Friday, August 8, 2008

Creating Competitiveness in Bus Transport-Sudhir P Badami

Note for Infrastructure Sub-Committee
Task Force
Citizen's Action Group
20 July 2005

On Creating Competitiveness in Bus Transport
Sudhir P Badami
(, 98 216 85072)

It is generally believed that competition brings in efficiency, promotes innovativeness and service improves. It is no less applicable to Bus Transport Service. There may be better frequency of services and quality of buses may be superior in the atmosphere of competitiveness.

However, in the current scenario it is the road congestion that is the cause of low speeds, high fuel consumption and adherence to buses wanting in comfort.

Until the road congestion is reduced, it is not advisable to allow private bus operators to provide Bus Transport Service in Mumbai . This note delves into the aspects of how the road congestion can be reduced. This effort of road congestion reduction also assists in the reduction in commuter super crush load in suburban railways and it can be done at a fraction of the cost and time of proposed Mumbai Metro Master Plan.

Mumbai Metropolitan Area

Mumbai Metropolitan Region comprises of 6 Municipal Corporations, 13 Municipal Councils and about 1000 villages. Although from future development point of view the entire MMR must be viewed, the current problems of the City of Mumbai under the jurisdiction of Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) need to be addresses more urgently. Therefore, without touching upon the other 5 Municipal Corporations and 13 Municipal Councils, it would be appropriate to give population statistics of MCGM areas and the MMR as a whole.

Table 1
Population Statistics for Mumbai Metropolitan Region

Sq km


Decadel Growth

Population Density

Island City





Western Suburbs





Eastern Suburbs





Complete MCGM





Complete MMR





Only Urban in MMR





The populations of other five Municipal Corporations are Thane (13 lakh), Kalyan-Dombivili (13 lakh), Navi Mumbai (7 lakh), Mira-Bhayandar (5 lakh), Ulhas Nagar (5 lakh) and Bhiwandi-Nizampur (6 lakh). All the figures are per 2001 Census reports. While TMC, KDMC, NMMC, MBMC and UNMC areas are linked to the main suburban railway serving MCGM, BNMC area is connected to Mumbai only by Road although it does lie on the Vasai-Diva line. The Navi Mumbai areas are now networked reasonably well and are also connected to Thane.

Commuting Population

There are more than 60 lakh commuters who use the suburban railway system twice a day and there are 45 lakh bus trips made a day. Only 25% of this commute by bus independent of railway commuting. These users of public transport constitute 88% of Mumbai's commuters. The users of Intermediate Public Transport measure up to 5% and the rest 7% use personal vehicles.

Mumbai within the MCGM area is highly dense city. Population growth in the suburbs is much higher than the almost stagnant Island City population. This is more pronounced in the Western Suburbs even though Eastern Suburbs is not too far behind. However, the average density of the Island City is much higher than the suburban Mumbai.

Mumbai's main employment location is in the southern end which is the destination for nearly 20 lakh commuters. Although the employment centres along Andheri Ghatkopar line in the suburbs have been enlarging lately as IT centres, the Bandra Kurla Complex areas have been developing as Financial Services centre more recently. However, the bulk commuting still remains to South Mumbai. The central Mumbai areas of Parel in the Island City, the locations of erstwhile textile mills are now emerging as centres of residence and commercial establishments. In the overall development of the region, this central Mumbai gets linked to the mainland at Nhave by Mumbai Trans Harbour Link starting at Sewri.

The current position of Railway commuting is that the peak time commuting extends to nearly four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening and the coaches carry between 450 to 500 people each at super crush load while they should be carrying only about 200 commuters at crush load. Therefore there is considerable need to augment the capacity of North-South commuting.

The Mumbai Metro Master Plan (MMMP) is being considered as a solution to this problem. Even if MMMP does reduce the super crush load in the suburban trains, the vehicular congestion is unlikely to reduce. This because the fare structure of MMMP may not be competitive enough with cost of using personal vehicles. The current trend in Mumbai is greater ownership of motorised two wheelers. Also, there are large areas where the Metro does not serve and this will ensure road congestion. Also the fact that the MMMP will not finish before 2021 means that road congestion will continue to exist and grow.

There is a significant number of people who can afford to own personal vehicles and also use them for commuting although this is a small percent of Mumbai's commuting population. Since the trains run to super crush loads and some of the bus frequencies are not satisfactory at peak periods, there is great urge to bring personal vehicles on to the road. This adds to the congestion of road traffic, further reducing the efficiency of bus services in the city.

At this point it is well to remember that more than 50% of Mumbai lives in slums, meaning thereby that their earnings are considerably limited. Hence, any solutions for commuting adopted must be economical and affordable.

Under Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, BEST has been given exclusive rights to provide staged public transport service within the Municipal Corporation limits. BEST runs about 3380 buses on about 335 routes. Some of its routes from Mumbai go to Mira-Bhayandar, Thane and Navi Mumbai. Some routes do not necessarily have adequate ridership and yet they are plied as a social obligation. The buses are generally well maintained, have good driver's training programme and monitoring of their driving; however there is scope for improvement. The road congestion causes low speeds, low turn around and high fuel consumption resulting in BEST Electricity wing subsidising the transport activities. Comparatively the fare structure of BEST is higher than most bus transport services in Indian Cities. On the whole BEST is providing good service.

Introduction of private players in providing bus transport service in the present state will only add to the problems. Firstly some of the unviable routes will be discarded in the fit of competition. There will be scramble for profit making routes and flouting of rules as regards speeds and overtaking, resulting in more accidents.

So long as roads are congested, any further improvements in services like induction of user friendly buses with better suspensions and seating and air conditioning, will only add to the financial burden and private players too will run into losses.

On the other hand, if the congestion problem is tackled, especially for running the Public Bus Service, greater efficiency will be experienced and improved profitability too. At that stage, if it is felt that appropriate competitiveness could lead to greater benefit, there should be no hesitation in doing so. But then, BEST too would be running its transport operations in profit and it would be reasonable that BEST continues to be prime operator.

Making Public Bus Transport meet the demand efficiently:
"Think Train, run buses"

Let us tackle the North South commuting on the Western Railway to begin with. During the peak rush periods, the pair of tracks carry about 30 trains per hour in each of the up and down directions. With about 5000 peak time commuters per train or rake, the actual number of persons carried per peak hour comes to 1,50,000. If we are to reduce the number of commuters a train carries to 220 per coach, i.e. about 2000 per train, then the hourly figure must come down to 60,000, leaving 90,000 to be taken up by enhanced capacity from other means.

Table 2
Some Cities with BRTS
Ref: Public Transportation Systems for Urban Areas, A Brief Review by Prof Dinesh Mohan, TRIPP, IIT Delhi



Population in Lakh


National per capita income US$








Sao Paolo












Port Alegre

















Los Angeles








































Kolkota + Haora

































Now this other means that is being suggested here is the High Capacity Bus Systems (HCBS) or Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). Let us go by the capacities achieved in Bogota, which is 45,000 persons per hour. This is not a fictitious or theoretical figure. This is quite possible. At many cities where the needed capacities are lower, around 20,000 pphpd, one does not see higher capacities provided. Refer Table 2 above. But Bogota has only BRTS as mass rapid transit system, therefore the need of this high capacity was felt and met.

Since Mumbai needs the capacities of 45,000 pphpd, hence meeting this demand is necessary and possible. If a vestibule bus of 250 capacity is made to run at a frequency of 3 buses a minute, this figure is easily achieved.

Broadly speaking, if one route is provided on Western Express Highway and another on the Link Road, we get the required 90,000 pph. Computers and IT will have to be used for operational purposes. This would form the trunk routes of the BRTS. This calls for redesigning of roads in terms of locating the BRTS Bus stops, pedestrian and IPT accesses, physical segregation of bus lanes from other traffic and prioritising buses against cross flowing personal vehicles, including IPTs.

Since the boarding and alighting locations of the two BRTS routes and the railway stations are spread out, the crowd too would be dispersed, leading to much less pedestrian and vehicular congestion at these bus stops or railway stations.

Vehicular congestion levels on roads will not increase just because one lane has got taken away to the BRTS from otherwise a three lane road. This is so because, by segregating buses from other motorised vehicles the road space will be more efficiently used. In the existing systems, taxis and rickshaws as well as vendors halt at the bus stops, preventing use of the entire curbside lane effectively. Buses halt away from the kerb side space at bus stops, which effectively makes buses block the flowing lanes beyond. When a bus in the rear wants to overtake the halted bus at the bus stop, it further blocks additional lane, effectively slowing down the entire traffic if not bringing it down to a halt. The BRTS road design caters to IPTs and vendors halting at bus stops without blocking flowing traffic and also, the fact that buses are no longer occupying the remaining road space, other vehicles would move with lesser impediments. In fact there will be better flow of traffic.

Interestingly, effect of better traffic flow encourages those who can afford commuting by personal vehicles to bring their vehicles onto the roads, leading to congestion once again. However this traffic congestion would not lead to congestion of BRTS.

It is important to remember that providing additional space for motorised personal vehicle use will invariably encourage more vehicles coming on the roads and congestion catching up in no time. It is an ever unsatiated demand. More vehicle on the roads also means heavy investments needed on parking spaces and trying to provide additional road space.

Thus, even by having BRTS, congestion on MV lanes may remain in the long run, however bus lanes will remain congestion free and will prove viable alternative to personal vehicles on the same routes. Also these lanes are available for ambulance and police vehicles providing a congestion free route to them.

Since the carriage of personal vehicles hardly exceed 3000 pph per lane, two lanes would take 6000 pph; a 50% shift from this to Bus Public Transport and the suburban railway, will considerably reduce the congestion on the road with insignificant addition to the load on the BRTS or the railway. Thus, BRTS will help in managing the road congestion.

It is not necessary to run the BRTS buses only on trunk routes. Buses could be feeder routes, merging with the BRTS lanes at one cross road and moving out of these lanes at another cross road. There could be localised routes on secondary roads. When adequate capacity and frequencies are available, and enough IPTs too are present and most important, good pavements for pedestrian traffic provided, personal vehicles would find less usage for daily commuting. Simultaneously, if demand management measures are introduced, roads will definitely be less used by personal vehicles. This will permit higher average speeds for all. It will also lessen the parking problems that exists all over Mumbai, which itself adds to the congestion currently.

Table 3
Some of the cities where BRTS have been introduced or are in an advanced stage of implementation
Ref: Public Transportation Systems for Urban Areas, A Brief Review by Prof Dinesh Mohan, TRIPP, IIT Delhi

Latin America:

Belo Horizonte, Bogota, Campinas, Curitiba, Goiania, Lima, Porto Alegre, Quito, Recife, Sao Paulo


Akita, Fukuoka, Gifu, Kanazuwa, Kunming, Miyazaki, Nagaoka, Nagoya, Nigata, Taipeh.


Adelaide, Brisbane.

North America:

Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, Ottawa, Pittsburg, Vancouver

Thus, if we provide five corridors of dedicated bus lanes going south and five going north, not necessarily all having bi-directional lanes, with capacity of 45,000 pphpl, the per hour capacity works out to 2,25,000 pphpd . The trains currently carry about 3,75,000 pphpd. This will get reduced to 1,50,000 pphpd. This is equivalent to about 220 pph per coach of train, the desired level of crush load.

Introduction of overtaking widths at appropriate locations for express buses or limited stop buses would increase average speeds of these buses and reduce travel times.

For some reason, the capacity of 45,000 pph per lane is under achieved, the same could be made good by providing couple of elevated bus lanes as Mumbai may not have additional north-south trunk routes. Alternatively, elevated metro rail transit system could be provided, even the Skybus of Konkan Railway. Objective would be providing world class, additional public transport capacity at least cost.

About 200 km of trunk route of BRTS would, at about Rs 5 Crore to Rs 10 Crore per km (depending upon the detailed design, presence of underground utilities, bus fleet size and bus types.) of existing roads, cost just about Rs 1000 Crore to Rs 2000 Crore. If in addition, 80 km of Skybus is provided, which is estimated to cost about Rs 50 per km, the total cost would come to Rs 5000 Crore to Rs 6000 Crore, if the under achieved 200 km BRTS is found wanting.

Table 4
Cities which are at planning or construction stages
Ref: Public Transportation Systems for Urban Areas, A Brief Review by Prof Dinesh Mohan, TRIPP, IIT Delhi

Latin America:

Barranquilla, Bogota (expansion), Cartagena, Cuenca, Guatemala City,
Guayaquil, Lima, Mexico City, Panama City, Pereira, Quito (expansion), San Juan, San Salvador


Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahemdabad, Pune, Surabaya.


Auckland, Perth, Sydney

North America:

Albany, Alameda and Contra Costa, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dulles Corridor, Eugene, Hartford, Las Vegas, Louisville, Montomery County, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto

While dwelling on the augmentation of North-South capacity with BRTS has been dealt with above, one must not overlook the need of East-West connectivities in similar manner. The Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR) and Santacruz Chembur Link Road (SCLR) are the two roads where there is considerable traffic or potentiality exists. In fact, Bandra-BKC-Kurla link is another road in the suburbs which should have the BRTS plying. In the Island City, there are several important locations where BRTS plying would help lessening the congestion due to personal vehicle usage.

In the route determination process, one must also look at the Sewri-Nhava Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) which is bound to come about sooner or later, and ofcourse the bridges at Mankhurd-Vashi and Airoli which already give connectivity to Navi Mumbai.

After setting up BRTS as broadly described above, if it is felt that element of competitiveness should be brought in, private bus operators could be allowed to ply on local routes, but permitted to use the trunk routes which have dedicated bus lanes. Or the Bogota model could be followed where certain number of buses could be provided by the private bus operators to BEST and BEST runs the BRTS.

In Bogota, Trans Milinia company set up by the government manages the system, develops performance standards for the operators and monitors it. The route are auctioned to private operators who can meet the performance standards. Thus the competition is amonst the operators at the time of bidding for the routes and not on th road for higher ridership.

Presently the private bus operators who provide the point to point service on contract, park their buses on public roads, generally in the bylanes, causing congestion there. These need to be rectified by utilising them within the system with strict enforcement of preventing their parking on bylanes. Private operators coming into play without the BRTS in place would definitely throw safety to the winds - competitiveness may lead to rash driving and increase in accidents. Even after the BRTS is put in place, the induction of private bus operators must be kept under strict control.

Careful analysis of pros and cons need to be carried out before deciding on bringing on private players for bus transport in Mumbai. That time is definitely not now but only after BRTS has been established on trunk routes with BEST as the plying agency and the road congestion has eased because of this.

Because of the low capital expenditure for BRTS and operational costs and high utilisation, the fare structure would be very competitive with existing systems with better services. Because of high costs of Metro Rail, its reach will be limited to begin with. However, there will be a segment of commuters who can afford that fare structure and because of density of the city, the Metro Rail may just about become viable in Mumbai. But at present income levels, one cannot expect adequate ridership to make it viable. Perhaps until some later years, when Mumbai has in fact begun to be a significant global player in financial services sector and incomes of most have increased considerably, MMMP should be kept in abeyance.

What needs to be borne in mind is that the MMMP, if begun in 2006, is expected to be completed not before 2021 at an estimated cost of 23,000 Crore (easily Rs 30,000 Crore upward in reality, at the current prices) while just the BRTS costing barely Rs 1000 Crore to Rs 2000 Crore, can be incorporated within three years. BRTS being flexible, errors can be rectified at practically no costs.


1. Population shifts will occur when there is affordable housing available at places reasonably close to place of employment and/or the commuting is affordable.

2. Separating the suburban sections of Western and Central Railway from their main line operations and bring them under one entity could rock the boat. Perhaps getting the two agencies to cooperatively work towards the city, along with the suggested BRTS and feeder services has to be encouraged.

3. Creating Competitiveness in Bus Transport and there by bringing in efficiency in operations and providing better services can be tried only after introducing BRTS on five North-South trunk routes, and three East-West trunk routes.

4. Mumbai Metro Master Plan could be kept in abeyance until BRTS has been put in place, which will improve Mumbai as a whole and income levels too would get enhanced. Keeping the rapidly changing global and Indian scenario in view and also keeping a futuristic perspective in the vision, the decision to have the MMMP implemented or not can be left to a future date.

Source - " Sudhir P Badami,, 98 216 85072)

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