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de-cattle-class-ifying bus services

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BusPublic Transport

Recently, I was required to make a few trips to Kochi. The options before me, and what each implied are listed below:

1) Driving down - The distance being in the range of 550 km, this option I find too tedious, unless with a break in journey. This means nearly two full days gone each way. Besides, at the current fuel prices, the fuel cost alone works out to Rs 3500/- odd each way. As such, I would consider this option only if on a holiday with family/ friends.
2) Train - Extremely difficult to get bookings on short notice, even through Tatkal. I get a feeling that the IRCTC site is not quite geared to take on the kind of load that comes on at 8 AM (for the Tatkal bookings), and getting connected itself is difficult.
3) Flight - extremely expensive on short notice, particularly with the likes of KingFisher and Air-India playing truant. Besides, it takes (3 + 1 + 1.5) hrs each way, mostly of your day time.
4) Bus - This is the option I am increasingly taking now.

Operators like Kallada, Sharma, Shama, etc run regular multi-axle VOLVO A/C bus services, departing from Madiwala at around 9.30 PM and gliding into Kochi by around 6.30 AM, ie in just 9 hrs (atleast 2 hours lesser than the fastest train takes), though the charge at around Rs 900/- per seat works out to almost twice the AC sleeper class fare. During season, they add on more buses, diverting them from other destinations, that way making seats available even on short notice, of course at a slightly higher fare. And, the booking through the REDBUS portal is generally a 5 minute job on the net. The seats are as good as in the best of aircrafts, and VOLVO being VOLVO, the 9 hour journey is just a breeze, even on the normally pot-holed stretches of Kerala roads.

There is one major catch, though - very few of them have proper tie ups for clean toileting arrangements for the passengers, mid-way, at the beginning, or at the end. Having to step out of world class VOLVO buses, and piddle on the road-sides, is not exactly the pleasantest of experiences for the generally well-heeled passengers. And, as far as women are concerned, they stop fluids intake from some 24 hrs before a bus journey, so as to manage it all without a loo break. This, if you ask me, is the one major reason that earns bus services the cattle-class label, than anything else.

In this regard, the Vytilla Mobility Hub (in Kochi) offered a most pleasant surprise. As you will notice, in the pictures below, the toilet facilities are as good as, say at BIAL in Bangalore. The maintenance of the entire hub is outsourced to a private contractor, and, like at the BIAL, you can see workers sweeping and mopping the floors regularly. Apparently, the approach is that if you treat bus passengers as human beings, they will behave like human beings, rising above the cattle-class that they have been relegated to all along. One only hopes that this lasts well beyond the 3 months that the hub has been in operation now.

In contrast are the comparatively poorer facilities at the Jayanagar TTMC - check this.

Going back to the inter-city bus services - the buses invariably have to make a stop midway for refuelling. Now, if the operators can team up with the fuelling stations to provide proper toilet facilities for the passengers, that should take care of the problem, largely. There is no reason why the operators can't do it, except perhaps on account of the operations themselves not being totally legal, in the first place, thanks to the governments' license-permit raaj and the uncertainties thereof - check this.

Very clearly, every where, the government is the biggest pain in the backside. Neither will they do a proper job; nor will they allow the others to do it.

Muralidhar Rao


psaram42's picture

Privatization of profits and socialization of losses

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I heard the above comment on a TV programme. Kingfisher airlines Vijay Mallya Sahib wants government to bale him out. I heard that his Liquor business also may be in trouble? 

murali772's picture

cliched inanity

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@ Ananthram  -  Nobody is supporting any bail out of Kingfisher, if that's the point you are trying to make. But, while doing so, would you also simultaneously like to demand a stop to the enormous quantum of tax payers' money that has been and continues to be pumped into AIR-INDIA, for no earthy reason, whatsoever.

And, the public/ private sector debate is there elsewhere on PRAJA. Please take it there if you must. I will be happy to take you on.



Muralidhar Rao
psaram42's picture

proof of the pudding is in eating

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My point was just the comment on TV I happened to hear. I liked that comment:- "Privatization of profit and socialization of losses" instantly! Air India I think comes under 'socialization of losses' category.

Murali sir what is the idea of this present blog of yours? Vytilla Mobility hub which you have highlighted is no doubt out of the world. There cannot be a second thought, especially when you say so.

The point what I share with you is we the consumers would like to have the best of what our affordable money can get, be it private or public service provider. But I do believe that "proof of the pudding is in eating".

Air India being propped up at public cost is unacceptable. Only political will of the people can punish such spending.  I am for better service whoever gives it at my affordable cost. I don’t envy or want to have any thing, I cannot afford.

Ego can be very heavy whose weight is zero. Rest is only innocent fun.

rs's picture

AIR India has been

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AIR India has been hemorraging money for the last several years now. All govt employees - such as myself - are forced to fly AI for any official trip - which is a massive inconvenience. The last time I travelled to Europe for a conference since I had to travel AI it was going to take me 18 hours and cost me 1.5 times the cheapest airline to travel. In the last minute they changed the flight timings forcing me to buy a new ticket on another airline with permission from the MEA which in fact ended in me travelling 24 hours for what is ordinarilly an 8 hour journey. And I am not an isolated case - pretty much all of my colleagues have suffered thanks to this. So in my opinion AI should be allow to die a peaceful death.

The same applies to Kingfisher - I dont see at all why the govt has to bail them out. Mallya has enough money anyway - he could simply sell a yacht to keep KF afloat. Its bad market strategy on their part.

In any case yesterday I travelled a long distance - from Goa to Bangalore - by KSRTC. While the journey was okay - there were several issues with the service. One - the interim bus stand is not clear - I caught the bus at Margao - but there was no sign to indicate that this was the KSRTC bus stop - its only by asking the Vada-Pao stand chap did I find out where the bus stop was. While this might always be an option, this is not very professional.

As the bus was full, I had the last seat - which is not the most pleasant. But soon after the bus started, the other people in the same row moved in front and I had the entire row to myself. But just as I had settled in to a comfortable sleep the conductor woke me up and asked me to move in front - moving me to the first row - saying that the driver had to sleep. This does not seem right - to inconvenience the passengers for the sake of a driver - they should not strain the drivers to such an extent. I was placed in the front row facing the glare of the oncoming traffic - which was not very pleasant and I was left with a bad feeling about the whole journey. While the bus was very nice - the handling of passengers could be better. I also think these buses take an inordinate amout of time - 12 hours to travel 550 km - most of it on the divided NH-4. 

While KSRTC has greatly improved over the last several years - there is a lot of improvement that can be made. The toilet facilities at the Hirehalli bus stand - which were okay a few years ago - have worsened thanks to lack of maintainance.

I think the main difference between Kerala and Karnataka is the literate population in Kerala. They have a sense of hygene and perhaps the caste system is not as deeply entrenched, so people have no issues about cleaning toilets. I think the fundamental problem in Karnataka is the appaling lack of literacy. This is the basic issue that needs to be tackled - the rest will take care of themseleves.



rackstar's picture

hotels on the way

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Many private buses i know stop at good hotels during night which have multiple toilets. It is good for hotel guys and bus people both. So it should not be a problem if they plan it well.

silkboard's picture

KSRTC - new stops

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The new KSRTC bus stops, where I think they have outsourced maintenance to private parties are also kept fairly well. As an example, I had posted some pictures from Chennapatna bus stand over an year ago, will post pics again - not much has changed, same state, no deterioration.

rs's picture

The bus stands in Karnataka

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The bus stands in Karnataka are fine - in general - though maintainance is an issue. But, for example, in Margao there was absolutely no sign as to where the bus stop was for KSRTC  - they dont use the Kadambam ( Goa RTC ) bus stand. So bascially you have to ask around. On the ticket there is - very efficiently - a number you can call but no one responds to it.

murali772's picture

inevitable comparison

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Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said that six to eight "world-class" bus stations will be constructed across the state in the near future. He inaugurated a GSRTC Bus Station that has been constructed under Public-Private Partnership at the cost of Rs 110 crore here this evening. The purpose was to provide airport-like facilities to the thousands of the passengers who travel by state transport buses, he said. The new bus terminal is spread over 2,039 sq mt and has a supermarket, shopping mall, multiplex, restaurant and food court, commercial offices, and a budget hotel on the premises.

For the full report in the Economic Times, click here. For a slideshaw of the pictures of the terminal, click here.

Compare this to the TTMCs, built by BMTC all across Bengaluru, which have very rightly be renamed TTMWCs (Traffic & Transport Mismanagement & Wastage Center) by a member (check here). The difference plainly is that one is a PPP (quite like the Bengaluru's Kempegowda International Airport, which again is a far cry from the AAI's cattle-sheds - check this), and the other a totally government job. Yes, even in the case of BIAL (as it was called earlier), there were a few scams, plainly on account of the government not playing its role of the regulator with due diligence (on the contrary, it was facilitating them). But, for all of that, we have a swank and efficient airport, with very little scope for future scams. But, the TTMCs were born as scams, continue as scams (apparently, with just one favoured person holding all the lease rights), in addition to uglifying the landscape all across the city, and posing a huge financial burden on BMTC, and the commuters, thereby.

Can there be a more compelling argument for divesting the ownership of the infrastructure from the operator, while also bringing in more competition in the operations from the private sector (check this too)

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

cattle-class all the way

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The city is sorely short of retiring rooms and toilets for drivers of the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation buses, who are on the road for nearly 12 hours, between 8 pm and 6 am.

With 250 buses and three employees per bus, Bengaluru sees a floating population of 750 drivers. But there are only 54 beds to accomodate them in Basaveshwara Satellite Bus Terminal at Peenya. There are three bathrooms and two toilets here. “We go in public toilets or in the open,” says Gangaram Patil (name changed), conductor with the KSRTC for 21 years.

“There are two restrooms in Majestic depot, but drivers aren’t allowed to use it. It’s for the depot staff,” he says.

Managing Director of KSRTC, Rajender Kumar Kataria, says there will be “some free space at every bus station” for drivers to rest. “They won’t be actual restrooms. But there is space on the footpaths on which they can park the buses and the drivers can rest inside the vehicles.”

Patil says that buses are where the drivers rest, but the parking they find in Majestic is near garbage dumps and a public toilet,” says Patil. “No man can stand around these for even five minutes. The public toilet is falling apart, with its walls coming down and commuters urinate around the toilet.”

“Passengers who board from Majestic have no proper toilets to use and so they urinate in the parking area. No one thinks of what that puts us through. I sometimes think we aren’t humans anymore,” says Gopalaswamy (name changed), a driver.

For the full text of the report (emphasis added by me) in the New Indian Express, click here.

Yes, the entire bus transport services sector continues to remain cattle-class, not just for the passengers, but even for the crew. And, the reason again, very plainly, is the government ownership and operation - of the buses, services, infrastructure, et al. Even as far back as in Dec '07, it was clear that the model was unsustainable, and I had stated that "All bus stands to be taken over and run (or better still - leased out to professional contractors) by local bodies, like BMP, City Corporations, Municipalities, etc, making the facilities available to all service providers against user charges" (check here).

Ready examples of successful PPP bus station models are seen in the opening post (Kochi), and in my post dated 6th March, 2014 (Gujarat). Will Karnataka bother to learn some lessons?

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