Why hasn’t the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) made it to BMTC buses yet? Rs 79 crores and three years later ITS still isn’t up and running. Initiatives like GPS tracking for buses, a mobile app with real time info on route timings, smart cards and electronic ticketing are nowhere near completion. Why then, must minister K.J. George announce a slew of new projects when little is being done to finish the existing ones, asks Ranjani Madhavan
The government, which is often accused of neglecting bus transport which caters to the largest chunk of city commuters and spending hugely on the Metro Rail that hardly carries a few lakh passengers a day, did make a start to improve the BMTC’s services three years ago.
Passengers’ hopes for a more efficient bus service were raised when in 2014 it decided to opt for an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) for the BMTC. Laying out a budget of `79 crore, it brought in Trimax, a private agency, to carry out the project. The idea was to give both the transport corporation and passengers real time information about the movement of buses not only to improve the efficiency of the services but to also make them safer given the horrifying 2012 rape case in Delhi.
While there have been some changes in BMTC’s operation in the three years since, they are not all hassle-free or available to everyone yet. For instance, although the GPS has been introduced to help the BMTC keep track of its buses, it has not been extended to all of them and is mainly confined to the Volvos in the fleet currently, say corporation sources.
Not everyone is happy with the BMTC app to help passengers track the buses arriving at a bus stop. Says a member of the Bus Prayanikara Vedike, Shaheen, "I tried using the BMTC app but did not find it useful and couldn’t tell which bus was coming from where or when. There is no clear way to search in the absence of pick up/drop off options. You need to type the route number but what if you don't know the area/city?
The much awaited Smart Cards too haven’t met expectations. The pilot that was formally launched in June this year involving 100 passengers on route 335E to Adugodi, faced technical snags and didn’t meet its October deadline. And now the Smart Cards are expected to be launched only for commuters of A/C Volvos.
Even the display boards, or Passenger Information Systems (PIS) at TTMCs and major bus stands like Kempegowda, Shivajinagar and Yeshwanthpur still don’t provide real time data on buses and their destinations.
The BMTC has been successful only with its Electronic Ticketing Machines , which have been introduced on most buses, AC and non-AC. Like an ATM, the machines generate a receipt with information on the start and end points of the journey, time and fare.
But despite the many hiccups in the BMTC’s ITS plan, Bengaluru Development Minister, K J George has announced more features for “passenger comfort.” He revealed last week that SOS alerts and Passenger Tracking for safety would be introduced on the buses using the Centre’s Nirbhaya fund and also tweeted recently about installing real time information boards at all bus shelters in the city. Not surprisingly, the information has been met with scepticism by commuters. “When we don’t even have proper bus stops, where will they install the display boards?" asks Ms Shaheen pertinently.
Some are also critical of the project being carried out by a private agency with no expertise in the field.
"I suspect this is a big scam. Where has the Rs 79 crore gone since 2014? I filed an RTI asking why Trimax was selected to install ITS when local expertise was available with government companies like Keonics, Bharath Electronics, KSRTC Mysuru, but got no answer,” says Mr Muralidhar Rao, a member of several advocacy groups and a vocal critic of the BMTC .
He alleges that the government did not opt for the standard tender process when engaging Trimax for the project. His suspicions have grown as BMTC refused to answer his RTI query referring to Section 2(f) of the Act, which says the information seeker cannot demand intangible interpretations, explanation, reasons, etc from a public authority.
Hurdles aplenty, but BMTC is optimistic
Ask Managing Director of the BMTC , Ponnuraj about ITS and he says it is at “a critical stage” presently. While asserting that the corporation has acheived 98 per cent coverage with electronic ticketing, he acknowledges that the vehicle tracking system , which allows the BMTC to monitor buses and lets commuters know their whereabouts, is facing mapping issues. “But they will be resolved in 10 or 15 days,” he assures.
Mr Ponnuraj explains that the display boards at TTMCs are facing technical snags with the data from the server not being pulled real time onto the screens.
“This is a first of its kind project in India and it is proving difficult to control the data for such a huge city," he adds.
As for Trimax being monitored for quality delivery, he says a Level of Service Assessment is done every month before the company is paid.
Despite the hiccups, he is enthusiastic about the new features such as the automated passenger counting system, which are in the offing.
"The automated passenger counting will detect movement through sensors. We will be able to tell how many have entered and exited a bus. This will put an end to ticket checking," he says.
Mr Ponnuraj is confident of eventually fitting all 6,000 bus shelters in the city with real time display boards . “This will be done in 300 to 400 bus stops in Phase 1 and at the rest in Phase-2 using a PPP model. The company involved will be allowed to advertise at the shelters. But we will need the BBMP’s permission for this," he explains....