Meeting the Road User expectations and bring efficiency into the system – the two key challenges faced by highway sector today can be easily overcome by converting the Physical Highway in to a bundle of services designed around the three core constituents of highway – physical infrastructure, vehicle and driver – keeping them integrated and operate like a single system. Venkat Chunduru, COO, Infrovate analyses the need for redefining the Indian highways centred around the Road User and provides a conceptual framework to convert them into smart highways by capitalising the technological advancements, policy and business environments.
Historically, roads have played a dominant role in evolution of civilisations across globe and India is no exception. As earliest as 4th century BC i.e. from the period of Chandra Gupta Mourya to till date, administrators over the times have constantly evolved in their approaches for building highways to keep pace with the growing demands and foster economic growth. Involving private sector through PPP model has accelerated the highway building. Highway length of 5.23 Million Km in 2015 from a mere 0.38 Million Km in 1947 clearly demonstrates the fact. Several other initiatives were also taken from time-to-time to bring efficiency and improve safety. Creation of Green Highways Mission, National Road Safety and Transportation Management Authority, implementation of FasTAG – the nation-wide electronic tolling, prevention of vehicle overloading etc., were some of key programs launched by Government. Though the efforts are in right direction, the deficiencies in the system has out-weighed the improvements. Unable to comprehend increase in user charges vis-à-vis the poor quality of service, safety and lack of facilities road user community has started showing their discontent in the form of agitations across nation including a few sporadic violent incidents.
Slowdown in economy, delay in completion of projects due to delayed land acquisition and clearances, consequential poor realisation of returns by the private sector, have affected their ability to pay back loans and slowed down their interest in the sector. This resulted in their withdrawal from participating in the highway development. Hence engagement of all stakeholders and ensuring their business objectives are being met while meeting the customer satisfaction is key to success. Also, there is no system in place to provide data for enabling re-structure or re-design of initiatives centred around customer needs and optimise on the commercial objectives on investor while ensuring customer satisfaction.
It is in this context, an attempt is being made to draw upon a conceptual framework mapping the technological advancements, policy and business environments in the country today to deliver customer centric highway services while ensuring stakeholder engagement thus transforming Indian Highways into SMART HIGHWAYS.
Highways industry is perhaps having largest customer base and affects every segment of the society in one way or the other. Any amount of capacity building and initiatives without understanding the road user and considering their needs/expectations will be futile.