A bus delayed is a bus denied: Agra’s erratic city-bus schedule makes daily commute by bus unviable

Imagine getting off of a train at the Agra Fort Railway Station sometime at noon. You are carrying a bag and come out of the station and walk to the nearby Bijli Ghar bus stand, less than half a kilometre away, where you can board a city bus to reach your home. The bus stand is as busy and chaotic as ever with autorickshaws seemingly piling on top of each other, intercity buses lining one after another onboarding passengers and scores of other private vehicles wading their way through the massive maze of vehicles. Amidst so much vehicular chaos, pedestrians and commuters are trying to avoid getting in front of vehicles that might as well get on the pavement if they could.

You stand looking for the orange electric city bus that plies on your route but you see none. Then you take out your phone and check the Chalo app to see when is the next bus going to take off from the bus stand from whence it originates. There are no live buses. You check the timetable and lo and behold, the buses are scheduled to ply only every other hour. It’s still twenty minutes to one in the noon, so you cave in and take the autorickshaw and come home.

One can wait for a bus for a few minutes, even five or ten, especially if the buses run on time but what does one do when the buses are spaced apart either irregularly or by an hour apart or don’t even ply after certain hours of the evening or during late hours of the night?

That is precisely how the city buses of Agra have been scheduled based on the information of bus timings available on the Chalo app which is the official information partner of city-bus transport authority in Agra as in many other cities of the country.

A total of 28 bus routes were scanned on the Chalo app for this analysis. Many of these routes overlap with each other to varying extents which means that there are many bus stops which are common in these routes. Thus, on certain bus stops there are more buses available than others, most of which are found on the stretch of the road connecting the arterial Mahatma Gandhi road to the Agra-Gwalior road, which taken together have maximum number of overlapping routes going through them.

Starting Point/Termination PointTermination Point/ Starting PointTimings for all routes
Bijli GharShamshabad7 am, 9 am and then after every hour
Agra CanttSikandra Mandi
Agra CanttBarhan
Agra CanttBhagwan Talkies
Agra CanttDayalbagh
Bhagwan TalkiesDevi Choraha
Bhagwan TalkiesRohta
Arjun NagarAirport
Source: Chalo App

What’s remarkable is that none of the 28 routes have a regular frequency of buses throughout the day. As can be observed from the table above, a total of eight routes come quite close as they have buses plying every one hour from seven in the morning to 10 in the night except at 8 am. But even otherwise the one-hour gap between subsequent buses is extremely long to make city buses a viable option for daily commuters.

Starting Point/Termination PointTermination Point/ Starting PointTimings for all routes
Bijli GharPaschimpuri7 am, 8:45 am, 3:20 pm, 4:20 pm, 5:05 pm
Bijli GharKheragarh
Bijli GharTundla
Bijli GharIradat Nagar
Agra CanttBarhan (Via Anwalkhera)
Bhagwan TalkiesIradat Nagar
Source: Chalo App

Buses on the seven routes mentioned in the table above have an extremely erratic schedule. They start in the early morning at seven but completely stop after 8:45 am only to resume operations at 3:20 pm but no buses start from the origin points after 5:05 pm. Thus, you would have very small windows in the entire day to commute by city buses on these routes. No buses are available at night, a time in the day when buses are one of the most convenient and safest options of commute.

Two routes, those between Bhagwan Talkies and Idgah Bus Depot, and ISBT and Tedhi Baghiya, have it even worse as the buses on these routes only start twice from their respective origin points to and fro; at 7:21 am and 7:39 am. Rest of the day you are completely dependent upon private transportation on these routes.

Starting Point/Termination PointTermination Point/ Starting PointTimings for all routes
Bijli GharFatehabad7:43 am, 8:38 am, 8:58 am, 9:38 am, 10:38 am, 11:38 am, 12:38 am, 1:29 am, 2:14 pm, 2:34 pm, 3:14 pm, 4:14 pm, 5:14 pm, 6:14 pm  
Bijli GharNaraich Depot
Bhagwan TalkiesNaraich Depot
Bhagwan TalkiesAchanera
IdgahFatehpur Sikri
Source: Chalo App

On six routes mentioned above the schedule is again very erratic and irregular and the timing for the last bus is at 6:14 pm.

For five routes no timings are available on the app; between Bijli Ghar and Mathura, Bijli Ghar and Firozabad, Bijli Ghar and Bah, Bijli Ghar and Pinahat, and Sadabad and ISBT.

Previous assessments of bus frequency by Opinion Tandoor had revealed that the maximum time interval between two buses on any route was half an hour. Now the time interval has been increased to an hour or more on most routes. Moreover, the timing for the last bus to ply on many routes has been pushed back to early evening, afternoon or even early morning. Thus, it would be no surprise to see the message ‘no live buses’ displayed on the Chalo app if you were trying to track the currently operational buses on most routes in the city.

Agra is all set to join the metro rail club as the first metro corridor is going to be partially opened up for commuters in early 2024. The reasoning given behind proposing and implementing this multi thousand crore rupees project was that it would reduce vehicular traffic on roads and thus lead to lesser congestion and lesser pollution due to vehicular emissions. These reasons are in fact the fundamental basis for promoting public transport culture on the whole everywhere. Ironically buses are more effective than metro rail in cultivating this culture on all counts. They are much less costly than metro rail. They do not disrupt the existing urban infrastructure whereas metro rail causes massive disruption not only to ground-surface but also underground infrastructure. Moreover, buses have much better last mile connectivity (i.e. lesser distance between boarding points and people’s residential units and offices) than metro rail. Thus, it is strange that a city which is investing so much money and effort in installing an entire metro rail infrastructure for public transport, is failing to provide both a less erratic and bizarre bus schedule, and a better frequency of buses on all routes. After all a bus delayed is a bus denied.

All the timings for the buses have been sourced from Chalo bus tracking app between 10th and 13th December 2023.

Special thanks to Mudit Chaturvedi for sharing his ordeal that helped personalising this essay.

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