The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), in a recent move, has slashed the fares of the super luxury air-conditioned Volvo buses. The minimum fare, which had been raised to Rs. 12, has now been moved back to Rs. 10. It has been mentioned that the reduction in fares is in order to make high quality transport more accessible to the common man.
My argument here is that the Volvo fares should be kept high, and out of reach of the “common man”. While this sounds extremely elitist and snobbish, I believe that high fares are essential for the Volvos to serve their purpose.
Let us start by looking at the Pushpak, the BMTC’s previous attempt at premium transportation. Semi-luxury Pushpak services were introduced more than a decade ago, with fares being double the “ordinary” fares. However, what followed was a number of attempts to make it more “affordable”, and currently they are only marginally more expensive. And they are as crowded, if not more, than ordinary buses.
Next, let us look at the Mumbai local trains. There are a couple of first class compartments in each train, and it is not tough to notice that they are almost always as crowded as the general class. A closer look reveals it’s a mostly middle class crowd, who can’t really afford to travel by cab. First class is quite “affordable” (around Rs. 1000 a month). Accessible to the common man? Yes. Taking cars off the road? Sorry.
The main aim for the Volvos, I believe, must be to take cars off the road, and thus free up valuable space on congested peak hour roads. In other words, they should target people who otherwise travel to work by car, and offer good enough service for them to make the switch. And for this to happen, I believe there are a few things that need to be ensured – frequency, efficiency, cleanliness, comfort, speed and – most importantly – exclusivity.
I know this sounds politically incorrect, but the bare fact is that the upper middle class doesn’t want to rub shoulders (both figuratively and literally) with the great Indian unwashed. She doesn’t mind public transport as long as she is traveling with people similar to her; and she is willing to pay a premium for it. She may not mind standing in a crowded bus full of people like her. However, sitting next to a laborer is not done. In other words, she is willing to pay more to keep out the common man. What the BMTC needs to do is to charge enough to enable this.
Making comfortable travel accessible to public is a noble intention. However, the Volvos should be kept out of that business. Have a premium ordinary class by all means, maybe by fitting some Pushpaks with ACs. Price it low enough to make it accessible. However, please have a “first class” that is exclusive. Else the roads will remain congested.