Monday, December 17, 2007

Blueline solution in Indore, Dec. 16, 2007

To be able to kill 113 persons in less than 12 months in broad daylight is something of an accomplishment. The distinction belongs to Delhi’s Blueline buses. Desperate citizens tend to blame drivers, police, politicians, or transport officials. They are all guilty, of course. The real problem, however, lies elsewhere. A few months ago a prominent public figure even blamed ‘privatization’. A staggering comment, I thought, considering that major cities in the world (including in France and England) have excellent, privately run bus services.

Closer to Delhi lies Indore, a city of 20 lakh people. Vivek Aggarwal, a 34 year IAS officer, became its Collector in 2005. He had a hobby—he studied bus services in different cities. With a tiny capital of Rs 25 lakhs, he launched a public-private bus partnership in Indore based on best practices in the world. Two years later Indore has a fleet of 98 modern, low-floor buses with computerised ticket-vending. Electronic signboards at bus stops announce when the next bus is due based on satellite data. Investment in the system has risen to Rs 40 crores, all done privately. The city has made a profit since inception; so have its 6 private partners who run the buses. Soon it will have a 500 buses Indore is now quoted (with Bogota) as having the best bus service in the world.

What can Delhi learn from Indore? First, it must ditch the old socialist idiocy of ‘one bus one owner’--a product of the ‘small is beautiful’ thinking of the eighties. This same stupidity made India reserve 800 industries for the ‘small scale sector’. Economists believe this was perhaps the most harmful industrial policy of the past fifty years, which and has effectively prevented our industrial revolution. Indore did not have such socialist hang-ups—it selected the most capable entrepreneurs and companies to run its buses. Secondly, Delhi must not allow two operators to compete on the same route. This leads to speeding and accidents as drivers scramble to maximize revenue. Bus owners must get exclusive routes and earn revenue based on distance traveled, and this can be easily monitored by an affordable satellite system that tracks bus movement. Indore has a daily and monthly electronic pass, whose revenues are shared between companies. Tomorrow, if Delhi switched to a system where Blueline buses earned revenue per kilometer, traffic deaths would disappear.

Delhi must also have a regulatory body which assesses demand, plans routes, fixes fares, gives out tenders, and monitors daily performance. Indore has a five person team which does this continuously, and this is the secret of its success. Delhi is finally planning to have a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority, but unless it gives it teeth, it won’t succeed. Some will argue that Indore is too small to be an example for Delhi. These are the same second rate minds who scoffed at Japan’s miracle in the sixties and Korea’s in the seventies, arguing that these countries were too small for India to copy. Just think of Delhi as ten Indores!

Another painful lesson from this tale of two cities is that it takes a bit of luck to throw up officers like Vivek Aggarwal, who have the knowledge and the will to deliver. The average IAS officer spends a lifetime pushing files and still gets promoted. Vivek Aggarwal, I fear, may actually be punished by a system that puts down achievers. But before that he would have had the moral satisfaction of bringing a smile on 20 lakh faces in Indore--something that most of his colleagues will never experience in an entire life time.


Vikram said...

This is a much needed solution and thanks for pointing out the solution in Indore. Even the news channels havent talked about this.

This would actually be a right time to implement a change in Delhi with the commonwealth games around the corner in 2010.

Anonymous said...

Indore is the best city in india in all aspects, may it be culture, respect, education etal.

Being in the center of India, it has got huge potential, but problem is poitics, the center is not implementing lot of projects which will bring Indore on par with top 10 cities of India.

First and formost important thing is the rail connectivity, on the broad gauge it is only a starting point and not a crossthrough junction, which severly limits the number of trains that are available to the citizens of the city. There are 2-3 good plans proposed, namely Indore-Manmad new railway line central governemt should fund this project, as it not only opens the fortune of this city, but is also helps connecting some of the small towns nearby, which have no even heard the rhymes of engine. This also provides alternate route for Mumbai-Delhi, and shortens around 300kms, which is like saving 5 hours of the journey time.

Apart from this there are efforts made to start flight operations connecting to other major cities of India including Chennai, kolkata and Bangalore and also to International destinations like Dubai, Singapore and Melbourne.

Indore should also get good flyover projets to ease the traffic. All the railway crossings be converted to bridges, and a proper outer ring road which circles around the city.

Indore has the potential to serve as good IT destination for both hardware and software, there are ample of Engineering colleges and talent pool to meet the need of the companies.

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