Expansion of Agra-Mathura bus service could help reverse fortunes as unplanned routes add to losses despite sustained occupancy
The Agra-Mathura bus service (AMCTSL) will continue to make losses if its routes are not planned to include high traffic intensity areas as well as improve frequency during peak hours
Almost a decade after its launch, the current status of local bus service in Agra, offers a view into how poor planning of routes, fuelling stations and lack of punctuality could be turning public bus transport services — launched under the multi-pronged Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) — in India into loss-making units.
The federal co-operative-scheme, which covers urban transportation under the sub-mission Urban Infrastructure and Governance, was launched to revive the long-lost tradition of city bus service in many Indian cities. In Agra, city bus service returned under JNNURM, in 2009, 17 years after the previous city bus service was closed under severe financial duress.
Agra is one of the seven cities in Uttar Pradesh where the JNNURM city bus services are operated by Uttar Pradesh State Road Transportation Corporation (UPSRTC). In Agra and Mathura, a separate department Agra Mathura City Transport Services Limited (AMCTSL), founded in 2011, runs this service.
Now running for almost a decade, the city bus service in Agra is witnessing dwindling ridership and increasing losses. The data from the last five years on ridership and financial performance accessed through Right to Information Act (RTI) from AMCTSL reveals that since the financial year (FY) 2013-14, the ridership and profit/loss statistics have not been very flattering for the service, though they have witnessed a slight bump in FY 2017-18.
The average load factor (the capacity utilisation of the public transport vehicle vis-a-vis filling of seats and revenue generation through fares) throughout these years remained more or less the same around 80 percent. While the load factor is at a decent level, the earning kilometres, ie, the distance for which revenue was generated, has fallen over the years. As the main source of income for the bus service is tariff from passengers, the decrease in the earning kilometres remains an issue.
As per the 2009 Detailed Project Report (DPR) for funding of buses under JNNURM prepared by Urban Mass Transit Company Limited, there were 13 radial and circular routes designed “to connect high traffic intensity areas with the bus services” as well as 13 suburban routes to connect to nearby towns and suburban areas. At present, though the city bus service in Agra operates on eight routes in the city and suburban and rural areas, and adjacent towns, there are many important high traffic intensity areas which are not included in the existing routes, especially ones on the Delhi-Kolkata National Highway Bypass Road stretch. While Meerut and Allahabad have lesser number of buses, 120 and 130 respectively, under the JNNURM scheme as compared to Agra which has 170 buses, the number of routes for the former two cities are 21 and 28 respectively, more than double for Agra.
Services on the current routes also leave a lot to be desired. As per the city bus schedule, the time interval between consecutive buses on the arterial Mahatma Gandhi (MG) road is supposed to be five minutes and half an hour on other suburban routes. However, buses on MG road remain less frequent and overcrowded and on suburban routes remain largely absent for most parts of the day especially in what the DPR categorises as peak hours in the morning (8 am to 10 am) and evening (4 pm to 8 pm). Thus, there is a lot of untapped potential for the city bus service in terms of earning kilometres, which with an optimal load factor can generate higher fare tariff.
Without increasing bus frequency on existing routes and expanding services on other routes, the financial woes of loss-making city buses, largely dependent on central and state government funding, are likely to continue. The earnings from alternative sources such as advertisements on side and back panels of the buses remain either deficient or absent. According to AMCTSL officials, the service generated income of about Rs 30 to 40 lacs from advertisements mostly in 2015. The contract for advertisements expired in November 2015. The department has again invited advertisements for the buses in April this year but there have been no takers so far.
The expenditures, on the other hand, are aplenty. Fuel costs (CNG) form the biggest share — roughly 50 percent — of the expenditures. CNG filling stations are few and far in the city and many buses have to go off their routes to refuel, thus leading to empty rides and loss in tariff.
RBL Sharma, the recently appointed managing director of the Regional Administration-UPSRTC, Agra, says that one of his priorities is to remedy the problem of empty rides as it costs the exchequer the most. He has also targeted increasing load factor to near 100 percent in order to generate more profits. To ensure that buses are running with regular frequency on existing routes, Sharma has circulated the time-table among the ground staff and directed them to update his office with the running status of buses in real-time through Whatsapp both in Agra and Mathura.
The importance of buses for India’s working population cannot be underestimated. According to the Census 2011 data, both rural and urban women in India are more likely to take a bus to commute for work than any other means of transportation. The Census 2011 data revealed not only this gendered picture of commuting in India but also a rural-urban variation as rural Indians are found to be taking buses more than other modes of public transportation.
With JNNURM bus services catering to urban and rural areas alike, cities like Agra would do well to ensure that the rural and suburban services are not ignored and bus services are expanded all around in order to provide more congestion-free and less polluted cities and safer and more economical rides for passengers. This also remains important for the financial health of the bus service as more kilometres can earn more money.
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