Depending on where you travel, a bus journey may mean nothing more than hanging precariously by the door, or getting into a scuffle over loose change. But, imagine a future where your average bus tempts you to leave your well-appointed car behind and take the bus. Busworld, India’s only dedicated bus show, had everything from rubber mouldings to satellite-linked GPS-route displays and buses that tilted sideways at the press of a button.
“I am here to find out what the second biggest bus industry in the world is up to,” says Doug Jack, Director, Transport Resources International, when asked what had brought him half the way across the globe to a Mumbai suburb of Goregaon. The Englishman thought it was encouraging to see an expo exclusively for buses. “After all in today’s world of traffic and pollution, taking a bus is a no-brainer,” he argued.
Busworld has been an annual affair in Europe since 1971 and was held in India for the first time in New Delhi, two years ago. Says Luc Glorieux, General Manager, Busworld, a Belgian organisation that holds bus expos across Europe and Asia, “Your people are now waking up to the fact that bus travel can be enjoyable and comfortable. But all that is of no use if the roads are going to be the way they are now. And with everybody in cars, traffic is going to be finished.”
Incidentally, our nation’s biggest bus manufacturers – Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland – were conspicuous by their absence. “I think they are being protective. And we aren’t new to this behaviour.” Glorieux explained that in all the growing markets that Busworld goes to, the big local players almost always fail to turn up.
Okay, so what’s in such an expo for the ordinary man? In a few years from now, the big, gleaming and sophisticated beauties on show may well become your primary transport. Pune and Bangalore already have Volvo’s B7RLE plying on their roads. Forget air-conditioning, these buses can raise and tilt their suspension for the disabled and have plethora of seating and standing options, along with sockets to charge your cellphone, laptop and work on practically any electronic device. While you are reading this, a team from BEST will be in talks with Volvo to see if the B7RLE could be a feasible option for Mumbai.
“I would definitely prefer travel by these buses over my car,” says Ajay Shah, an engineer by profession, who was there out of curiosity. “But,” he adds, “I would like something more like a scrolling marquee showing stock prices, important news and route information.”
But in case of Inder Preet Anand, Busworld was just a case of too little. Owner of Mitsuba Elecricals, her company pulled out of the expo as they thought Rs 1 lakh for three days to be a bit too steep for a small stall. According to her, it’s getting difficult for small-scale component and spare-part makers like her to survive. “Even Indian companies find it cheaper to import spares and components from China. And we can’t beat their costs due to heavy taxes in India,” she lamented.
A group of engineering students from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Polytechnic was gawking at the big, red Volvo. One student, Zeeshan Ismail Shaikh, said, “I am sure if people are given a choice, they would prefer a comfortable bus than go through the chore of driving in heavy traffic or take a cab, which is not only expensive, but isn’t as comfortable either.” But they were disappointed by the Indian turn out. “Tata and Ashok Leyland aren’t even here and body-builders like Ruby are still showing old designs based on truck chassis,” pointed out his classmate Rohit Roshan.
Perhaps they missed the Cerita line of fully built coaches. Built by Chandigarh-based JCBL (not to be confused with JCB Heavy Industries, UK), these Volvo-like buses come loaded with an air suspension system and its Euro III-compliant turbo-diesel engine makes 180 hp and 300 hp. To be homologated in a couple of months, the company will also provide 20 low-floor buses to the BEST by the end of 2007.
“Your local industry has so much to offer, but I don’t see any of these buses plying on your roads,” said Toni Bacqueyrisses of Bacqueyrisses SA, a French company that provides service and maintenance solutions to bus networks in France. Bacqueyrisses seemed impressed with the Cerita line of buses and says, “I think a deal with Cerita should work out for us.”
So, while the local giants may be getting hot under their collars with new competition, you may very well not on your way to work.
Email Sriram Narayanan: firstname.lastname@example.org