Lack of demand dooms project - OTDC's Hop-On-Hop-Off bus service in capital struggles to stay afloat

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By PRIYA ABRAHAM
  • Published 6.07.10
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Bhubaneswar, July 5: The ‘Hop-On-Hop-Off’ bus service that was launched in the capital is facing a bleak future with seven of the 11 state-of-the-art buses gathering dust.

Orissa Tourism Development Corporation had won the Most Innovative Tourism Product award by the ministry of tourism in February last year for its ‘Hop-On-Hop-Off’ bus services launched for tourists.

Seven air-conditioned buses have been kept parked, while the four others ply with hardly 25 tourists a day. “We have been incurring heavy losses since the launch, around Rs 1.5 lakh from the four buses we run,” says Subash Chhotray, the chief co-ordinator for Kalinga Trade and Travels, the private operator running the bus service.

“We can surely run the remaining buses provided there is a demand,” he added. Chhotray, meanwhile, added that the contract with OTDC will expire in 2012.

Eleven air-conditioned buses were flagged off in Bhubaneswar on August 4, 2008. The idea was to develop a well-networked bus service connecting the important places of interest in the city. The buses with commentary on public address system were to ply on two major routes, a city route and a heritage one, enabling tourists to access the best places of Bhubaneswar.

Despite a nominal charge of Rs 250 per day, the lack of awareness and absence of scheduled arrival of the buses at stops led to the breakdown of this impressive project, touted to be the first of its kind in India.

OTDC officials, however, begged to differ.

“The response was bad when we launched but it by November, it was doing average,” said OTDC divisional manager U.K. Pati, adding that they get around 30 tourists on a daily average.

Hoping for improvement in the long run, Pati said: “Things will change once there is a change in the mindsets of the people. Most of those who access the service are foreign tourists. We have made the tickets available at hotels, railway stations, airports and the Panthanivas.”

“OTDC had also tied up with different shopping centres and amusement parks for providing discounts to ticket holders of the bus service. It is sad that many are still unaware of the services and people who know fail to pass it on. Despite facilities like booking tickets online and availability in hotels of all classes, not much has changed in the last two years,” said Pati.

Initially, the service, it was decided would provided in two segments between monuments and the places of tourist interest.

The heritage tour would cover places like Rajarani, Bhaskareswar, Moheswar, Brahmeswar, Mukteswar, Kedargouri, Lingaraj Temple along with the nearby attractions such as Ananta Basudev temple, Bindusagar and Papanasini Pond.

Similarly, the city tour would have covered the state museum, Rajmahal, Master Canteen Square, Ram Mandir, Ekamra hat, Regional Science Centre, Iskcon temple, Tribal museum, State Planetarium, National Museum of Natural History, Khandagiri, and Udayagiri Caves, Nicco Park and many others.

The last and perhaps the only major service the buses could provide was during the Indian Association of Tour Operators’ conference at Bhubaneswar when the buses were run for four consecutive days taking about 1,000 delegates across the city.

“While the maximum number of tickets are sold out from the railway station counters, hotels have not been as co-operative,” alleged Chhotray.

Despite the losses in Orissa, states, including Kerala, Karnataka and Punjab, have been mulling to introduce similar services.

“Chennai has already begun a similar bus service with four buses,” said officials of OTDC. “The corporation also claims to have done its bit in carrying out publicity.

“We hugely publicised about the project at the Nalban Festival in Calcutta and a tourism-related festival at IIT, Kharagpur,” recalled Pati. Despite incurring losses, the tourism department hopes that the project would be successful.

This time round, the officials have planned on introducing ‘Hop-On-Hop-Off’ at Puri. The buses, it is said, will be running from the Jagannath temple to the sea beach and back.