The Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has conferred a special award on Odisha’s Capital Region Urban Transport (or CRUT) for its Bhubaneswar City Bus Modernisation Project, popularly known as “Mo Bus (My Bus)” service.
The award citation, handed during the 12th Urban Mobility India Conference-cum-Expo 2019 in Lucknow, reads: “The project is a boost to people’s confidence in the use of affordable intra city services offering the potential to relieve congestion and timely mobility to commuters”.
At present, Mo Bus averages over 80,000 passengers per day, up from just around 19,000 per day a year ago; in fact, it touched the 1 lakh riders mark in October. The bus service, which in 2018 evolved from the Bhubaneswar Puri Transport Services Ltd, is executing Odisha government’s long-term aim to reduce congestion by registered vehicles in Bhubaneswar. Odisha’s capital city already has 14 lakh registered vehicles even though its population is just around 10 lakh.
What is the Mo Bus’ appeal
For a city like Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar, which has more registered vehicles (14 lakh) than the total population (10 Lakh), it is absolutely essential to invest in smart urban mobility solutions. That's where Mo (or My) Bus comes into the picture. Its appeal is evident from the fact that over the past 12 months average daily ridership has jumped from just 19,000 to almost 80,000
CRUT’s Managing Director and senior IPS officer Arun Bothra explains the need for robust bus service. “Buses are low carbon, space-efficient and safer than private vehicles. They do not eat up public spaces while reducing parking problems. If cities are to remain livable, we have to incentivise efficient modes of transport”. Explaining what “modernisation” of the bus project means, he continues, “Reliability and frequency are key goals. In Bhubaneswar, people will consider taking a bus if they trust it will arrive at a scheduled point, at a scheduled time which can be tracked in real-time. In an age where multiple options like ridesharing services, autos and private vehicles are available, people will not wait at bus stops without the information they can trust”.
The first challenge for Mo Bus was to provide reliable service at a frequency calculated for estimated passenger load. While in Bhubaneswar’s IT localities, the frequency of buses is at one every five minutes, CRUT aims to bring it up to one every two minutes.
Technology also has a role to ensure reliability and frequency in the Mo Bus project. Transport planning expert and CRUT consultant Prasanth Bachu says the Mo Bus app allows passengers to check bus timings and routes but concedes some improvements are in the pipeline.
“We also focus on the riding experience. While strictly ensuring there is no overcrowding, passengers are provided free wi-fi and newspapers. The bus driver and conductor, known as captain and guide, respectively, are trained to treat passengers with concern and courtesy,” Bothra says.
To impart the workforce aboard Mo Bus with soft skills, CRUT partnered with Odisha Skill Development Authority. “The crew is trained in several areas, from accident protocols to advising tourists about places to see and last-mile connectivity”, he adds.
CRUT follows a “telescopic fare system”— a model where the fare increases by distance travelled, the rate of fare increase tapers off with distance. So if a passenger travels a long distance, she pays a lower price per unit distance. After a certain distance, the fare reaches a constant value.
Still, financial viability continues to be a challenge, with losses pegged at Rs 7 lakh per day. “There is no public bus service in the country that is making a profit,” says Bothra. “We should also take into account cost of reducing pollution, traffic congestion, parking issues and promoting tourism”. He adds that CRUT is devising dynamic methods to close in on a break-even point, such as reducing dead kilometres (when buses travel empty) through dynamic route planning and night halt protocols (that is, buses stay where the last trip terminates instead of returning to depots).
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