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Indore buses: sure better than Bangalore, but not good enough!

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Public Transport

I am referring to the Indore bus services, which has been touted by many as the World's best public-private bus partnership - Indore. I had raised a few questions about the Indore model, vide my posting under the caption ‘better bussing’ on 22nd Dec, ’07.

Subsequently, I had attended the seminar on ‘Effective Traffic Management’ convened jointly by the DPAR and Centre for Public Policy, IIM, Bangalore, at the Vikas Soudha on the 4th Jan, at which a presentation was made by Mr Shukla from Indore (he had come in place of Mr Vivek Agarwal, IAS, Dist Magistrate, who had conceived the entire scheme and who was originally supposed to come), and the answers to the questions I had raised became more or less clear, based on which I have drawn my conclusions.

The questions and answers are as listed below:

Q1: Is it based on an IIT-D team’s HCBS (High capacity bus system) model, running on dedicated lanes? If yes, I am not very much in favour of it since the whole concept is based on wide roads meaning felling of trees, as has already happened in Delhi much to the disquiet of the city’s population. Besides, as I have said elsewhere, dedicated lanes are a huge waste of costly urban space (Read http://traffic-transport-...). That apart, the system necessarily involves costly imported buses. METRO rail would any day be preferable.

Ans: Yes, it is based on the IIT-D supported BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System – not HCBS, which was my own coinage) model, running on dedicated lanes. I raised the point as stated above during the interaction session, and stated that we, in Bangalore, cannot afford to give up our cherished tree heritage for multi-lane roadways, particularly when they are not going to be put to good use, as is certain with the dedicated lane system. Mr Shukla seemed to suggest a figure of around Rs 15 crores per km as the infrastructure cost. But, obviously, he has not taken the cost of the land in the city center that has been set aside exclusively for the bus services. If you take that into account, perhaps the METRO rail will be cheaper, particularly in a city like Bangalore. Indore has however quite wisely settled for good quality Indian make buses, and avoided going in for costly imported buses.

Q2: Have any Corporates (names like TATA's, Leyland) entered the picture? If not, why not?

Ans: No. The service providers are mostly local players, supposedly selected based on some stated criterion. With far too many controls and restrictions still in place, I expect TATA’s, TVS’s would still want to keep a safe distance, leaving the field to the local mafia chieftains to play ball with the Company authorities – more or less like the PWD operations in most states.

Q3: Are all services uniform? Or, do they vary from Janata to Deluxe to luxury to super luxury (a/c)?

Ans: All uniform. Achieving the revenue targets is not going to be too easy, which can eventually lead to a subsidy regime.

Q4: Are the charges fixed by the government, or is it left to the operator to decide on his fare table?

Ans: The Company (essentially a government set up) takes all decisions in this regard. There is no discretion left to the service provider in these matters. The Company is guaranteeing revenues of the order of Rs 22,000/- per bus per month, out of the earnings from sale of monthly passes. The revenue generation out of cash sales can be retained by the operators.

Q5: Are the routes allotted by the government? Or, is there freedom for the operator to choose whichever route he wants to operate on?

Ans: Yes, again. The Company decides everything. The operators are left with no discretion in this regard, either.

Q6: Have restrictions on usage of personal vehicles been introduced in the city, yet? Or, is there a proposal for that? In what form are they likely to take shape?

Ans: Not yet; but, they are considering it.

Q7: Has a regulatory authority come into being, or will it all collapse after the incumbent Dy Commissioner is shifted out of the city? Ans: There is no separate regulatory authority. By forming this Company, the Indore Municipality has in effect created an entity that is the player, umpire, as well as the ground curator (using cricketing terms) – not at all a satisfactory state of affairs.

In the case of Bangalore, the BMLTA has been instituted, though it is still in the form of a sub-committee of another Committee, as averred by none less than Mr Ravindra, Dy Chairman, State Planning Commission, himself, at the seminar. There is a proposal to strengthen and broad-base it. Once that is in place, hopefully Bangalore will open out the sector even to players like TATA’s, TVS’s, rather than pursuing the Indore model.

Comments

murali772's picture

it was obvious in 2008 itself

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Dissatisfied with its existing state, some 30 voluntary organisations will prepare a "people's draft" outlining the public transport in Indore. The draft, to be prepared after obtaining inputs from the general public and non-motorised transport users, will be finalised after consulting transport planners, following which it will be submitted to the administration. - - - - The need for a people's draft arose because it was felt that public transport policy and operations should be driven from the ground up rather than top-down, said the organisers. - - - - Well-known short-story writer Kanupriya, who uses public transport extensively, bemoaned AICTS (Atal Indore City Transport Limited - the company that oversees the BRTS)'s propensity for shutting down operations on key routes.
 
For the full text of the report in the Hindustan Times, click here
 
The way the whole scheme was conceived, it was obvious to anyone with the slightest bit of common sense that it was not going to work. So, I won't even like to pat myself on the back and say "I told you so". There are two major components contributing to the failure - 
  • excessive government control (far beyond the needed facilitation and regulation) 
  • The BRT concept itself  - the matter has been discussed at length here, here & here, apart from elsewhere, and as such, I'll leave it at that. 
The important question that arises is will we ever learn from these mistakes (assuming these were genuine mistakes, not intended to take people for a ride)?
Muralidhar Rao

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