Developed India needs an efficient bus system - Hindustan Times
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Developed India needs an efficient bus system

Jul 04, 2023 09:23 PM IST

The introduction of efficient, convenient and affordable bus services for long distances will provide another option to commuters and add to overall choice.

India is now the world’s most populated country. Its road transportation network, like a cardiovascular system of socio-economic flow, provides a lifeline for the continuous movement of people and goods through its arteries across the country. Today, 50 million people travel between our cities every day. Yet, the railways score over roads in longer distances.

At present, for travelling interstate or intercity in public transport, one has to look at air services or trains for comfort, safety and speed.(HT File) PREMIUM
At present, for travelling interstate or intercity in public transport, one has to look at air services or trains for comfort, safety and speed.(HT File)

Fortunately, India’s road network, the second largest in the world, has improved dramatically during the last few years. The first major policy push to improve national highways was by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with the National Highway Development Programme (NHDP). Wide highways and expressways connected the four corners of the country and major points. The next big push was given by the central government in 2017 with the Bharatmala Pariyojna covering 24,800 kilometres in Phase-I at an investment of 3.85 lakh crore.

The improved highways have acted as a force-multiplier for the economy. Network modernisation is taking place on a war footing. Out of a budgetary allocation of 10 lakh crore for development of infrastructure in 2023-24, a major chunk, 2.70 lakh crore, was earmarked for highways. The national highway network, which was 96,000 km in 2016, has touched 146,000 km now and is slated to reach 200,000 km by 2025, comparable to the United States (US) and Europe.

There is a need to similarly modernise the bus transport service, especially over long distances. Bus transport in India is generally fragmented, with numerous small operators, lack of standardised services, inefficiencies and inconsistencies. There is haziness and overlap in regulations. The Constitution lists road transport in the  concurrent list, but in most regions, passenger transport is a State monopoly. There are also some small companies and licensed private operators. At several places, these ply from different boarding and alighting points, unlike airports and railway stations, which also are not always equipped with adequate public conveniences, online booking facilities and fixed schedules. It would be more convenient if there are designated, state-of-the-art modern bus terminals equipped with signage, and necessary facilities, from where all such bus services, state or private, could operate. There is also a dire need for suitable parking facilities at the bus terminals, with strict enforcement. At times, vehicles are parked in a haphazard manner, leading to traffic blockages and accidents. There could also be feeder linkages with clear, multilingual signage for metro, railways and air services.

It would be useful if there are good aggregator services with standardisation, like in the US and Europe. These may have central dashboards for network planning and monitoring movements and may be equipped with air-conditioning, comfortable seats, WiFi, power sockets, safety devices and other amenities. Environment-friendly buses are the need of the hour. Transportation is the second largest source of emissions in India.

Safety standards and enforcement are often inconsistent across different regions and operators. There should be strict enforcement of regulations to avoid accidents and overloading. The number of accidents on roads in India is next only to China, and strict and effective measures are needed along with safety audits.

There is a need to invest in improving the quality of feeder roads and direction signage to important places such as tourist centres, hospitals and other destinations. There is also a need to establish and enforce industry-wide standards for bus services, including vehicle quality, maintenance, cleanliness, and passenger safety, implementing regular inspections and audits to maintain service quality. Integration of bus services with other modes of transportation through seamless ticketing and information sharing will help commuters.

Competition is the sine qua non of economic growth, wider consumer choices and overall efficiency. At present, for travelling interstate or intercity in public transport, one has to look at air services or trains for comfort, safety and speed. Often, it is also seen that the prices of flights soar during festivals or other emergencies. The introduction of efficient, convenient and affordable bus services for long distances will provide another option to commuters and add to overall competition and choice, reducing prices and improving quality of service.

Dhanendra Kumar is former secretary, road transport & highways ministry, founding chairman of CCI, and India’s executive director in World Bank. He is currently chairman of Competition Advisory Services. The views expressed are personal

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