Sunanda Mehta: School transport has always remained a grey area. Why are autorickshaws allowed to overcram the students?
I’ve closely dealt with this issue. Maharashtra is the one state where there is a proper policy for school transport. This policy primarily looks after the concerns of parents, schools and students. The school education department and the RTO came together to frame this policy, which jots down rules for various things, such as color scheme of the bus, facilities in the vehicle, security arrangements.
Alifiya Khan: When we ask schools about children being crammed in rickshaws, they say the RTO should deal with it. But the RTO cites this policy and says there’s nothing more to do. So, how exactly do we solve this issue?
An autorickshaw is not an approved mode of school transport. The two approved modes are school buses and school vans. Autos, however, can ferry students as long as they don’t violate the seating capacity rule, which is four persons per auto. When I was in Sangli, we conducted a meeting with all the stakeholders. We heard all of them and decided that this overloading needs to stop.
Representatives of the autorickshaw union said they can’t afford to carry only four children if they are paid Rs 150 per student. They said they will follow the rules if the fare is raised to Rs 300 per child. Everybody agreed and was happy, but after a week I started receiving letters from a parents who were unhappy with the fare hike. We again summoned a meeting and tried to impress upon the parents that it’s a matter of their child’s safety and it comes at a cost.
Atikh Rashid: But even the school administration is not willing to form a School Transport Committee (STC). They don’t want to take the responsibility.
It’s true that they (schools) were reluctant following an incident in Mumbai, where a child was injured in an accident and principal of the school, being the president of the committee, was named in the FIR. The entire union went on the strike in protest. However, later we managed to quell the fears of the school administration with the help of the school education department. The department had sent out a communiqué, confirming that the STC wouldn’t be held responsible as long as there’s only bonafide intentions in the decisions.
Anjali Marar: How is the new test track helping the department conduct driving tests?
The new state-of-the-art facility has been of immense help, as there is no human intervention in assessing the driver’s test. Also, with the system being fully computerised, its results are obtained instantaneously. At present, tests are conducted between 8 am and 6 pm, but with night sensors coming into operations, we will be able to conduct the tests in dual shifts too.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: How is the RTO planning to control rising pollution? Also, PUCs are not issued properly.
BS4, which has now been imposed across the country, was already in place in Pune. BS4 engine emissions are much more controlled and closely monitored but the older ones — transport vehicles, trucks, buses — needed to be monitored more. They were causing more pollution, due to which we had set up PUC centres and machines. But since this task requires more labour, we have authorised other PUC centers where people are given licence and they are supposed to check the emission. If it is more, they need to monitor it. Yes, there are people who play foul and wouldn’t check or care if their vehicle is within the limit, to save money. Citizens too, are in the wrong many times.
Ajay Khape: There are lots of mobile PUC centres. Are they legal?
A few years ago, mobile PUC centres were allowed but later we stopped issuing permissions for more. These are the few surviving ones. We don’t give new registrations, but we can’t cancel the ones that are already working. The idea was dropped as these centres lacked the proper equipment for repair work.
Sunanda Mehta: The number of vehicles on the streets is increasing every year, adding to the congestion. What are the trends you see in vehicles being registered now?
I think it is a vicious circle actually. In Pune, the issue is much bigger and the only solution is to have a very robust public transport system.
Everyday, 700 two-wheelers are added to city roads. Until last year, a total of 33 lakh vehicles were registered with Pune RTO, of which 25 lakh were two-wheelers. As many as 1.78 lakh new vehicles were added last year, out of which 49,000 were four-wheelers.
The earning of Pune Region, which contains Pune and Solapur, was Rs 1,471 crore during the last financial year. The amount is 21 per cent of the total revenue (Rs 6,700 crore) earned by the state transport department. Our revenue is much higher than even Mumbai. The revenue earned by Pimpri-Chinchwad, which is a sub-region of Pune RTO, was Rs 470 crore, which is more than entire Kolhapur region that has five districts.
Sunanda Mehta: What do you mean by “a robust public transport system”?
For example: In Mumbai, the local trains carry lakhs of commuters every day and, with BST in place, almost a crore of commuters are taken care of in the city. If I have a cheap, quick and convenient transport system in place, why would I take out my car?
Anuradha Mascarenhas: I went to the RTO last week. There are still long queues. It has not gone cashless yet. The computerisation, although operational, has many glitches. Locals have to face several issues just to get things done.
Wonderful things are happening to our office now. I have been working in this department for the last 30 years and I can tell you it has seen many changes in the last few years. Earlier, all the work was being done manually, now we have gone digital — with ‘Sarathi’ and ‘Vaahan’. You also need to see that the nature of the work is massive.
In Pune, we issue around 1,000 licences every day, thousands of applications for changes in old licences are also taken care of. About 3,000 matters, pertaining to registration of new and old vehicles, are handled. So, a total of 5,000 transactions happen every day, which is a lot.
Had it been completely manual, with this kind of transaction volume, the system would have broken down. We are dealing with it with the help of Sarathi. Additionally, two months ago we installed Vahan, which has eased the process of registering vehicles and obtaining licences. The procedure to obtain a learner’s licence has also gone completely digital. Additionally, testing part has been taken care of too. It has been completely mechanised, with no human intervention.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: The state health department had issued a government resolution some time ago, which had asked learner’s licence applicants to pledge for organ donation. What happened to that?
See, we were doing it. But the problem was absence of a proper agency to collect the signed pledges and take it to the authorities concerned, which would keep a record and contact the person in the event of death so the pledge could be realised. It became just another paper to be signed. Making people sign it, while they were applying for licences, was easy but we don’t have the mechanism to make use of the pledges.
In six months, you will see that it’ll work wonderfully. There are logistical issues. It’s not simple. We are finding out CSE centres to start delivering the pledges and ease the process.
Atikh Rashid: What’s the status of app-based taxi aggregation services and what is being done to regularise them?
Apparently, they are currently operating illegally.
The framework for Maharashtra City Taxi Scheme, 2016, is already in place and those interested will have to register themselves under the scheme. They will have to pay taxes, obtain permits and follow the rules and regulations framed under the scheme. The system will be regularised once the policy is implemented. We have to accept that the aggregators are quite popular among residents, as it’s much easier to book such services.
In fact, we are also working with taxi and rickshaw unions to come up with a mobile application, which will aggregate rickshaws. So, rickshaws can also compete with cab aggregators. I am a part of the committee that’s looking into this.
Alifiya Khan: Why does it take so long to get an appointment for a learner’s licence?
Earlier, it was all manual and now it has become digitised. Now, a system is in place to control the inputs. In Pune, only 308 appointments are possible. For a place like Pune, we have 25 terminals and that is not enough. We need to increase the number of machines. For acquiring driving licence tests too, most problems are related to the infrastructure and limited manpower. We tried working in two shifts but that isn’t possible, because the department was shortstaffed and our cameras don’t work in the dark. So, people giving their tests after 7 pm made no sense. However, we are working on it.