Interview with Mallikarjuna Kharge, Karnataka's Minister for Water Resources and Transport.
M. Mallikarjuna Kharge, Karnataka's Minister for Water Resources and Transport, cites stress on operational effectiveness, new management strategies, government support and focus on marketing and commuter relations as the reasons for the Rs.82.64-crore profit made by the four Karnataka State transport undertakings - the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), the North West Karnataka Road Transport Corporation, the North East Karnataka Road Transport Corporation and the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) - in 2004-05. Excerpts from an interview he gave Ravi Sharma:
Both the BMTC and the KSRTC are today making profits. What are the reasons for this turnaround?
The main reason the BMTC and the KSRTC are making profits is the vast improvement they have brought about in their operational efficiency. This has helped reduce the cost of operations. For example, the KSRTC's fuel efficiency has increased from 4.70 kilometres a litre of diesel in 1999-2000 to 5.28 km a litre at present. The rate of cancellation of services has been reduced from 6.2 per cent to 1 per cent during the same period. This is the result of improved maintenance of vehicles and better management of the crew. Another reason for the overall improvement in their performance is the cordial industrial relations that have prevailed in all the transport undertakings during the past few years.
Further, these corporations have also improved the quality of their services by inducting new buses and upgrading the fleets. The employees have also been trained to be more courteous to the passengers thereby attracting better patronage and, as a result, higher revenues. The government on its part, helped by allowing the corporations to revise the fares in order to meet the increasing costs of diesel and other inputs and by reducing the rate of the Motor Vehicle Tax from 17 per cent of the turnover to 7.7 per cent for the KSRTC and 5.5 per cent for the BMTC.
What steps have the government taken to make these corporations more efficient and meet future challenges?
The corporations have been asked to add new buses in sufficient numbers and expand the services to meet the continuously growing demand for public transport. Today, with income levels going up among many categories of passengers, there is a demand for more comfortable services. This is the reason why the KSRTC introduced more than 100 air-conditioned buses during the past year for long-distance travellers. In the case of the BMTC, there is already a plan to introduce air-conditioned Volvo services in Bangalore from December. The corporations are also adopting new technologies to make their operations more efficient and remunerative. The KSRTC has introduced electronic ticketing machines and is putting in place a sophisticated Computerised Advance Reservation System. The BMTC has introduced the computerised electronic tracking system in its buses using the GPS technology.
Bangalore's roads are narrow. Are mini buses the answer?
The BMTC has introduced 137 mini buses. However, the cost per kilometre is higher. We need buses with higher capacity. Road widening, although a necessity, is not the answer. We need demand management measures such as flexi hours in offices, change in school timings and dedicated bus lanes.
Is the government thinking of a transport policy that envisages a greater role for private players?
The present policy enables the private sector to play an important role in providing transport services. The government is already supporting the participation of private vehicle operators by hiring out buses to them. The KSRTC is expanding its network of private advance reservation counters. There is also a move to involve private entrepreneurs in the development of wayside facilities and commercial buildings.
Will the government throw open more routes and cities to the private sector?
No. It is the policy of the government to allow private operators to meet the increasing demand for public transport in the non-nationalised parts of the State. In keeping with this policy, the regional transport authorities and the State transport authority issue permits to private operators in such areas.
The BMTC is the only urban transport corporation in the world to turn a profit. But its buses are overcrowded and passenger comfort is ignored.
Overcrowding is a peak-hour phenomenon the world over. But the overall load factor is 60 per cent in the BMTC, which is reasonable. The issue of three lakh daily and monthly passes has helped decongest the buses even during peak hours as commuters can change buses without having to pay extra fare.
Are there plans to increase KSRTC routes and introduce more rural services?
The KSRTC has increased its coverage substantially during the past one year by increasing the number of schedules from 4,074 at the beginning of 2004-05 to the present 4,831. More than 50 per cent of these new schedules are operating in the rural areas. A new class of attractive and comfortable rural bus services called "Grameena Sarige" has also been introduced. For the benefit of rural passengers, the fares of the KSRTC and other mofussil services have been liberalised with a sub-stage system of fares. Also the free luggage allowance has been increased from 20 to 30 kilograms and the charge for luggage has been reduced from 75 paise to 50 paise per unit of 20 kg. This will benefit small farmers who transport agricultural produce.
The KSRTC's fares have been raised. Will this bring down the cost of operations?
The fares have been increased to the extent necessary to enable the transport corporations meet the increased costs of fuel and staff.
Are the unions cooperating with the government's plans?
I am happy that peaceful industrial relations prevail in all the four transport corporations. The improved performance of the KSRTC and the other corporations has been possible mainly because of the hard work and dedication of the employees.