Low floor buses - our white elephant

Tarun Nongthombam *

Semi-low floor bus for ferrying passengers within the market areas in Imphal on February 23 2012
Semi-low floor bus for ferrying passengers within the market areas in Imphal on February 23 2012
Pix - David M Mayum

Couples of months back we were cheering the launch of low floor buses in Imphal. All were hoping that it would be the public transport that this shantytown desperately needs. Initial signs were encouraging, with transport department even earning profit, which was required to keep the bus transport going. But lately, came the news of these buses running at heavy losses to such an extent that transport department were unable to pay even the salary of drivers, leading to closing down of the service which was later claimed as restored by fixing technical glitches.

Why our state is not able to run a simple bus transport? Are we given a white elephant like what Siam's king use to give to punish his badly behaved courtiers, as keeping an elephant would eventually ruin the man? Is our state so inefficient that it can't even run a bus service properly? The answer lies in answering the question why our state government is not able to find an operator; no one seems to be interested in owning these buses.

Running a bus transport in not that easy and is more than what meets the eye. Initial profit, which the transport department earned, could be because of joy ride, which people do in all other cities around the world when any new transport system is inaugurated and this joy ride eventually fizzles out. For any public transport to succeed, it has to be attractive to the public and based on the pattern how people do their daily work trips or leisure trips. There are many possible reasons for this bus transport failing, let us try to understand a few.

Imphal is not big in area and little in population. How many of us in city travel ten-kilometer everyday? Riding a public transport comes with additional baggage, which we don't find in personal transport like a two-wheeler or a car. If we want to ride a bus, we have to do two more additional trips, besides the journey by bus. First one is going to the bus stop to board the bus, then comes traveling by the bus, getting down and doing the last trip from the bus stop to our destination. Many would avoid doing that as Imphal is a small city and every part of it can be reached easily by a two-wheeler within few minutes.

Next comes bus frequency, it is just unreasonable to wait for an hour to go to khwairamband from any part of greater Imphal. People travel with a plan and if they don't know when next bus will arrive or depart, with unreliable time schedule, people will just refuse to travel by bus.

Another important factor is fare pricing. People travel in other cities of India by buses or metros not because of love of public transport or care of nature. It is because people just can't afford the money they spend on fuel riding a two-wheeler or a car as they travel long distances. Traveling by public transport in much cheaper and saves lot of money for their families at month's end. If we see the cost of traveling between low floor buses in Imphal and other modes like diesel auto, cycle rickshaw or even by a two wheeler, the difference in not that big.

Finally, it is the lack of proper transport policy of the state. Every mode of transport compete one another. Trains compete with trucks in short distance hauling of goods; buses compete with auto rickshaws and auto rickshaws with cycle rickshaws. What we need is a proper control so that our transport system is not biased towards a particular mode. At present with uncontrolled increase of diesel autos, which is more becoming like a ngashang chaba, there is little future for city bus transport. Diesel Autos has started wiping off cycle rickshaws and has hit even long route buses from outside the city.

If one observes all the various development projects in Imphal be it capitol project, flyover or recent no vehicle scheme in market areas, there is pattern showing serious lack of planning and forethought. Manipur is a poor state and we need central government funding for every development project big or small. It would be good for all of us that money is spent properly and we don't bring another white elephant home.

* Tarun Nongthombam is a frequent contributor to
The writer can be contacted at nong_tarun(at)rediffmail(dot)com
This article was posted on November 09, 2012.

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