Free the Bus and Tax the Car: More harm done than good

I was asked to write this piece as a sequel to the post Public Transport and Capitalism.

Now, before I proceed with the article, a little disclaimer.

I am a staunch supporter of private investment. I support what I call Regulated Capitalism. I ride a cycle to work. I drive a car when I go long distance. I take a bus if I feel like it. If I’m too tired, I take an Ola or an Uber. I may sound blunt and harsh in this article, but sometimes, one needs to do that in order to put across a point.

Now, to get to the actual post.

In the light of the recent Tamil Nadu elections, I went thru two manifestos; that of the DMK and PMK.

If one takes a look at the 2014 Manifesto by the BJP in Maharashtra, you’d find no such thing; for two obvious reasons:
1. The BJP is unapologetically anti-populist.
2. Public Transport, barring ST is a Municipal matter in M’rashtra.

Now, after this, there has been some lengthy debate of sorts on various forums and social media about one single thing: Free bus travel, extra taxes on cars.

Now, this, is not a solution to the problem in anyway. If it all, it does anything, it will massively compound the situation into an unimaginable mess.


The Problem

Inadequate public transport is the problem that plagues most Indian cities. This includes Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Calcutta. Other cities, such as Bangalore and Pune developed their notorious and infamous two-wheeler culture purely because of lack of good public transport. Even Bombay and its BEST buses are not extremely efficient in an absolute manner, but in a relative one: Relative to other cities, relative to its own siblings [NMMT/TMT], relative to the larger network that it is a part of [Suburban Rail+Metro+Monorail]. The fact that BEST buses run crowded during peak hours alone shows the immense scope for further rationalisation and efficiency.

Now, Public Transport is not a preferred mode of transport by everyone. Among the various reasons, are the following:

  • Lack of connectivity: By far, the most common reason. This can be seen particularly in the city of Bangalore. Most buses in the city go to either Kempegowda Bus Station or KR Market. Buses to various parts of the city originate in these two terminal points. Thus, for someone who lives in Arekere, to go to Electronics City, a journey by bus will involve three trips: Arekere to Jayadeva Hospital, then to Central Silk Board, then to Electronics city. Similarly, if I were to go from Four Bungalows to Mulund Check Naka in Mumbai, I’d have to take a bus to Andheri Station [West], and a changeover to a bus from Agarkar Chowk to Mulund.
  • Irregular or unfavourable timings: Another important factor is the unsuitable timings that a bus or train may have. For example, if someone living in Shanthinagar wanted to visit the Bannerghatta National Park, and decides to take a Volvo [V-365], they may have to wait for a while to get a bus, especially in the afternoon. Similarly, if I were to go to NSCI Worli from Santacruz East in the afternoon by an AC bus, A74Express, A75Express and AS2 run only in the morning and evening.
  • Crowds: Public transport often gets crowded and overcrowded. I myself at times can’t stand too long due to a foot injury. In such times, I prefer to take an Uber or Ola over a bus or a train. If everyone takes a bus or a train at the same time, we get the Peak Hour rush, which anyone living in any major city in India can attest too.

The Solution

  • Diversification of Public Transport: Public Transport shouldn’t be restricted to certain corridors. It must be divided into multiple corridors of different types, from buses, trains and what not. Mumbai is the best example of this. The Suburban Rail forms a major corridor. Metro and Mono act as secondary corridors as well as feeders to the Suburban Rail. Buses act as both tertiary corridors [Eg: 28, 56, AS1, AS4, etc.] and feeders [anything that heads to the station, or a major bus station or a metro station].
  • Park and Ride: Integrate public parking lots with Major transit corridors. Build bus stations and railway stations with parking lots. Encourage people to drive to the Station and then take a bus or a train. A separate post on this will come soon.
  • Co-existence: Allow both private and public transport to co-exist freely. They need each other in order to survive. However, focus on improving the quality of public transport so that it remains a viable alternative for buses. Listen to passenger feedback, enable faster financial management.

How not to mess up the system.

  • Free public transport: Public transport can be subsidised to a certain extent, but not too much. Examples of good subsidies are: Discounted fares for students, senior citizens, frequent travelers, bonus cashback to those who use prepaid/cashless methods of payment. When bus transport is made free, it ensures that even those who do not have any work traveling will travel for the heck of it. This causes overcrowding, bleeds the corporation of its revenue and results in bad services, which can and will only result in the number of private vehicles going up.
  • Overtaxing vehicles: Taxation of private vehicles is good as it again, provides revenue to the state, and ensures that older vehicles that can cause pollution are taken off the roads. If private vehicles are overtaxed to prevent people from using or owning them, it will compound the already messed up system. The rich, will get away because they can afford it. The poor, well, they get the free bus. The middle class will get affected as they always do by most Socialist policies, because the bus is too crowded and they cannot afford a car.

That’s all for now from me. This is a lengthy rant aimed at those who think that being socialist wrt transport is cool.

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Author: Dork Guru

Socially inept, loves travelling alone and observing things. I spend my free time volunteering at government schools by teaching mathematics.

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