Breakdown of buses i.e. buses stopping on-route due to mechanical failures, has been one of the key issues hampering efficient operations of bus fleet over the years. The Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), with a fleet strength of more than 6,400 buses is currently the largest city bus operator in India. In the year 2016-17, BMTC witnessed more than 50,000 breakdowns which led to losses in ridership and revenue, while also reducing the image of the bus system amongst its users. Such breakdowns are a common feature of many bus agencies across India. It is routinely blamed on poor-quality of vehicles or drivers, without adequate root-cause analysis and corrective action. This article highlights the key measures taken by BMTC that led to significant improvement as a means to provide lessons to other bus agencies in reducing their breakdowns.

“We took up prevention of bus breakdowns as a priority area of action given the significant impact it has on our operational efficiency and the passenger perception of our services. Addressing the issue needed a systemic approach which involved active collaboration between the management, drivers and the depot-level maintenance staff” says Mr. V. Ponnuraj, IAS, the Managing Director (MD) of BMTC who initiated the turnaround about a year back.

BMTC adopted the following system approach towards reducing breakdowns:

1. Envisioning the future-adopting a ‘Vision Zero policy for breakdowns’: BMTC has adopted a ‘Vision Zero policy for breakdowns’ i.e. to target eliminating any unexpected breakdown of services. Such an ambitious vision enabled the agency to review all the factors leading to breakdowns and prioritise actions accordingly

2. Improving efficiency of existing practices: BMTC has established various processes over the years towards preventing breakdowns. Therefore, the initial focus was to revive these processes and ensure that they are implemented efficiently. The following are a few such initiatives:

  • Recording vehicle-wise defects logged by drivers for priority action and to track historic performance of each vehicle that helps in identifying recurring issues
  • Analysing root-cause of breakdowns across depots on a daily basis to establish measures for corrective action
  • Senior officers inspecting depot maintenance activities during the night, when majority of the buses are at the depots.
  • Appointing ‘Mechanical officers’ with the specific role of ensuring adherence to ‘Preventive Maintenance’ practices including weekly and monthly maintenance schedules
  • Utilising weekends and holidays to maximise maintenance activities of fleet during their off-time

3. Investing in good quality spare parts through improved procurement practices: In addition to procedural improvements, BMTC has also altered procurement processes such that they induct good-quality spare parts for maintenance activities, thereby reducing the probability of recurring maintenance issues

4. Encouraging greater staff involvement through consultations and training programs

  • Drivers were encouraged to provide feedback to the mechanics on the various issues faced while operating the vehicle. The maintenance staff would then maintain a vehicle wise ‘defect register’ to be used for specific repairs and also as the vehicle’s historic performance ecord during periodic maintenance checks. Recurrence of such issues for a vehicle was used to monitor the performance of the maintenance staff and the need for changing spares etc.
  • BMTC has also invested significantly in capacity building of its staff through targeted training programs on driving and maintenance practices at its training centres and specific maintenance techniques and latest technologies at the depots

Through his vision and the efforts put in by the BMTC staff, the total number of breakdowns reduced by 20% over the past one year. The following chart maps the declining trend of breakdowns observed in BMTC.

Mr. Gangannagowda, the Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of BMTC and his team played an active role in translating the MD’s vision into action by coordinating with various depots. “The multi-pronged approach adopted by the management has gradually built staff confidence in the process. Today, we are witnessing active participation from the drivers in reporting specific maintenance needs and timely action from the maintenance staff in addressing their issues. We intend to continue the processes put in place and build on them for further improvements in the future” he opined.

Going forward, BMTC is in the process of adopting the following measures towards completely eliminating on-route breakdown of vehicles:

(i) Creating an online ‘Defects management system’: To sustain the rate of reduction in number of breakdowns, a more transparent, efficient and automated system to report and attend to vehicle maintenance issues is being developed. A mobile application known as the ‘Defects Management System’ has been developed for the crew. Drivers can register the defects observed in the vehicle on the app, which will also be accessed by maintenance staff to address the concerns. These transactions can also be monitored on a real-time basis by other departments to monitor progress and take corrective actions in procurement processes etc. Such provision for tracking reports and corrective actions helps BMTC in fixing the responsibilities for various defects and monitor performance of its staff. The app is currently being tested in one depot and will eventually be scaled up to all 43 depots within BMTC.

(ii) Moving from ‘Preventive Maintenance’ to ‘Predictive maintenance’: Extending the benefits of the ‘Defects Management System’ app further, BMTC plans to use insights from the time-series performance of various vehicles, spares etc. to move from the current ‘preventive maintenance’ to a ‘predictive maintenance’ regime. Such a regime would help the maintenance division of BMTC in being prepared for potential mechanical failures and take necessary measures like procuring spares in advance, taking corrective actions before failure etc.

The success story of BMTC demonstrates the value of focussing on improving traditional practices like preventive maintenance and procurement. “In addition to efficient implementation of preventive maintenance practices, we intend to move to a predictive maintenance approach which makes use of data analytics to identify repairs and spare requirements before they reach their end of life” says Mr. Ponnuraj. Such efficiency improvement initiatives lead to cost reduction and revenue improvement for the bus agency by maximising asset utilisation and also extending the life of the vehicle at just a marginal cost. Such efforts are worth emulating across India.

(Author: Ravi Gadepalli, Research Manager, UITP)