Bus hits rules & vision barrier - In the fourth year of operation, private operator stops hop-on-hop-off tourist service

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By LELIN KUMAR MALLICK
  • Published 8.09.11
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Bhubaneswar, Sept. 7: The Orissa Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) had rolled out a tourist transport concept, popular in the West, on the streets of the city with chief minister Naveen Patnaik flagging off the hop-on-hop-off bus service on August 4, 2008.

On August 15 that year, private operator Kalinga Trade and Travels threw open the service to tourists with 11 OTDC buses.

The much-hyped project, however, hit the wrong track and on August 1 this year, the private operator slammed brakes on the service. The private operator returned the vehicles to the OTDC and claimed that the hop-on-hop-off service was not generating profits. Though the contract was to end in 2012, the contractor ran out of funds to keep the buses running. The Telegraph turns the spotlight on the service to find out what has led to its closure.

The project

Popular in major cities of the world, the hop-on-hop-off service helps a visitor avail of a bus network that touches several tourist sites. Tourists can choose from a bouquet of options to tour the city in the way they like. The service also frees tourists from the limitations of time-bound trips.

The service gave a tourist the liberty to hop off at Nicco Park, spend time there and then hop on to another network bus to head for Nandankanan.

When the service was rolled out in Bhubaneswar, the buses took tourists to places such as the museum, Ram Mandir, Ekamra Haat, Nicco Park, tribal museum, Khandagiri and Udayagiri caves, Cactus Garden, Nandankanan and the planetarium. A heritage option took tourists to the state museum, Rajarani, Brahmeswar, Megheswar, Siridi Sai, Kedar Gouri, Mukteswar, Lingaraj and other temples of the city.

What went wrong

For a service that had won the Most Innovative Tourism Product award from the Union tourism ministry in February 2009, it is intriguing to see it go off the roads.

That all was not well with the sight-seeing ride was evident in 2009 when the private operators claimed that they were running up losses of Rs 1.5lakh every month and that too by running four buses daily. The tickets for the ride were initially priced at Rs 250 per day.

But now, the private operator says that the terms and conditions of the ODTC were responsible for the closure of the service. “We were directed not to take the buses near hotels where tourists stay. They were supposed to walk to the nearest stop to board the buses,” said Subash Chotray, chief co-ordinator of the private operator.

The service also failed to get encouraging response from the tourists, he said.

OTDC officials, however, said the ambitious bus-ride project had an unsuccessful run as it lacked vision.

“No proper survey was conducted before launching the scheme as a result of which the bus service had to be stopped. The tourism market was also not prepared for this kind of a service and things deteriorated with the launch of city buses,” said a senior OTDC official.

Though it has only been a month that the service has been stopped, the hop-on-hop-off kiosks have become favourite haunts for goons.

“Criminals gather at these kiosks to drink and they often create a nuisance in the locality,” said Bhagirathi Sahoo, a local resident.

However, managing director of Kalinga Trade and Travels Tutul Das said most of the kiosks had been removed and the remaining ones would be dismantled soon.

Empty coffers

Elaborating on the reason for the closure of the service, Das said: “We were forced to hand over all the buses as we could not take the losses anymore. We also did not get the right kind of support from the OTDC.”

Models to follow

A similar service is widely popular in London and most other European and major Asian cities. The OTDC authorities could do well to learn a few lessons from these services.

The hop-on-hop-off facility in London provides a panoramic tour of the city and its most famous landmarks. A live commentary provides rare insights and fascinating facts about the city and its landmarks.

The multilingual commentary takes care of tourists from major countries of the globe.

As one can book a ticket that is valid for two days, a tourist can also break free from the bindings of time.

As an added attraction, the hop-on-hop-off service offers free walking tours to several London sites and famous localities. Open-top double decker buses used for the rides are hugely popular with tourists in the West.

If the OTDC hopes to attract tourists and keep the coffers ringing, it can take tips from successful operators in the West.

If that is some distance away, OTDC officials can hop on and travel to Chandigarh to pick up tips from operators there.