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Making Public Transport the First Choice

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BusPublic Transport

That was the title of the Nobel Memorial Seminar convened by 'Volvo Buses', yesterday (26th Oct) at the Leela, Bangalore.

On a subject like that, it was inevitable that I had to raise the question of private participation in providing the bus services, ending the monopoly of BMTC, today's lone government service provider. And, that's exactly what I did when I got an opportunity during the interaction session.

During the main session, at least two of the panelists, Mr R K Misra and Ms Seetalakshmi (Eidtor, City, ToI) had highlighted the short-comings in the services of BMTC. Mr Misra had specifically talked about the poor information flow from the BMTC, whether from their website or wherever, and Ms Seetalakshmi had talked about the non-provision of night services, particularly for the last mile connectivity, which was adversely affecting their staff in a big way.
 
I elaborated further stating that, even granting that BMTC's services had improved in the recent past, there are serious short-comings, as the two panelists had already mentioned, and more about which can be seen on the blog titled "Why I gave up on BMTC?" (amongst others) on PRAJA, and which are coming in the way of people 'making public transport their first choice'. I went on to add that, whether in telecom, airlines or whichever service that had been opened out to competition from the private sector, the performance of the government player had improved tremendously, and therefore, in order for the BMTC to get its act together to address the shortcomings, wouldn't it also be advisable to usher in competition? I also cited my pleasant experience of travelling to Udupi and back by VRL's (Vijayanand Transport Service) Volvo buses, just the past week, and of their overall professionalism in going about their job, asking further as to why such players can't be invited to undertake providing services like for the last mile connectivity, which any way, the BMTC is not doing. I ended asking, over and above everything else, how can monopolies continue in today's world.

The question was directed at the lone government representative on the dias, Mr Shankarlinge Gowda, Principal Secretary, Transport. His response was quite on expected lines. He began by citing his bad experience with private players in Mexico. I intervened from the floor saying "you don't have to go that far; if you want to use such examples, there's the 'blueline' of Delhi, and there are more in our very backyard". What I wanted to add, but couldn't, at that stage, was "you tie their hands behind their backs using all kinds of tools like the outmoded 'Contract Carriage Act', etc, making for a totally sloping playing field in the government operators' favour, and then you label the private players as 'dangerous' and what not".

Later, over dinner, I did get to to interact with Mr Gowda, and when I put across my views as such, adding further that the present position was totally unfair, and given a level playing field, the private players will make the difference to 'making public transport the first choice', he quite readily admitted to it.

Very clearly, therefore, it is not as if the IAS officers, being the brilliant minds that they generally are, aren't aware of the actual positions. But, for various reasons (largely of their own making, I'll venture to add), they choose to carry on the government's bluff, at least in public. And, since, such seminars generally do not allow for rebuttals in the open, the officers get away with such stances, leading unfortunately to the positions getting perpetuated. Well, at least, now there's a PRAJA to say it all.

What was most surprising was the Transport Commissioner, Mr Bhaskar Rao,'s comments from the floor. He was lamenting the non-provision of sufficient subsidies by the government for the various government bus service providers. Over dinner, when I got to ask him why subsidies should be limited to bus services alone, and not extended to power/ water supplies, higher education, health services, and even air-conditioning in hot climates like in Bellary, Gulbarga, (as some 'Socialists' had demanded at a public seminar), etc, all harking back to the Soviet era, he hadn't much to say. Well, actually, I am not too surprised by Mr Rao's stance, given his none-too-illustrious tenure as the Transport Commissioner, as evidenced by the myriad comments on PRAJA.  

Apart from the above, our very own Pranav got to make a short presentation on PRAJA as the vehicle for interaction between citizens, government and the industry in helping to arrive at consensus on the ways to move forward on various issues; Mr R K Misra and Ms Seetalakshmi spoke about the futility of the present road widening pursuits; Mr Ashwin Mahesh spoke of the need for giving due importance to bus services, which without doubt are the most cost effective of public transport solutions; Mr Aroon Raman, Chairman, CII Karnataka, spoke about the need for BMTC to improve the marketing of its services.

Mr Syed Zameer Pasha (BMTC, MD), expectedly made all kinds of claims, including of the VOLVO services now 'breaking even' (mind you - not profit-making as was sought to be projected through press releases; and, even here, I feel, they are just taking operational costs into consideration). Mr Ulf Gustaffson, of VOLVO, spoke of new developments on the 'hybrid' front.

Well, as far as I am concerned, I got another opportunity to project the urgency for bringing professionalism into the vital public bus services sector, through its opening up to organised private sector players.

Muralidhar Rao
 

Comments

rackstar's picture

Footpaths and Private Minibuses

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If footpaths are good, you dont mind changing 2-3 buses. But footpaths in bangalore have steps in front of every gate every 6 ft. Footpaths should have steps only where a crossroad joins, else private shops/houses should adjust to height of footpath. See footpaths around jayadeva flyover, so many steps, people walk on road instead.

But I agree with you, private minibuses should be given liecence to operate. Free the market. Let them complement bmtc if not compete, both in bus size and routes. But i'm against allowing big private buses which will cause traffic problems.

ashok_n's picture

Well done.

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Mr. Muralidhar Rao,

I have been following your posts here on Praja andI appreciate the efforts you are taking to better the public transport system.

As I have said in other posts, government should allow private cabs/vans for solving the last - mile connectivity issue. If there is no profitable business to be made (as argued by Naveen), then anyway public/govt money is not lost. Allow private operators to try.

murali772's picture

the question of profitability

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@Ashok

Thanks for the compliments.

Yes, quite as you have stated, what has been proposed by me here, will not amount to poaching in BMTC's territory, but, on the other hand, could add to BMTC's ridership (and thereby profitability), since it would lead to commuters leaving their vehicles at home. So, I can't see why anybody should have any objections to it.

Besides, profitability of operations can get a lot altered by government policy/ regulatory changes. To make it clear, I will give an example from the electrical industry with which I had been associated closely earlier.

Distribution transformer (that you see on the roadside poles) manufacture is reserved for the small-scale sector (I think the position remains the same even today). Now, when the then Karnataka Electricity Board (KEB) decided on a massive rural electrification drive, the state SSI manufacturers wanted the entire pie for themselves, and lobbied successfully with the government to disallow manufacturers from other states in participating in the local tenders. But, soon, the other state governments also followed suit, leaving the local SSI's totally at the mercy of the KEB. Somewhere along, some politician who was appointed the MD of KAVIKA (government-owned, Karnataka Vidyut Karkhane, whose main product is distribution transformers, though, strictly speaking, it does not quite qualify as an SSI), pandering to the demands of the company union, lobbied with the government to order the KEB to purchase 80% of its requirements from it. The resulting battle amongst the SSI's saw many of them closed, many of them converting their factories into 'marriage halls', and the few nimble ones upgrading to power transformer manufacture.

That's just one example. There are many like it.

Now, if the government imposes all kinds or restrictions on usage of individualised forms of transport (private cars and two-wheelers), and disallows plying of auto's (like in South Mumbai), like it should, bus services of every kind will become the new gilt-edged business opportunity, even at today's or lower fares. That's all there's to it. And, even under the present set up, things can be worked out as described here.

Unfortunately, most stalwarts in PRAJA suffer from the same syndrome as Mr Shankerlinge Gowda. Perhaps, it requires the likes of you to start demanding a pro-active approach. Like I keep saying, public bus transport services are too vital an infrastructure sector to be left in the hands of a government monopoly.

Muralidhar Rao
rackstar's picture

why private only minibus?

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792 Blueline buses go off road from today http://www.hindustantimes.com/792-Blueline-buses-go-off-road-from-today/Article1-618757.aspx
 
private bus drivers are inherently careless as their job/career is not at stake, unlike bmtc drivers who will lose jobs. So if private buses allowed, only minibuses should be allowed. Dont compare with infy buse drivers, they dont have to compete with anybody.
 
 
murali772's picture

another Doctoral aspirant

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private bus drivers are inherently careless as their job/career is not at stake, unlike bmtc drivers who will lose jobs

looks like we have another Doctoral aspirant here :))).

PS: I have myself edited my earlier comment, which possibly came out of taking this a bit too seriously. My apologies if I have hurt anyone's feelings.

Muralidhar Rao
rackstar's picture

basics

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The whole corporate world works on job/career growth/security. to say the basics, a bmtc driver gets far better marriage proposals while a private cab/bus driver may not even get. Mr. Rao you can ignore a comment once more if you fail to find any point, or u dont have anything to reply.

murali772's picture

here they come

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Blue Hill Logistics (BHL), a subsidiary of Blue Hill Investment Pvt Ltd, has launched super-luxury intercity bus service titled ‘Luxuria’ between Bengaluru and Chennai. The Volvo buses have been designed by ace automobile designer Dilip Chhabria. The Luxuria bus service has been flagged off today with two buses departing at 5 am and 7 am and another two buses will begin operations in the night at 10 pm and 11 pm from Whitefield going via the Luxuria lounge at HSR Layout Bengaluru.  The first three services will culminate at Hotel Sabari Classic on OMR Road at Sholinganallur in Chennai and the last service departing from Bengaluru will culminate at Hotel Radha Regent, Koyambedu Chennai. At all the above mentioned times of 5am, 7 am , 10pm and 11pm the bus service will be running from Chennai too. The ticket for a one way journey is priced at Rs 1,800.

“These ultra luxury buses are targeted to air travellers. The buses are designed to give Business Class and First Class luxury and comforts at far lower prices,” said Pankaj Rampal, COO, Blue Hill Logistics.


For the full report, click here

On this thread, a few weeks back, I had made the comment - "bus services of every kind will become the new gilt-edged business opportunity". Well, it seems to be happening faster than I expected. Yes, this Blue-hill venture is targeted at the hig-end, and inter-city travellers. But, given the right kind of incentives (alongwith disincentives targeted at usage of individualised forms of transport), there's no reason it can't move to the intra-city and aam-aadmi end too.
 

Muralidhar Rao

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