Citizens’ assembly lauds Shakti scheme, demands more buses and bus lanes in Bengaluru

‘Let’s Move Bengaluru’ was organised as a follow-up on the mobility demands of Karnataka, which were enlisted in the Congress’s mobility manifesto during the Karnataka assembly polls in May.

Greenpeace India along with other citizen organisations held an open citizens’ assembly called ‘Let’s Move Bengaluru’ on Sunday, June 25. The assembly was organised at the Press Club as a follow-up on the mobility demands of the state, which were enlisted in the mobility manifesto of the state’s incumbent Congress government during the Karnataka assembly elections in May. 

More than 250 citizens, consisting of people from different sections of society, actively participated in the discussions about reducing the limitations of public transport and making it more efficient and feasible for everyone. Other participant organisations included Slum Dwellers Federation, Sangama, Bangalore Apartment Federation, Power The Pedal, Garment Factory workers community, Council for Active Mobility, and Citizens for Sankey. 

The issues around building a sustainable mobility model for the city were discussed in two successive panel discussions. An offline poll was also conducted, where 162 participants from the assembly voted on the question “Apart from free travel for women, in what other ways can we make public buses more efficient and accessible?” The results of the poll showed that 59% of respondents felt more buses and bus lanes can reduce waiting time, and make buses more accessible. 

The assembly, largely consisting of women, lauded the success and reach of the Shakti scheme, which was one of the five guarantees of the Siddaramaiah government. Professor Rajeev Gowda, former Rajya Sabha MP and member of the manifesto committee in Karnataka, highlighted the importance and relevance of the scheme in removing barriers for women to get back into the labour force and how free buses increase a woman’s access to the market and education opportunities. 

BMTC’s fleet of 6,700 buses, however, accounts for less than 1% of the city’s nearly one crore vehicles, indicating the need for a significant increase in the number of buses. When questioned about the challenges the Shakti scheme is facing, Gowda said, “We are definitely short on the fleet and we could look beyond the public bus fleet to meet the new growing demand. We can maybe work out a partnership model with private players, or turn to a CSR (corporate social responsibility) model to build funds.”

Extending her support to the scheme, freelance journalist Kathyayini Chamaraj said free bus travel was not a freebie but empowerment. “The money saved will be used as disposable income by poor families. The economy will only benefit as the demand for goods and services will increase,” she said. She suggested the use of mini-buses to ensure a larger reach and accessibility. 

Members of the panel also stressed on the need to disincentivise private transport. “The government remains in favour of private transport as a concept because a bulk of the revenue comes from private vehicles. The revenue is big and difficult to forgo, and the government needs to strike a balance,” said journalist Rasheed Kappan. Taking the motion forward, Professor Ashish Verma critically analysed the Deputy Chief Minister’s plan to study Singapore’s tunnel roads and replicate the same to solve traffic congestion in Bengaluru. “Of the total number of trips in the city, only 10% are private. So investment in concrete infrastructure like flyovers or tunnel roads is unfairly benefiting the 10% exclusively,” he said. He proposed the idea of congestion charges to limit the use of private vehicles, while emphasising the need to build priority lanes for buses and ensure last-mile connectivity on foot. 

Greenpeace campaigner Amruta Nair called for the revival of the 11 Bus Priority Lane as conceived by the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) under the Comprehensive Mobility Plan, which is a citizen-centric plan to address urban mobility issues such as congestion. Panellists also stressed on the use of cycles to cut off congestion and make public transport more relevant amongst youngsters. 

The concerns and suggestions raised in the first panel discussion also carried forward to the second one, which was moderated by citizen activist Tara Krishnaswamy. The panel consisted of members from different sections of society and aimed at addressing the perspectives on mobility through the lens of gender, the middle class, communities from low economic backgrounds, and the youth. 

Tara Krishnaswamy, a citizen activist, pointed out that public roads benefit those who own private vehicles, and that many city dwellers have become more “car-centric”. Yamuna Ganesh, a garment factory worker, and Vanarani, from Slum Dwellers Federation, raised issues about securing the infrastructure leading to the bus shelters and making them user-friendly. They expressed their dissatisfaction with electronic buses, adding that they have not been designed for women. 

Mala Bai, a transgender person and ward coordinator with Sangama, shed light on the stigma associated with trans persons and how when she avails public transport, the seat next to her always remains vacant. 

Dhruv, a student from BMS College of Engineering, stated that the buses’ tardiness and unreliability are the only factors that discourage students from availing public transport. He is a part of the Eco Club in his college and works on sustainable mobility initiatives like ‘Eco- Prayana’, which urges the college fraternity to use eco-friendly means of commuting.

The Bangalore Apartments Federation also noted that the city’s transportation is fragmented, and called for the BMTC to work with metro authorities to provide first and last-mile connectivity through mini-buses to metro stations.

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