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Making Travel By Buses Respectable

The Corporation of City of Panaji (CCP) is in talks with the World Bank for funding public transport system development in Panaji. If it works out, it could transform the public transport system in the state capital. As of now, the system is highly unsatisfactory. Not all parts of the city are covered by public transport evenly. There are no proper timings for buses for departure, stops or arrival. The buses are owned and operated by a large number of small operators, and the transport department has been unable to make them conform to rules and regulations. They issue no tickets, pack every square inch of space if they can, and drive dangerously to beat competition. The carbon emissions from the buses are high. The transport department does not have equipment to regulate sound pollution through honking by them. The Goa State Pollution Control Board has the equipment for measuring sound pollution but does not use it for buses.

If the World Bank agrees to fund the capital city’s public transport system, it is going to look at all these aspects and much more. While funding public transport system in other cities, the World Bank has implemented a programme whose objective is to develop capacity among leaders in urban transport planning such as planners, policymakers and officials of government departments and city councils in order to enable them to adopt a holistic view of transport planning within a city. Hopefully, when the World Bank implements that programme with the financing of the development of Panaji’s public transport system, the problems such as the irony of the enforcing department not having decibel-recording equipment could be resolved. Urban transport is a complex system where various authorities have compartmental controls. These self-contained, restrictive compartments should be pulled down under the new system; else it will not work.

Panaji needs good public transport. The city is expanding. Although the number of private vehicles has been rising, a large number of residents of the capital city use buses to travel between home and workplace or home and market. Even though they have many reasons to be dissatisfied with bus operators, they find them affordable. They might not be fast, safe, comfortable and clean but they are affordable. On the other hand, bus operators do not tire of telling anyone willing to listen that their buses do not give them enough income, that they are economically non-viable. They have been petitioning the government for subsidies. Clearly, the World Bank-funded public transport system has to be convenient, fast, safe, comfortable and clean for passengers on the one hand and economically viable for bus operators on the other.

Panaji cannot have a city underground rail. It can probably have an overhead rail. But it is better not to think of rails as their construction and operation require high costs. Quite often operating costs are difficult to recover through fares. So rail can be ruled out as a financially sustainable idea for mass transit. The city is small and the best public transport for it is buses. Only the system has to be rapid, decent and convenient to residents living in all parts of the city.

The new urban transport system for Panaji has to decide whether to rely entirely on small operators or also to introduce publicly owned operators such as Kadamba Transport Corporation alongside private operators. While we know the private operators provide poor quality services and are economically viable, KTC buses offer better quality service but are economically not viable. The new urban transport for Panaji has to promote a system that offers high quality of service and is also economically viable. If it is not economically viable, how will the CCP repay the World Bank loan? Both private operators and KTC should jointly make the urban transport industry. An option that can be examined by CCP is to give the KTC the larger part of the service network, with small private operators providing services for the smaller part of the service network. Another option could be the opposite: give the private operators the larger part of the service network under structured contracts to provide quality service and get the KTC to service the smaller part.

Private or public, buses must form the most important part of transport in Panaji. The capital city is turning chaotic with private cars occupying more road space than buses. A bus carrying 40 passengers uses only 2.5 times more road space than a car carrying only 1 or 2 people. More cars on roads also mean higher carbon emissions. One of the reasons for increasing use of cars is to enhance social image of oneself. The bus is seen as a transport for people who cannot afford their own vehicles. Hopefully, the transformation of public transport in Panaji will make travelling by buses respectable, apart from making it fast, comfortable and convenient.

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