The BMTC that runs as a corporation survives on profits, unlike transport divisions of other metros where public buses are funded by the state. Respective state governments waive off taxes and take care of employee salaries, irrespective of revenues generated. Though the state Transport Department reduced AC bus fares recently, activists believe that it can do a lot more. They feel that if the state government supports the public bus service, it will have a better social and economic impact on Bengalureans and increase ridership by 30-40 percent.
On December 15 last year, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation management told Deccan Chronicle that seeking financial aid from the state is not good for many reasons, including a dip in the quality of services.
Managing Director Ponnuraj said, “Many people argue for budgetary support for BMTC, but if we start depending on the state for our operations, the quality will deteriorate. We will have to wait for the money coming in four instalments annually to run the day-to-day services. Reliability of services and cash flow will take a hit.”
His statement was soon after Transport Minister Revanna’s announcement on reducing AC bus fares. He said, “The BMTC is considering reducing AC bus fares as the patronage has fallen to unprofitable levels. We don't have such plans for non-AC services, as the BMTC is under loss."
On the New Year’s Eve, they reduced AC Volvo fares by 37% on a pilot basis and Airport bus fares permanently, but Bus Bhagya campaigners are still not content. In their campaign in February 2017, the Citizens for Bengaluru and Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike demanded reduction of fares by 50% and doubling of the fleet to 12,000.
Srinivas Alavilli, a member of the Citizens for Bengaluru, believes that reduction of AC bus fares is a welcome move, but it is “too little and too late”.
He said, “If you are going to do a pilot, do it at least for three months and cover all the services. Why restrict it only to AC buses? The project also has to be taken up in association with the traffic police and experiment on marking bus priority lanes. Vayju Vajra Volvo buses saw less patronage, not because they were unaffordable to the IT crowd and others. It was because the people prefer getting stuck in a car during a traffic jam than a bus. The golden solution here is to make buses go faster than cars.”
On the MD’s statement getting funds from the government would affect the quality of service, Alavilli said, “Such mentality is wrong. Funds should be seen as an investment to help public. Bus is not a poor man’s vehicle. What is the correlation between funds and quality? Just because India Canteen gives subsidised food, doesn’t mean the quality should be bad!”
He said that ordinary buses are the lifeline of Bengaluru, but remain unaffordable for the urban poor. Also, carrying 50 lakh riders per day, BMTC remains our best weapon against pollution.
State must waive off all taxes on BMTC
Last year, the state government announced that it will waive off Rs 120 crore in Motor Vehicle Tax for the next five years for BMTC. But the corporation, which operates like a private company, still has to shell out diesel tax, road tax, spare parts tax, salaries of its employees and more.
Fare revenue is the bread and butter of BMTC, unlike Namma Metro and public bus services in Chennai, Mumbai, which are funded by the government.
On July 4, 2017, BMTC Chairman Nagaraja Yadav announced, “Last financial year, we incurred a loss of Rs 260 crore, of which Rs 120 crore went for Motor Vehicle Tax. Now, we have been exempted from this by the state government for five years, reducing our losses by 50%.”
A necessary and overdue move, it is still not enough to reduce bus fares and increase the fleet. The Bus Bhagya campaign pointed out that Bengaluru bus fares are the highest in the country.
Lack of tax breaks has also had an effect on employee salaries. With no budget provision to pay arrears, dearness allowance and bonus, the drivers, conductors, mechanics and other staff are suffering.
Their disgruntlement translates to strikes, affecting commuter movement and increasing pollution by 15-18% (data from July 2016 strike) in the city.
This is an issue that BMTC recognises too. Mr Yadav said, “It is high time that the BMTC MD asked CM Siddaramaiah to declare BMTC as an essential service. It is high time that the state government exempts us from road, diesel and other taxes just as they did with Motor Vehicle Tax.”
He also revealed that talks are on between the BBMP and BMTC to exempt Rs 7 crore property tax per year. If these taxes are waived off, the BMTC will be able to serve its purpose without compromising on affordability, operational expenses, fleet expansion, etc.