Stage 4 Exploring Improvement Strategies

The goals and key objectives provide the broad reference framework for bus service improvements. It is now necessary to consider the strategic options available in order to achieve the target outcomes. The objectives of this stage are to develop a set of strategies appropriate to the City, the Goals and the identified Constraints. SWOT analysis plays an important role in developing the improvement strategy.

Urban travel has to be understood in the context of the growth of each city. The cities are a heterogeneous mix of people from different income groups. Land use is diverse and changes abruptly, which is reflected in travel patterns. Road space is used by buses, cars, three wheelers, cycle rickshaws, bicycles and pedestrians. Developing improvement strategies under such circumstances is a challenging task. Strategies will vary between cities and be determined by the prevailing conditions and the chosen Goals. Presented here are measures, which could help improve public transport.

List of Activities within Improvement Strategy:

Public transport systems are highly complex and are extremely difficult to manage. This is one of the main reasons for their unsatisfactory performance. They face multiple challenges and constraints. Therefore, adoption of a single improvement measure will not create the desired impact: the benefits accruing from it would be diffused by the complexities and inefficiencies in the system. Therefore a multi-pronged approach is required, combining several measures, and only then would it be possible to provide an effective city transport system. Key measures (activities) which may be adopted are listed below and discussed in the paragraphs that follow.

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Activity 1: Optimizing Modal Mix

Public transport comprises various modes and to improve it each has to be targeted. Each mode has distinct advantages and any improvement plan should be able to capitalize on them. It is frequently observed that demand for low cost modes, such as pedestrians and cycling, is neglected in road planning. As a result, the road space has to be shared by a diverse mix of users ranging from cars to pedestrians. This results in slow traffic flow, unsafe conditions and sub-optimal use of each mode.

Bus transport tends to be the desired mode for trip length above 4–5 kms. Moreover, each bus trip is associated with one or more pedestrian trips. The importance of non-motorized modes should be taken into account and infrastructure be provided for them. Then, non-motorized modes will not compete for road space with buses and they will complement the bus service. Also, this may wean people away from car use and the patronage of bus services would increase accordingly.

The approach so far in many Indian cities has been to take the demand for public transport as given and then to try to cater for growth through supply-side management – building roads, flyovers, inducing more vehicles etc. This approach has led to a very sharp increase in the amount of private transport, with an adverse impact on public transport. Demand management can take various forms, such as differential rate of taxation on vehicles, congestion charging, prohibiting entry of private vehicles in certain zones during peak hours etc. Some of these measures would require legislative support, but some could be carried out by executive fiat. Staggering of office and school hours, staggering of weekly holidays, enhancing parking charges etc are measures which could be adopted in the short run.

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Activity 2: Integrating All Modes

Integration of all modes needs to be undertaken at both management and physical infrastructure levels. At present, there is no proper integration or rationalization of services between modes and also within each mode. As a result, there are at times overlapping routes, large areas not covered and underutilization of all modes. Each mode should have a well-defined role within an integrated public transport system. The absence of a unitary transport authority, which could review all aspects of the system, is the main reason for this lack of coordination. Until such time as a formal authority is set up, the task of integrated planning and operations could be carried out by a Committee, with representation from all relevant stakeholders.

Typical examples of planned integration between modes in large metropolitan cities are identified below.

Table 4 Methods to Achieve Modal Integration

Method Description (example)
Common infrastructure Multi-modal access to bus and rail stations, transport inter-changes and park and ride facilities
Common travel information services Telephone-internet information and common information standards at stops, stations and on trains and vehicles
Common ticketing and revenue sharing systems Fare products, tickets and passes and sales outlets and purchase options
Coordination of service delivery Coordinated timings at interchanges; hours of service; treatment of delays

Opportunities to integrate current bus services with other modes is an important consideration. For example, modern bus stations can be designed to accommodate taxi ranks, so that there is a smooth and easy transfer between modes. Similarly, opportunities to integrate small vans and minibuses serving a local district with nearby bus stations can encourage easy transfer of passengers.

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Activity 3: Optimizing Road Space – Priority for Public Transport

It is well established that a bus pollutes less, occupies less road space and consumes less fuel than a car or a two wheeler (on a per passenger km basis). Despite this, it has to jostle for space on roads in a heterogeneous mix of traffic. Indeed, being heavy it is restricted by ‘no entry for heavy vehicles’ signs. Keeping buses away from certain roads is under-utilization of road space besides discriminating against non private transport users. Priority for buses may be given by restricting access to certain areas only to buses, banning parking of vehicles on roads and ultimately by having dedicated bus lanes.

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Activity 4: Selecting Options for Augmentation of Bus Operations

The bulk of public transport is provided by government undertakings. The Road Transport Corporation Act (a Union law) empowers state governments to constitute fully state-owned road transport corporations which provide public transport services in the state. Indeed, organized public transport is only in the state sector. Apart from organizing the transport service provider under the Act, in some cities public transport is under the control of the local urban government (e.g. Mumbai), while in some states the service provider is a fully state-owned company under the Companies Act (e.g., Tamil Nadu) and in some states the service provider is a government department.

In some cities, private operators operate buses. These may be under a permit, but sometimes are illegal. They are normally single bus operators and are not properly planned or coordinated with other modes. A large number of cities are served by private mini-buses and vans. These operations are run on purely commercial lines and cannot be said to be providing an organized system of public transport.

It is a common perception that cities do not have sufficient buses to meet demand. Thus, there is always a need to enhance city bus services. An increase in the number of buses and in the quality of service can be undertaken in a number of ways. The options available for the acquisition of buses depend upon the prevailing regulatory scenario in the city.

Details of the options available for the development of bus services are identified and discussed in Annex 2.

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Activity 5: Considering Appropriate Selection of Bus Design

The public transport industry is characterized by the ‘standard bus’. These buses typically are not characteristic of modern buses, which have wide doors, low floors, pneumatic doors and rear engines etc. The height of the bus floor and narrow doors makes boarding and alighting difficult and time-consuming. As a result, buses spend more time at stops. In addition, the high floor and absence of pneumatic doors are often responsible for accidents to ‘foot board’ travelers, apart from being a big hurdle for the physically challenged and the elderly in boarding.

Modern low floor buses are now available in India. These have all the desirable features of an urban bus. However, they are more expensive. Transport planners have a wide choice today ranging from mini-buses to modern low floor buses and even articulated buses. The higher initial cost of modern buses is compensated in the long run by the benefits in terms of increased traveling comfort, higher safety standards, improved commercial speeds and ease of access for all, resulting in greater patronage.

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Activity 6: Considering the Appropriate Fare System

Ticketing and revenue management is a core business system for the operator for the following reasons:

  • It is the primary revenue generator. If pricing is sub-optimal or unnecessarily crude, the company or operator is failing to maximize potential income and hence has reduced profitability
  • It influences travel demand and, for vulnerable and low-income groups, whether they can travel at all.
  • Inefficient or poorly designed systems can cause operating delays, increasing costs and reducing vehicle productivity
  • Weak revenue protection damages profitability and creates a culture of evasion and fraud

It is important to understand that there are three issues:

  • Pricing policy and revenue yield, including differential pricing by customer group
  • The ticketing and revenue collection system.
  • Revenue protection and customer management

The fare structure is at present defined by the State Government, as prescribed under the Motor Vehicles Act. However, it is recommended that alternative fare systems be considered by stakeholders, so that the authorities can consider their merits. Urban bus operations have traditionally selected one of three fare systems. Operators within Commonwealth countries typically applied finely graduated fares, in the Americas and much of Europe zonal-based fares were common, whilst in many previously communist countries there were flat fare systems. Recently, there has been a more pragmatic and commercial approach, using a variety of fare systems. Further information on choice of fare structure is provided in Annex 3 of this Guideline.

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Activity 7: Putting the Public Transport User at Centre Stage – Empowering Citizens Groups

There is a large amount of data on the performance of city public transport systems (particularly for the organized sector), but there is hardly any indication of the level of commuter satisfaction, and very few studies measure it. This reflects the low priority which, in general is given to public transport users. Transport organizations focus on mobilizing their buses each day, with the concerns of commuters relegated to a secondary consideration. This causes dissatisfaction amongst commuters, and bus transport organizations eventually suffer declining patronage. Even relatively simple tasks, such as keeping buses clean, safe driving, not parking in the middle of the road etc., which do not involve additional resources can significantly improve commuter satisfaction. Some transport organizations have even published citizen’s charters, though these have generally remained just statements of intent.

It is therefore necessary for commuter concerns, including disadvantaged groups, to be taken into account. This can be made possible through mechanisms to obtain suggestions/complaints and then redress them effectively. Feedback from citizen’s groups could also be used for monitoring the bus service and even to reduce pilferage. Citizens groups could be involved as partners.

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Activity 8: Ensuring Effective Enforcement of Regulations

Traffic-related regulations require high levels of enforcement to ensure road users comply, and measures need to be taken in Indian cities to ensure that violations do not occur frequently. These regulations are enforced either by the police or by officials of the Transport Department. Unless rules are rigorously enforced the result is eventually detrimental to society. Proper enforcement leads to more orderly behaviour on the roads, better utilization of road space and provides a level playing field for all road users. Therefore it is essential that enforcement agencies pay proper attention to this task. Strict enforcement should be preceded by an awareness campaign and provision of the required infrastructure facilities.

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Activity 9: Improving Internal Operating Efficiency

The operating efficiency of city bus transport, in both the government and the private sectors, often requires measures to bring improvements. For example, some organizations may be efficient in some aspects, but still suffer problems in other areas such as staff indiscipline, obsolete maintenance practices, high levels of pilferage, unscientific route planning, outdated monitoring mechanisms, low crew motivation etc. Typically, the public sector can suffer from overstaffing and the private sector, in a quest to keep costs under control, may underpay leading to losses in service quality. If any of these factors are present, they should be identified and then actions taken to provide effective solutions. Performance targets (efficiency parameters) can be utilized to measure success in the appropriate actions.

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Activity 10: Use of Information Technology

Public transport systems are complex. The number of activities and sub-activities involved in a running the system is quite large. These include monitoring bus operations, keeping crew records, accounting for ticket sales, tracking bus maintenance schedules etc. In the past, these activities were performed manually. Manual maintenance of data, apart from requiring extensive skilled human resources, cannot be retrieved and processed easily. As a result, the wealth of data generated could not be used as input to the decision-making process. The voluminous data easily lends itself to computerization and, once computerized, it can be processed to provide essential information. More sophisticated technology (GPS) could be used to track buses and to provide online passenger information systems.

However, use of modern technology has certain pre-requisites. The existing processes have to be re-engineered to make them suitable for computerization. Also a certain level of discipline and adherence to internal procedures is necessary before recourse is made to modern technology.

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Activity 11: Increasing Non-Fare Revenue

Although the main source of revenue for public transport organizations is from passengers (fare box collection), there is considerable potential for non-traffic revenue. This could be in the form of tapping the real estate potential of properties owned and using properties and buses to generate advertising revenue.

The organizations normally own valuable land at key locations, in the form of bus depots and large bus stations. The ‘air space’ above this land could be used for commercial purposes, either using their own resources or in partnership with the private sector. This could bring in substantial revenues in the form of lease/rents. However, great care must be exercised that the future public transport requirements are adequately taken care of and any such developments should not jeopardize plans for expansion. Also it needs to be ensured that the interests of public transport organizations are adequately safeguarded through appropriate legal instruments.

Another important source of revenue is from advertising. This could easily be tapped. The properties of the organization could be used to display hoardings, the buses (both exterior and interior), the tickets and passes could be used to display advertisements, generating substantial revenue. There are two ways to achieve this. Advertising rights could be auctioned annually to the highest bidder. Alternatively, the bus company could set rates and accept advertising from any party at such rates. Care must be taken to ensure that the advertisements are in line with any policy stipulated by the Authorities (generally Municipal bodies regulate adverting and levy taxes on it).

It may even be useful to identify big clients and provide them with exclusive rights at a premium. This should, however, be resorted to only when there is surplus capacity, as otherwise the general public would suffer.

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Systems Approach

Public transport systems are highly complex and are extremely difficult to manage. This is one of the main reasons for their unsatisfactory performance.

“A multi-pronged approach is required which should combine several strategies, and only then would it be possible to provide an effective transport system in the city”

Users of these guidelines are reminded that:

  • They are for reference. There are many variations and they can be tailored to meet the specific circumstances of each city – that is a task for the user.
  • The measures suggested are rarely independent and links between them must be considered
  • Stakeholders should be involved, either directly at the option development and selection stage, or to provide feedback on the initially selected set.
  • Some of measures are long term, some are short term. Some these require financial resources while some may require better utilization of existing resources. Some measures require extensive participation by stakeholders.

Planning is an iterative process. After the first effort at defining Actions and an Implementation Plan, strategies should be reviewed and perhaps changed, especially if some preferred options cannot be effectively implemented within the planned timeframe.

Table 5 Summary of Systems Approach

Activity / Measure Steps Required Benefits Implications
Optimize Modal Mix
  • Spell out the role of all modes
  • Identify the areas to be served by buses
  • Duplication avoided
  • Missing links identified
  • All modes perform optimally
  • All modes perform a role as per the common mobility plan
Integrate All Modes
  • Rationalising and rescheduling of existing routes
  • Better utilization of assets
  • With the same fleet better services could be provided
Optimize Road Space
  • Banning parking of vehicles on roads.
  • Removing encroachments
  • Earmarking lanes for public transport
  • Permitting access in congested areas only by public transport
  • Improved accessibility to public transport.
  • Improved commercial speeds.
  • Reduction in number of accidents
  • Enforcement mechanisms would be required
  • Resistance from some quarters would have to be overcome
Improve Bus Services
  • More buses to be introduced and higher service level
  • Coverage of the transport system would increase
  • Overloading of buses would reduce thereby increasing comfort levels
  • Capital investments required
  • Livelihood of small operators needs to be considered
Consider Best Bus Design
  • Seek modern buses with improved accessibility and features that allow all sections of society to use them
  • Increased patronage
  • Reduction in accidents
  • The capital cost of buses increases, but through proper planning this could be offset by increased patronage.
Consider Fare System
  • Consider alternative fare structures and select most suitable
  • Lobby government to implement recommendation
  • Maximisation of revenue and profit
  • Optimisation of bus operations
  • Reduction in fare evasion
  • Provide benefits to certain social groups
  • Fare setting of public services has implications for small private operators
Empower the Public Transport User
  • Institutionalizing consultation mechanisms with citizens.
  • Install an effective procedure to address grievances
  • Consumer feedback would lead to improvement in quality of service
  • Greater consumer satisfaction and hence increased patronage
  • This task needs to be undertaken carefully with an effective consultation process
Enforce Regulations Effectively
  • The enforcement agencies to take strict enforcement measures
  • This would lead to better utilization of road space.
  • It would provide a level playing field for all the service providers
  • This would require intensive consultation with the enforcement agencies
Improve Internal Efficiency of the System
  • Personnel efficiency within the organization to be improved.
  • Better operational practices to be evolved
  • Bus services would be improved both qualitatively and quantitatively
  • This move may encounter resistance from the personnel of the organization.
Use Information Technology
  • Identifying processes which lend themselves to Information Technology
  • Re-engineer the processes in order to make them computer friendly
  • Operating cost reduced
  • Better planning of routes and also help in exercising better control
  • There may be opposition from staff for fear of displacement
  • It is necessary to re-engineer the processes before any attempt is made to computerize them
Increase Non Traffic Revenue
  • Tapping the real estate potential of property.
  • Focusing on advertising Revenue
  • Working with dedicated clients
  • Additional revenue at virtually no extra cost
  • The revenue generation models should be carefully planned.
  • There are legal problems associated with such measures which need to be addressed properly
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