STUs: Battling hurdles with mixed results
The panelists for the discussion were O P Gupta (I.A.S.), General Manager, Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport (BEST) who also moderated the session; U Sudhakara Rao, Executive Director, Association of State Road Transport Undertakings; Madanpal Singh, Senior Research Officer (Transport), Planning Commission, Government of India; Manjunata Prasad (IAS), Managing Director, Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation; K R Srinivasa (IAS), Managing Director, BMTC and Karthi Madhavan, Regional Head, CMC Ltd, a Tata Enterprise.
Rural areas still need a proper policy by the government: O P Gupta
Public Transport in India is a very important issue but it has not received due attention from the policy makers and the government anywhere in the country. In fact if we go back to the history of public transport in India we see that when the Road Transport Corporation Act was introduced in 1950, the administrators, the policy makers and the political executives had recognised the importance of an efficient public transport for the economic development of the country and for taking care of the needs of the people. All the states were requested to set up State Road Transport Corporations (SRTCs) or Undertakings. Though there was equal participation from the central as well as the state governments in SRTCs, the operation of the Public Road Transport however ,continued to remain under the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) which covered the operation of the fleet, the regulations of the actual transport operations and the fare structure.
However, certain things didn’t move the way they should have, especially in the case of fare revision. The government, as a political executive, was left in charge of fixing the fare as per the original scheme of the MVA. The impact of that one decision resulted in most of the SRTUs (State Road Transport Undertakings) being led to face serious financial troubles because, over a period of time, costs had escalated all over the country. All SRTUs went bankrupt. After the 1989 amendment in the Motor Vehicle Act problems deteriorated further because of unfair competition after easing of license norms. Subsequently, certain states did take a focused initiative to reduce fare regulation and give SRTCs some freedom to fix fares. Maharashtra was one of them. Karnataka was another. A few other states too followed and it helped put the SRTCs on a progressive path. However, the problem persisted in certain other states like Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa.
And today we notice that the states that took those initiatives have an efficient public transport system even today. The quality of service may not be what we aspire for but Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and some northern states do have a very good public transport system in place. Even today in the rural areas of most of the states, bus, through State Transport Undertakings (STUs), is the main medium of transport for general public. Owing to general economic development, the private ownership of vehicles too has gone up. People have more two wheelers and four wheelers as the aspiration levels have shot up. And with the improvement in the roads sector, there is more focus on private vehicles.
The general policy should create a feeling that will help in the prospering of public transport. India probably is one of the few countries where public transport is still taxed — we have passenger tax in India, motor vehicle tax on public transport/vehicle, value added tax on fuel even if it is used for public transport and all the other subsidiary taxes which are levied in general for other transport vehicles.
Luckily, since the last few years we are seeing some focus by the governments on road transport and urban public transport through the Ministry of Urban Development in Government of India (GoI). The National Urban Transport Policy says that certain cities need to develop a good and efficient public transport. Therefore, some schemes were brought up to improve public transport but the rural areas of some states still need a proper policy and general focus by the governments.
Such seminars help to sensitise the decision makers on these issues and bring the government’s focus towards these as policies are ultimately framed by the government. The SRTC Act formed by the government is really very good. The Boards of the STUs should have eminent people with good knowledge on public transport and a good concept on efficient management. Over the years perhaps at some places, the decision makers and nominees on the Board were not the ones who were originally thought of.
BEST is one such example. The original BEST Committee constituted by the first institution probably had some serious transport experts, transport planners and general city planners. But, over the years, the BEST Committee has become a sub-committee or standing committee of the Municipal Corporation itself which now includes mostly the corporators. They are very good but sometimes lack the technical expertise required for the job because the structure of the boards is such. And that’s where the management issues come in.
Coming to the technology part, cashless transaction is one of the major aspects of public transport ticketing. In our buses, it is tough for the conductor to issue tickets to ten people who enter the bus simultaneously. He also needs to keep a track of who had bought the ticket from where to where. Technology can play a major role here. Most of the STUs too do not have the Passenger Information System required for efficient public transport. Technology can help in telling people when their buses would arrive or alert them when the buses are about to reach their bus stops. The bus location, through GPS or GPRS technology, can be passed on to the customer who can plan accordingly instead of waiting aimlessly.