Lockdown losses: Bengaluru commuters to pay more for bus rides

As public transport becomes costlier than private modes, civic groups demand a reduction in fares

Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation has nearly 6,500 buses, catering to about 50 lakh people. Photo: Wikipedia

The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) has hiked bus fares by 5-18 per cent by introducing a flat-fare system, with ticket rates being multiples of ₹5. This comes two weeks after the BMTC resumed operation of buses in the city.

After a gap of nearly two months, buses started running in Bengaluru on May 19. Due to mounting losses amid the COVID-19 lockdown, the state-run transport organisation has hiked the fares. For instance, if the bus fare was ₹17 for 8 km, it has been increased to ₹20. Similarly, a fare of ₹22 for 16 km has gone up to ₹25.

The BMTC justified the action saying the new flat-fare system would minimise the contact between people on buses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also limited the number of passengers on a bus to 30 in order to maintain social distancing. But commuters and civic groups have urged the government to decrease the fares.

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Initially, the corporation drew flak for its decision to make daily, weekly and monthly passes compulsory to ride the city buses as it inconvenienced short distance travellers. The government then rolled back this decision.

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With an increase in the operational cost by almost 20 per cent in the last five years, the BMTC’s cumulative losses over the years crossed ₹800 crore in 2018-19. It is expected to cross the ₹1,000-crore mark when the financial performance for 2019-20 is announced. So, the BMTC is hoping for a bailout package from the state even before the lockdown.

During the lockdown, the government expects a revenue loss of nearly ₹300 crore. With fares contributing to 80 per cent of the total revenue, the lockdown has served a body blow to the corporation.

“We earned approx. ₹5 crore every day. But the two months of lockdown resulted in almost zero revenue,” the chief planning and statistical officer at BMTC told The Federal.

The transport corporation has nearly 6,500 buses, catering to about 50 lakh people. Currently, it is losing ₹17 to ₹20 on each km of bus operation.

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A study conducted before the lockdown by city-based think-tank Fields of View revealed that a decrease in fares had resulted in increased ridership and revenue, while an increase in fares led to a fall in ridership and bigger losses.

It pointed out that a 10 per cent decrease in BMTC’s average fares would propel the share of its ridership by 33 per cent and, thereby, reduce the annual loss by ₹362 crores. An increase in fares by 20 per cent will increase the losses by ₹220 crore, it said.

Considering that the public transport remained unaffordable and costlier than private modes of transport like two-wheelers, civic groups demand a reduction in ticket fares.

“At a time when there’s a need to reduce the financial burden on commuters, especially the urban poor, the BMTC ended up hiking the fares. The Karnataka government must immediately step in to make it affordable for people to commute,” Bus Prayanikara Vedike, a forum for bus travellers, appealed to the state.

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