Politicians & Public Transport in India: The Need to Look Beyond Inaugurations & Celebrations
India, celebrating 67 years of Independence and having its 16th National Elections currently ongoing, is also the largest democracy in the world. Lots of promises are made by all political parties and their representatives, who introduce themselves as the ‘common man’ or a ‘public servant’ but are largely addressed as ‘politicians’. A review of ‘work done’ is made before elections to rate the candidates performance from different constituencies. Public transport, especially the launching of ‘new buses’ have always been a hotplate of politicians and their political agenda. Unveiling new buses or bus routes in their constituencies is a matter of pride for politicians and a way to launch their ‘face’ and reach out to the masses in a small public gathering. Giving a gift or opening up a property for public use is considered a ‘great achievement’ in the tenure of a politician. And that’s why not limiting to formal inauguration merely by ‘ribbon cutting’, the celebrations are extended beyond that, sometimes pomp to the extent similar to traditional Indian marriage.
Traditional Marriage & Other Religeous Rituals in India
Traditional marriages in India have unique features: a decorated bride-groom, and the wedding venue. Sometimes, the groom’s face is fully covered with flower strips hanging down from the turban covering the entire face, stretching beyond the neck. While bride’s face is generally covered with the ‘Saree’ (traditional wear in Indian Women) or even flowers. (representative image to the right here). Decorating buses like brides and grooms might have evolved historically in Indian states based on marriage celebrations. Buses and sometimes bus stands and depots too, are decorated with flowers. Other religeous rituals like offering Prasada (food offering) using fragrance sticks, light candles, Kumkum and sandal powder to worship new vehicles (buses), breaking of a coconut in front of or under the tyre of buses etc. is also performed.
Above (left) BRTS bus in Ahmedabad on the day of commercial launch of system in October 2009 and (right) launch of India’s first 14.5 meter long multi-axle bus in Bangalore.
Top (left) decorated BRT station in Surat on the day of launch and (top right) BRT corridor decorated with lamps in Ahmedabad on the day of inauguration in 2009. (bottom left) new bus stand in Bangalore in 2011 (bottom right) home minister unveils new bus depot of KSRTC.
Top (left-right) breaking coconut in front of new buses, (bottom left-right) performing religeous rituals to new buses.
National Capital-Delhi Chief Minister launching new air conditioned low floor buses in 2010.
Tamilnadu fleet of MTC buses on streets of Chennai awaiting formal launch and Inaugural of new medium and small size bus fleet of MTC in Chennai by Chief Minister of Tamilnadu State. Along with decoration, notice the picture of Chief Minister on the Buses too.
Orissa Chief Minister of Orissa unveiling new buses and launching new bus route in Bhubaneshwar.
Maharashtra Chief minister and deputy chief minister launching new air conditioned luxury bus and (bottom) launch of a new bus route in Mumbai by area leader.
Gujarat (left)The Grand Inauguration ceremony of Bus Rapid Transit System in Ahmedabad by Chief Minister of Gujarat State in 2009 and (right) launch of new buses of Regional State Transport Authority in Gujarat by Transport Minister. (bottom) decorated BRT Station and bus in Surat on the day of launch.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister inaugurating Bus Rapid Transit System in Bhopal in 2013 and (bottom right) decorated BRT bus on opening day in Indore- city in Madhya Pradesh.
Bihar Chief Minister of the state inaugurating new mini buses in Patna- capital of Bihar State.
Kerala Finance Minister opening two new bus routes and (below right) a decorated bus in Kerala State.
Rajasthan (below left) opening day of BRT System in Jaipur - capital of Rajasthan State and (below right) Transport Minister inaugurating new Rural Transport buses in the State.
Andhra Pradesh (top left) launch of first of its kind-an open roof top city tourism bus by tourism minister in 2011 (top right) new buses launched in hyderabad-capital of Andhra Pradesh, by Chief Minister in 2009. (bottom left) launching new tourism buses and (bottom right) flag off new bus depot.
Karnataka (top right) Chakra bus inaugurated in Bangalore (center left) new volvo buses inaugurated by Chief Minister in 2012 (center right) launch of Big Trunk buses of BMTC in Bangalore (bottom left) inauguration of regional transport buses and (right) new 'free coach service' from Bus Station to Railway Station in Bangalore.
Love Thy Neighbour : Recently,India’s neighboring country- Pakistan, formally inaugurated countries first ever modern bus system.The great pomp and joy among the citizens and celebration by political body can be clearly imagined from the picture below. There might be difference of opinions and hatred rooted in citizen’s hearts since years by politicians of both the nations, yet there is some similarity in the way of celebrations.
What Else? Variety of Publicity Stunts
Ribbon cutting, flagging off, performing religeous rituals during inaugurations, addressing mass, publicity by printed media etc. are routine exercises done during inaugurating new buses and bus routes or bus stands, depots, terminals. But there is more done beyond these things.
variety of publicity stunts like lighting candle, interview on news channels treating inauguration as 'Breaking News', political party campaign by travelling with passengers in local buses etc.
Top (left) Minister trying his hands on Electronic Ticketing Machine on the launch day, (top right) Chief Minister riding a bus with fellow men, (bottom left) deputy chief minister of Tamilnadu trying his hands on the new bus during launch in 2009, (bottom right) transport minister trying his hands on a driving simulator during inauguration. (below left) welcome music band during launch of new buses and (below right) political discussion with party members during the bus ride.
Seeing the similiar trend in almost all Indian states, it seems that 'Public Transport' for politicians and political parties is just a means of 'Promotion' and 'Publicity' and nothing beyond that. If political parties would have taken care to promote public transport, neither of the transport undertakings would have suffered financial deficits nor any of Indian cities would have experienced decline in public transit ridership patronage as can be seen from the below graphs. For reference, decadal statistics for 5 public transport undertakings are considered here, all of being million plus cities or in exact words -Metropolitan Cities of respective states contributing largely to National Economy.
Except for Bangalore (BMTC, which is the only profit making large transport undertaking of India), all other STU's are making huge annual deficits, Delhi being the highest amongst all. The reason for deficits are not only due to 'low fares' and 'high maintenance' or increased fuel rates, but also sometimes due to pressurized obligatory services like 'concessions' and other variety of reasons. Huge investements in infrastructure upgradation and loans sought for the same is also one reason for continued deficits.
while bus ridership and average annual income might have increased in many STU's of India along with increase in the fleet size in last decade, yet variations in 'per bus per day' ridership trend are a matter of study, indepth analysis of which can also reveal 'good and bad performing' bus routes in a city. Chennai- also known as the 'detroit of India' is the only city with highest bus based public transport ridership. There might be transit agencies which are performing well in small cities, the data of which are not known.
The graph of 'percentage varation in the 'per bus per day' ridership trend for the decade is shown below which clearly shows the increase and decrease in the trend year by year.
What can be done Immediately?
The below graph shows various types of non-government and government taxes paid by STU's. These taxes may be a toll tax or a government tax for promotion of child education, malnutrition eradication, women empowerment etc. Ultimately, the transport undertakings- under the same umbrella of government are paying tax to the same government which is a meaningless cycle of 'financial transaction'. The highest taxpayer is BMTC Bangalore while lowest is Ahmedabad. BEST in Mumbai & DTC of Delhi have been enjoying waiver in taxes seems so. Tax amount compared to total expenditures by STU's is mentioned as % below.
The graph below represents interest paid by transport undertakings,of which Delhi is paying the highest of all. One of the reasons may be interests paid on capital loans sought for procuring new buses or upgrading infrastructure. The interests can be waived off if they are sought from government institutions.
What if the taxes and interest expenditures of these STU's are waived off by initiatives of Politicians? The below graph is the answere with a whooping amount of savings for each of them annually. Many STU's and public transport undertakings can save a lot of money annually if such direct or indirect taxes, which have no meaning and are taken from government and given back to government, are eliminated. These can be easiliy done by a political will.
The question now is: Should buses and public transport be given importance only during formal inauguration? When buses are given due respect similar to that of a marriage bride, shouldn’t’ the father and mother of bride (here, politicians claiming to be mother and father of buses) also take care? Is the role of fathers and mothers only limited until the inaugural sessions? Isn’t it the duty of politicians to also look after sustainability of public transport? Neglecting public transport is like celebrating the birth of child with great pomp and joy and then leaving the child on its own to grow up and become a goon or dacoit.For a developing nation like India, which is world’s second most populous country and has to depend on external aid for meetings 80% of its crude oil demand, it is now a high time that politicians, godfathers and godmothers of different states and political parties think seriously towards the investments made in public transport and act towards sustainability and promotion of public transport, come out of the old fashion of thinking public transport and new buses as the subject of ‘Inauguration Only’. If India wishes to achieve cost cutting in fuel consumption, oil imports and carbon emissions, 'politicians' will have to play a pivotal role in leveraging public transportation.
(Image Credits: all printed and non-printed media matter available in public domain over web)
Mr. Dave, based at Ahmedabad-India, works as an Independent Consultant in Sustainable Urban Transport Programs/Projects. He is a passionate researcher and doing research on urban transport is his favourite time pass. He was actively involved in planning and ground implementation of BRT in Ahmedabad which is India's 1st successful Bus Rapid Transit System. The project has won many national ...