FAQs on Bus Service Improvement

What are the differences between para-transit and buses, and why do cities require modern bus services?

Para-transit, such as shared minibuses without regular routes or stops, is often convenient for users because it provides almost door-to-door service. As cities grow, however, para-transit tends to contribute to traffic congestion and air-pollution. As para-transit owners are usually individuals and not companies, they compete aggressively, leading to unsafe conditions for users. Fares may have to be negotiated each time and passengers may travel in an uncomfortable environment. Modern urban buses, on the other hand, provide regular and consistent services throughout the city on fixed routes and stops. This contributes to a reduction in traffic congestion as buses have a higher passenger capacity. Also, drivers are better trained and do not have to compete, but follow timetables, providing additional convenience and reliability to passengers.

Existing bus services are not performing well. Is there any way to improve services?

There are ways to assist the improvement of existing bus services. Bus issues are, however, highly complicated, and each city is recommended to analyze the existing situation carefully, set goals and objectives for improvement, examine available options, select most appropriate measures, and implement them carefully. As the decisions may affect the interest of a variety of stakeholders, it is particularly important to involve them at appropriate stages in the planning process. This module provides guidelines for available policy options and planning procedures.

Our city does not have any urban buses, what can be done to develop new bus services?

In a city where services are not available, the planning process requires additional steps, such as changing the regulatory framework, establishing a regulatory body, SPVs and public or private bus operators. Options for the regulatory framework etc., used in the improvement of existing bus services still apply to the creation of new urban bus services. The introduction of such services often faces a challenge from informal transport operators, therefore, political commitment by the decision-maker is particularly important for plan implementation.

We have a plan to introduce BRT or a Metro. Do we still have to improve other forms of public transport, such as ordinary buses?

The answer to this question is YES. BRT and Metro are Mass Rapid Transit modes carrying high density traffic along trunk routes. Outside the catchment areas of such MRT systems, traditional forms of public transport have to serve people’s mobility needs across the city region. Conventional buses may have to be re-organized to serve routes other than the planned MRTs, or to function as a feeder mode to the MRT. All cities are, however, recommended to examine the potential of conventional buses as far as possible before preparing MRT proposals.

What are the options available for the expansion of bus fleets and operations?

Expansion of bus fleets or services can be done in a number of ways depending on the role of the public sector and the potential of private sector involvement in the current environment. The government could procure and operate buses directly, or let the private sector introduce or expand all of the city bus services. There are several intermediate options. This module provides guidelines on the available options and for selecting the most appropriate option for the city concerned.

What could central and state governments do to support urban bus development?

Central and state governments can assist urban bus development by creating an environment that is generally supportive to improvements. At central level, this may be financially, from direct subsidies or funding schemes (including JNNURM), to tax concessions/exemptions for importing bus units/parts, or assistance in seeking grants or loans from international donors. Assistance may also be through the provision of appropriate legislation, such as to promote private participation in bus operations, and credible franchising arrangements with clear government commitment. At state or city level and within the role of regulator, appropriate fare structuring can ensure that bus fares are both affordable to the general public and profitable to bus operators to encourage market entry. Institutional restructuring at local level can ensure that effective, coordinated regulation and franchising is carried out. Publicly owned land can be made available for bus terminals and depots, and municipal land use plans can help stimulate passenger demand along strategic bus corridors. Local governments can provide appropriate levels of enforcement to ensure that any bus priority measures are not encroached by private motorists. More indirectly, governments can advocate transport policy that restrains the use of private monitoring thereby making urban bus travel a relatively attractive mode. This is already taking place in India at central level with the release of the NUTP.

What types of fare structure are available and how can we select the most appropriate option?

Choice of fare structure is a very important part of bus planning. It directly influences operators’ revenue. Options such as flat fare, distance-based fare, zone-based fare etc., are explained in detail in the module, together with guidelines on their advantages and disadvantages. Each operator or regulatory body could investigate the potential to reduce administrative costs and to increase revenue by examining the options in detail. However, in India fare structure is set at state government level and this aspect needs to be taken into consideration. Fares should also be reviewed annually, so that variations in costs of bus operation are reflected. Also, fares should address social objectives, so that disadvantaged groups are not excluded from public transport. Internationally, some cities subsidize the publicly operated bus operator, so that discounted fares can be included in their services.

How are urban buses generally organized in Indian cities? Are there any good examples?

There are many cities where there is NO urban bus service, although there are inter-city buses regulated/operated by the state governments in some of these cities. These buses, however, primarily serve inter-city travelers and their routes, stops, terminals and schedules are not suitable for inner-city traffic. Experience with urban buses is mixed, but there are good examples, such as Bangalore (public sector) and Indore (SPV and private sector). Details of foreign and Indian experience are shown in the Annex to this module.

What are the options to involve the private sector in providing urban bus services?

It is widely recognized that the private sector is suited to the operation of transport services, but the private sector alone cannot optimize services from the user/community points of view. The public sector can best function as regulator and license or franchise the provision of bus services, by route or by area, but infrastructure such as bus terminals and maintenance depots may have to be provided by the public sector in Indian cities. Merits and demerits of various options and the process of involving the private sector are explained in this module.

What can we do to increase non-fare revenue from urban bus operations?

Although the main source of revenue for public transport organizations is from trip fares, there are other sources that can be explored: from property development and advertising, as elaborated in this module.

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