Dear Government of Karnataka,

Of late, there has been a lot of hand wringing over the traffic congestion. Various solutions are being proposed by citizens claiming to be experts, advisors and well wishers. Most of these solutions revolve around adding extra asphalt, at grade, overhead and underground.

India's Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari summarised this predicament clearly when he said, in a recent event “I added 55 flyovers in Mumbai thinking it will solve traffic congestion, but it hasn’t solved anything”.

Recently, however, there has been a growing realisation that Public Transport is the most efficient way forward. So the focus has shifted in some circles to moving people over moving cars. In this pressure to solve the traffic congestion, there has been much dissatisfaction over BMRCL being unable to scale up Namma Metro quickly enough and BMTC being pilloried for running an unsatisfactory service. There have been calls for allowing private players in the bus sector while on the other hand Metro has been ‘putting handkerchief’ (as in booking seats by placing handkerchiefs, so that no one occupies the space) over most projects, scuttling all efforts to get cost-effective commuter rail or bus lanes / BRTS into the city.

A Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority should license and plan all transport services. All agencies, like RTO, BMRC and BMTC, should only be implementing and operating agencies. It needs an Urban Transport Fund (UTF) to fund projects or help the individual agencies raise capital for implementation.

Why is transport becoming a fish market with everyone stepping over each other’s toes?

It's because, there is no unified transport authority, who can take a call, in favor of the commuter. There is a crying need for an empowered Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) with legislative backing that is vested with the powers of planning, funding, regulation and ombudsman, like DGCA for aviation or TRAI for telecom.

Bangalore Metropolitan Land Transit Authority (BMLTA), formed in March 2007 through a government order, was supposed to act like a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority. But this was not given proper teeth, for the sake of helping JNNURM scheme. And then its activities were quietly given a burial and merged into DULT.

In the bus sector, the UMTA needs to ensure there is proper sharing of bus stops, define rules of sharing “profitable” and “unprofitable” routes, workout a level playing field for BMTC and define service levels for all players. Road infrastructure needs to be treated like air space or spectrum. It cannot be a ‘free-for-all’. UMTA needs to certify worthiness and planning of routes for all players effectively. It should also be an ombudsman capable to resolving issues like price gouging, surge pricing* etc.

*Petition against surge pricing

In the absence of regulations on usage of roads by public and private vehicles, and no regulation on pricing, private cab aggregators introduced ‘surge pricing’ recently, in many Indian cities including Bengaluru and Delhi. This petition by a Delhi resident asks Uber to stop charging the customers exorbitantly, using the surge pricing option.

In the train sector, the Metro cannot claim to be the resolver of all transportation-related problems. Other modes like Commuter rail or surface light rail need to be considered and integrated very well. We have seen ridiculous suggestions by politicians, like scuttling BRT and stopping commuter trains at periphery, to appease the Metro. It is important for the UMTA to acquire the expertise to determine the appropriateness of the modes and enable the planning of the same.

The UMTA also needs to look into multimodal integration. It has become a practice for BMTC to build TTMCs where they have land, instead of where it makes sense. We have Metro building flyovers to the foot of the Railway stations only to make commuters climb another one, instead of seamlessly connecting those two at the same grade.

We have BBMP not building autorickshaw and taxi stands near bus stops and interchanges where the passengers are likely to get to them, instead shooing them away making them clog the place.  In all these, the non-motorised users and pedestrians are given a convenient go-by because they don’t belong to any agency. The RTO has been conveniently underperforming and ineffective in anything other than being viewed on as a moneybag.

So the way forward is clear. The UMTA cannot be a committee making reports or suggestions to agencies. It needs to be an authority with powers to make decisions on the modes and routes to be followed by the agencies. It needs to have an Urban Transport Fund (UTF), which will be used to fund projects or help the individual agencies raise capital for implementation. It will be the agency that will license and plan the services. All agencies, like RTO, BMRC and BMTC, should only be implementing and operating agencies. They cannot be allowed to plan the transport for Bengaluru. Unless this is immediately done, all money being spent on building fancy systems will be rendered inefficient in no time at all.

Yours truly,

Sathya Sankaran
Member, Citizens for Sustainability (CiFoS)
Member, Praja RAAG