A smooth ride to success

Print edition : July 29, 2005

In eight years of restructured existence, the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation has not only wiped out its losses but begun to make handsome profits while providing excellent service, a rare feat by a public transport undertaking in the country.

in Bangalore

The head office of the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation, in Bangalore.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

GONE are the days when the red `tin' monsters that masqueraded as public transport on Karnataka's roads were reviled by passengers for their high rate of accidents and breakdowns, vehicular pollution, and more important, low frequency of services. The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), ever since it was established in 1961, was known more for its accumulated losses and inefficiency than anything else.

In 1997, the State government, in a bid to facilitate effective supervision and management, restructured it to form four corporations - the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, the North West Karnataka Road Transport Corporation, the North East Karnataka Road Transport Corporation and the KSRTC. These corporations have shown much more efficiency and reliability than the parent body, even while the costs of operations have been lowered significantly.

While the KSRTC continues to be the pivot and facilitator for functions such as integrated traffic management and operations, major purchases and staffing at executive levels, the four corporations are individual entities, each handling operations in its demarcated geographic area.

According to M.R. Sreenivasa Murthy, Managing Director, KSRTC, the corporate vision of the corporation is primarily to provide an efficient, adequate, economical and properly coordinated system of connectivity/road transport service for Karnataka. But the KSRTC does not have a monopoly: with only 70 per cent of the State's routes being nationalised, the corporation has to contend with operators of private buses, maxi cabs and other commercial vehicles.

Now, with a fleet of buses that include Airawata (Volvos), air-conditioned Mayuras, Rajahamsas and Grameena Sarige (mini buses), the KSRTC not just caters to a wide variety of customers but also covers routes that no private operator would dare tread. Today it has the largest fleet of Volvo buses among State transport undertakings. The KSRTC's breakdown (an interruption of at least an hour) rate (one per one lakh of kilometres) is also one of the lowest in the country.

Not for nothing does the corporation carry on an average 23 lakh passengers every day. It covers a distance of around 58 crore kilometres every year. The KSRTC has 5,167 buses, operates 4,806 schedules and covers 15 districts, 97 taluks and 19,087 villages. Each of the corporation's buses covers between 300 and 325 km every day. Says Murthy: "We have augmented our rolling stock. We have added 1,200 buses during the past 12 months. Of these, over 80 are Mayuras. They represent the first attempt by a State undertaking to build air-conditioned buses."

With 24,990 employees on its rolls, the KSRTC continues to be an organisation with high staff costs. The corporation has managed to cut down end staff, and, crucially, the staff-bus ratio has been brought down and now stands at 5.8 employees per bus, down from 6.3 in 2003-04. Staff costs have also come down by 48 paise per kilometre.

The KSRTC has extensive training programmes for its employees, such as enhancing the skills of drivers using simulators. In 2003-04, its three training centres provided training to 12,193 employees. The corporation's "Work Place Alcohol Prevention Programme and Activity" has been a success, with 1,903 employees (884 drivers, 514 conductors, 333 mechanical staff and 172 others) having been treated at its de-addiction centre. In order to maintain a healthy workforce, it sends 40 to 50 employees every day for medical checkups at the Preventive Medicine and Healthy Lifestyle Clinic in Bangalore.

The newly built bus stand and office complex of the BMTC at Shanti Nagar in Bangalore.-

Another significant aspect of the corporation's development has been in fuel efficiency, which has increased to 5.36 km per litre of diesel (up from 4.67 km per litre in 2000-01). According to S. Padmanabhan, Chief Manager (Marketing and Commuter Services), every increase of 0.10 km per litre in fuel efficiency translates into an annual saving of Rs.4 crores. Trial runs of a few buses on a mixture of diesel and Honge oil, a bio-fuel extract from the seeds of the honge (Pongamia pinnata) tree, have been conducted.

THE KSRTC's financial turnaround has been remarkable: from suffering a loss of Rs.16.79 crores in 2000-01, the corporation has consistently made profits in the past four years, with the figure for 2004-05 being Rs.27.88 crores. In terms of profits, it is the best public sector transport company in India. But as Sreenivasa Murthy says, the aim of the corporation is not to make profits but to "provide service to the people while covering the costs". The corporation expects to have a turnover of Rs.1,000 crores during the current financial year.

According to Murthy, the reason for the KSRTC's turnaround and its ability to be increasingly competitive is the sound managerial strategy adopted by it. But even as it is poised to meet the challenges, "it continues to meet a number of social objectives of the Karnataka government in terms of providing rural connectivity in low-density routes, carrying students and certain other classes of commuters on concessional fares, even while sustaining itself as a business unit".

The KSRTC has deployed electronic ticketing machines in 3,000-odd buses and expects to use the machines in the entire fleet by the end of July. "The conductor has a small hand-held computer on which he punches the destination, amount, number of passengers, weight of luggage, etc. And then he pulls out a ticket. Since the computer also records all the details about the passengers it is a great source of information to us when we plan our schedules," Murthy says.

In a bid to improve passenger facilities, the KSRTC is undertaking a Rs.30-crore renovation plan for its bus stations right from the Kempe Gowda Bus Station in Bangalore down to tiny bus shelters at the taluk level. In order to enhance wayside facilities, the corporation, in partnership with the private sector, will be setting up `Midway Plazas' at 22 locations on key highways. These plazas will offer ample parking space, good-quality food, shops and rest rooms.

The corporation has also entered into a partnership with the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation to offer tourist packages around Karnataka. While the KSTDC will provide food, accommodation and tour guides, the KSRTC will provide the buses.

The highlight of the KSRTC's recent innovations is its online `Travel Shop'. To be set up in 500 locations around the State, they will be one-stop shops to make inquiries, book casual contract buses and reserve tickets on the KSRTC network from anywhere to anywhere. While Bangalore will house 109 of these Travel Shops (at least one for every municipal corporation ward), every small town will also have this facility.

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