Grounded: City buses stand idle at Baridih depot
They rolled on to the roads amid much fanfare, promising commuters of Ranchi, Jamshedpur and Dhanbad a streamlined public transport system. A project of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), the city buses were not only supposed to ease traffic but also keep pollution parameters under check. Yet barely two years later, the buses are on the verge of disappearing, plagued by problems ranging from poor returns, lack of maintenance, frequent strikes by staff over unpaid dues to alleged harassment from auto-rickshaw drivers and police alike. Amit Gupta takes a look at what ails our city buses
City bus services in the capital were launched in June 2010. So far, there have been three strikes by drivers and conductors employed by the private agency, Ask Securities in Ranchi’s case. Of the 70 buses earmarked for the capital, 47 are on the roads. The other vehicles are in dire need of maintenance, while one is no more road-worthy after catching fire.
Ticket sales in Ranchi are between Rs 1,600 and Rs 1,700 per day per bus, against an expenditure of Rs 1,300 on fuel and staff dues. The buses run on nine routes, ferrying 20,000 to 25,000 passengers daily.
If the buses run in some semblance of order in the capital, the opposite holds true in the steel city. Services in Jamshedpur began in September 2010, and since then, the buses have gone off the roads as many as 14 times thanks to strikes by drivers and conductors, mainly over unpaid dues.
Of the sanctioned 50 vehicles, barely 15 ply the roads on eight routes, while the rest gather dust at the Sidhgora depot.
The service is yet to make profits. While Rs 1,300 is the daily expenditure per bus, including cost of fuel and pay of staff, daily collections rarely exceeds Rs 1,400.
Introduced in August 2010, only 20 of the designated 70 city buses ply the streets of the coal capital.
Collections are low — barely Rs 900 to Rs 1,000 against the expenditure of Rs 1,300, and strikes frequent. The fifth and latest strike by drivers and conductors provided by Rider Security saw buses disappearing from the roads on Monday evening.
Perennially short of manpower, Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation (JTDC) was asked to run the city buses till management and maintenance was taken over by respective civic bodies in Ranchi, Dhanbad and Jamshedpur.
JTDC in turn outsourced day-to-day affairs to three agencies — Ask Security in Ranchi, Capital Security Service in Jamshedpur and Rider Security in Dhanbad. The outsourced agencies provide the bus staff and run the vehicles on designated routes.
The urban development department is in no hurry to take a decision when the civic bodies should take over the “ailing business”. This has left JTDC in a catch 22 situation, incurring losses and unable to pay the outsourced agencies, leading to disruption in services.
“The reasons behind running less number of buses are frequent protests by private bus operators, lack of support from the local administration and lack of an effective management and monitoring system,” complained Rakesh Kumar, manager (operations) of JTDC in Jamshedpur.
“We are short of staff. Conductors often do not give tickets printed by JTDC to the commuters. The money goes into their pockets. The operators run the service on their whims and fancies, rarely abiding by routes and timings. There should be a centralised computerised system to monitor real-time sale of tickets,” he added.
JTDC, meanwhile, has demanded Rs 1 crore from the urban development department to cover losses incurred by the respective outsourced operators and to maintain the vehicles. Sources said the urban development department was in the process of releasing Rs 50 lakh. Last year too, the JTDC was given Rs 50 lakh to cover losses.
JTDC managing director Sunil Kumar, however, did not sound convincing when he spoke of improving the system. He appeared particularly concerned about the situation in the steel city, where bus staff have had to face flak from private operators and police alike.
“I know it comes under essential services, but the local administration in Jamshedpur does not help. The urban development department should take over now,” he said.
The urban development department is talking to Urban Mass Transport Company, a Union government agency, on how to go ahead with effective maintenance and management of city bus services in the three mission cities.
“Till we make some workable arrangements to ensure the services run smoothly in future, the onus to run it lies with JTDC,” urban development secretary Nitin Madan Kulkarni said, adding it would take at least another two months before the respective corporations took over the task of running the buses.
Do you think the Munda government is serious about running city buses?