It was supposed to happen some months back, around end of April 2012 and then they postponed it saying that the Govt has agreed to look into their issues. The main issue was that the union wanted a say in the salary hikes for the employees. The Govt agreed to involve them in the discussions. Five months on, hikes were done without involving the unions and they decided to go on the strike which people are suffering from now.
Main trouble is, this can go on indefinitely as the only people who really care about people being affected are not to be seen. Apparently the minister R Ashoka did not turn up for the first round of negotiations and the union also rejected everything the Govt came up with. With the minister not involved, it only means that whoever is negotiating does not have any backing from the top honchos and has limited power to offer anything. No wonder the talks failed. The traffic police, to some extent even BESCOM and some private travels are helping people out by running services, but you just can’t replicate the BMTC with its, even though decreased, fleet of services. Imagine having to hitchhike to work with no idea how to get through the next leg of the journey. With distances to workplace increasing, this is going to be a complete nightmare. Also note that many schools and even tech-parks use BMTC services on a contract basis to ferry their employees. These are also going to be affected.
Now, with the increase in diesel rates, the KSRTC/BMTC will be hard-pressed to get the unions to toe their line. They might even succeed- all they need to do is wait for a week. Let the common man suffer, the striking workers will soon have to start thinking of their families and will have to come back to work. They might accept a compromise formula which will give them maybe 30-40% or, if lucky, 50% of their demands and get back to work. The press will be told that a compromise formula was reached, so that both parties are winners and everyone’s face is saved. All can celebrate.
Trouble will start after that – for the commuters. Right since the end of last year I have been griping that BMTC bus services are becoming less reliable and infrequent. They had a timetable which advertised buses every 5-10 minutes on many routes. After much complaining from me and apparently from others, they removed that timetable. This is what the stripped down timetable looks like:
There was a time last year when 500Cs, 500Ds and 335Es used to run every 5 minutes, 500Ks and 201Rs every 15 minutes. I would come over to Nagarabhavi circle and there were 238Us every 5 minutes to take me to Ambedkar college. Basically you could get from any point to any other main point without having to wait for more than 15-20 minutes.
The difference could be seen since the second half of last year. I complained in an article on citizenmatters, but most people staunchly supported BMTC (and these were users of 500C and 335E). But in parallel I also noticed that there were many who had started writing about the number of buses coming down and facing difficulty getting home(,). The press largely ignored the issue, continuing to sing paeans for the “most urban public transport” in the country, the only “profit making public transport” in the country, etc. Also throw in a few articles with sound-bites from BMTC chiefs and transport ministers about upcoming addition of X number of buses to the already huge fleet, a bigger bus being inducted into the service, the colour of some bus services being changed to green to reflect their care for nature, GPS tracking devices to be added to the buses, and what not! There was no talk of the reducing services. It was the clichéd elephant in the room which no one cared about.
No matter how this ends, BMTC will continue to tighten its purse-strings, which means almost no services during non-peak hours and less buses than before during peak hours. Operation costs will be lower while they pack in more people into the buses. They even need less crew to handle the services. This will mean an increase in profit, which seems to be the sole thing that motivates them. Of course the existing fleet can and will be put to more profitable uses like for school/college or company/tech park buses. At one level, they hand out wages like a Govt body acting in a drought situation and at another level they act like a private corporate out to maximize profits “with investors in mind”. The ham-handed way they have gone about creating ugly TTMCs at different points shows the inefficiency in their working. It takes almost 20 minutes for buses to get into the Banshankari TTMC and then get out to go on their way.
There was a time when there was a genuine interest in trying to get more people into buses. They improved services, introduced bus day concepts, went out of their way to understand the main routes and got more commuters. They were the first to introduce Volvo AC buses along IT corridors and were the pride of Bangaloreans. This brought them profits – nothing else. Auto drivers started struggling because of this. Somewhere down the line, they stopped behaving like a public transport company and started looking at profits and realized that there were shortcuts that could be taken. BMTC has reached a stage where it is now a profit-making monopoly running a transport service. It is time some competition is introduced by allowing private bodies into the field of public transport inside the city.
Along with some healthy competition, it will also ensure that such life and economy crippling strikes will not occur. Considering that employees will also have other options, attrition will also keep wages and benefits competitive. Areas will get the coverage they need better as competitors can vie for spots.
Update on the morning of 15th September 2012:
The BMTC strike has been called off overnight. The Govt has “given in” and “agreed to look into their demands”. But then, there are other sites which say that ESMA was threatened. So again, it landed somewhere midway. Those demands that the union knew will get accepted easily, apparently did. For the bigger ones, the Govt agreed to “form a committee” to look into it. Go figure.
Update 2: Evening of the 15th of September, 2012:
Just realized that the last diesel price hike happened end of June 2011 and BMTC promptly increased their ticket rates. Things started falling apart on the commute from since August or so. Something snapped around this time. Maybe they realized that diesel rates might go up further and the Govt might not keep subsidizing it. Profits had to come from somewhere else now – like cutting on operation costs.