least 10-15% of people who want to use the Metro. But the last mile is a deterrent. Now, if the last mile is starting from your community itself, and buses can be purchased on a PPP model, things will change,” he elaborates.

The last mile, he says, should be thought of as a very innovative solution. Let BMTC use its logo, routes and planning. But involve other players in on-boarding of operators, running it for RWAs to connect and giving them drop off and pickup, and scheduling.

M.G. Road metro feeder bus service.

M.G. Road metro feeder bus service.
| Photo Credit:
SUDHAKARA JAIN

Feeders in local area

But within the BMTC Metro feeder ecosystem, there are areas for improvement, says Yathish Kumar S., member of an active collective called ‘Friends of BMTC.’ “Feeders have to serve the internal areas within 3-4 km surrounding a Metro station. But there are some services that run on the same route as the regular services where the frequency is even higher. Just because they run between two Metro stations, they don’t qualify as a Metro feeder service,” he points out.

Yathish draws attention to the feeders that operate between K.R. Puram and Silk Board. “They literally run on the same route as 500A and 500B, where the frequency is really huge. That really does not make any sense.”

Restricting the feeder service to areas in close proximity to a Metro station has its benefits. “Like in the Southern end of the green line, there are quite a few stations such as Vadarahalli, Yelachenahalli, and Talaghattapura, where the areas close to the stations are densely populated with several apartments. They prefer the Metro but the last mile is a problem. So, a loop service will work out.”

The feeder service that runs from Brigade Meadows on Kanakapura Road to Konankunte Cross has good potential. “This is quite helpful considering the number of apartments there and the good frequency. If it gets more patronage and people get to know more about it, there will be an upswing in commuters,” he feels.

In-train announcements

But awareness is an issue. Although BMTC releases newspaper statements and displays information on its social media channels, many commuters tend to miss them. One option is to display the bus timings and routes within the train. The availability of feeders to multiple routes could be announced as the train approaches a station. This information could also be prominently displayed at the entrance and exits of all stations with creative visual design.

By March this month, the network of Metro feeder buses had expanded to 151 services across 43 stations. This is likely to be increased to 300 services. As a BMTC official informs, an estimated one lakh people take these buses every day. “BMTC has also installed QR code scanners at all stations, which takes a commuter to the BMTC website. There is also an option to live-track a feeder bus,” informs the official.