BKT Tyres: Changing rules of the game

BKT is eyeing a leadership role in the global OHT tyre market by means of a USD 500 million investment.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

0005-copy

Established in 1954 as a manufacturer of bicycle tyres at Aurangabad, Maharashtra, Mumbai-based BKT Tyres is changing the rules of the game. It is diligently working towards realising the vision of achieving leadership in the off-highway tyre market worldwide. The total size of the Off-Highway Tyre (OHT) is estimated to be around USD 15 billion. With over 90 per cent of its tyres exported to 130 countries, BKT is also working to increase its share of the domestic market. Claimed to derive 88 per cent of its revenue from exports, the company operates five facilities (Aurangabad, Dombivali, Bhiwadi, Chopanki and Bhuj) in India with an output of 600 Metric Tonnes (MT) per day. Slated to reach 800 MT per day by 2017, BKT commands a 4 per cent share of the global Off-Highway Tyre (OHT) market. Hoping to achieve its vision largely on the strength of its newest and youngest plant at Bhuj, which is in close proximity to the ports of Kandla and Mundra, the company, offering a product portfolio of over 2,400 SKUs, employees 7000 people. Producing over 230 sizes of agricultural radial tyres apart from solid tyres, port application tyres, crane tyres, earthmoving and construction equipment tyres, tipper tyres, and dump truck tyres, BKT supplies over 15 to 20 per cent of the tyres it produces to OEMs according to Rajiv Podar, the company’s joint managing director. A large chunk of BKT’s tyres are consumed by the replacement market.

0033-copy

Humongous is the word

Humongous is the word best suited to describe BKT’s Bhuj plant. Providing a distinct logistical advantage since 90 per cent of the products of the company are exported, the plant, spanning 312 acres of a parcel of land is home to the newest and the BKT’s biggest 49-inch dia. dump truck tyre. The tyre is said to cost a whopping Rs.15 to Rs.20 lakh. The main plant, with an achievable capacity to produce 350 Metric Tonnes (MT) of tyres, occupies 77 acres. The current capacity of the plant is 220 MT. It presently does 175 MT. Entering the international OHT market (radial agriculture tyre, which today represents the company’s main product segment at 75 per cent share) in 1994 through UK after identifying a mid-segment opportunity, the need for a new (Bhuj) plant was felt as the existing plants neared their full capacity. The going was good, the introduction of Agrimax tyre for high powered tractors in 2007, followed by an entry into the OTR all-steel radial tyres in 2008, having helped the company to secure a strong foothold in the international markets – mainly Europe and USA.

To achieve the vision of global leadership in OHT tyres, the need for a radical shift in manufacturing was found necessary. The need was for about 140,000 MT. All the departments were consulted, and a figure of 300 acres was arrived at. This was born out of the need to have a large warehouse to better channelise export consignments; to have a modern R&D to produce world-class products, and to have a large manufacturing foot print with the most modern machines. Post the permission of the board to invest USD 500 million, which according to Arvind Podar, the chairman and managing director, was the net worth of the company then, a continuous parcel of desolate, desert land was acquired with the help of Gujarat Government. Work started in 2011. The black soil was found to be unsuitable; excavation of up to 7 m had to be carried out. Bhuj’s seismic risk necessitated a structure that could withstand a tremor of up to nine on the Richter scale. “Lack of electricity, water and labour made it difficult. Eight-km long water lines were laid, and electricity lines over 30 km were laid out. The roof was engineered to withstand strong desert winds,” mentions Rajiv. To ensure self sufficiency, a 20 MW thermal power plant was invested into; two water reservoirs were invested into; a township over 15 acres of land was invested into, and includes a mall. A fire station and a hospital were also invested into. They are a part of the company’s CSR activity.

0056-copy

Well defined

Commissioned in 2012, the plant at Bhuj is set to add new products to the company’s already wide range of OHT tyres according to Dilip Vaidya, president and director of technology at BKT Tyres. With focus on increasing the domestic market share, and addressing the needs of farmers to whom BKT sells OHT tyres by offering them two-wheeler tyres for their motorcycles and scooters, it is the large warehouse that draws attention upon entering the plant. This is however not before catching a view of the R&D centre with two attractive tractors doing the testing rounds. Their are six test tracks that offer wet and dry driving conditions; the asphalt track measures seven-metre in width, and the concrete track measures five-metre in width according to Vaidya. There is also a circular dirt and stone track. Apart from prototype and handling tests, the track will enable BKT to carry out most common and specific tests including noise tests.

dsc_2062-copy dsc_2027-copy 0099-copy 0080-copy dsc_1994-copy

Inside, the warehouse, raw material like natural rubber, synthetic rubber, polybutyl and chlorobutyl rubber, bromobutyl rubber, sillica, carbon black, additives, accelerators, and more, procured locally and from international markets (like Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey, Poland and Vietnam), are systemically stacked and labeled. It is fed into the mixers as per the need to make a compound. The mixing area amounts to 16.8 acres and contains 440- and 330-litre mixers. According to Vaidya, the 440- litre mixers are for the master batch, and the 330-litre mixers are for the final batch. Over 228 compounds are made for different types of tyres. Supporting this operation is a dosing plant. The compounds, as they come out of the extruder past the mixer, are used to build bias ply, radial ply and solid tyres.

Employing young engineers trained at the Bhiwadi and Chopanki plants, the wide variety of tyres produced at Bhuj, and their uniqueness calls for unique monitoring. Presenting an opportunity to pursue the dreams according to Rajiv, the Bhuj plant is subject to strict monitoring of each an every process. “While the R&D centre will be operational next year, supporting the plant operations is an analytical lab, chemical and synthetic lab, compounding and sample preparation lab, physical lab, aging and life prediction lab, and a microscope lab to ensure top quality,” avers Vaidya. With hard compound calling for higher viscosity, softer compound calling for low viscosity, steel radial construction calling for higher viscosity, each compound batch is tested. Special software for Silica-based compounds with controlled temperature has been provided according to Vaidya. Kaizen is practised at the Bhuj plant.

Seven types of chords are used in the manufacture of tyres at Bhuj. For the manufacture of radial tyres, body ply cutter machines are employed. Over 95 per cent of the machines at the Bhuj plant are imported. They are instrumental is ensuring very good zipper quality. Says Vaidya, that the plant has 150 curing machines. There are four calendar rolling machines for textile and steel chords. These, adds Vaidya, provide better width control, fabric centering, tension control and uniform chord distribution. There’s a fully auto gauge control system and metal detectors to avoid roll damage. The duplex extruder includes a eight-inch hot feed and a six-inch cold feed line. Treads with two different layers can be made for high speed tyres with deep tread. There’s an auto bias cutter and a auto splicing system for perfect ply joint with uniform overlap. The splicers are especially made for agricultural OTR tyres. For most agricultural, industrial and flotation tyres up to 28-inch dia, BKT has installed building machines with turn-up bladder for wrinkle-less turn of operation. For 25-inch OTR and industrial tyres, there are turn-up bladders with 3D construction. For lamination, the company has developed spin station for the application of base and cap with two different compounds for superior quality.

Employing synchronous rotors and turn screw sheeters, the company, for giant OTR tyres, has installed a three stage tyre building machine. There are also these giant curing presses, x-ray testing machine, shereography machine, and an endurance machine. “The strip winding machine gives us the ability to handle wide tyres such as the giant OTR tyre,” mentions Vaidya. He adds, “Our stress is on producing new compounds from sustainable materials in an innovative manner.” Building machines for 49- and 51-inch tyres have been installed. The three stages of their construction includes band building, carcass building on solid drums and belt assembly transfer followed by shaping of carcass and lamination. Giant curing presses of 145- and 175-inch are suitable for up to 51-inch tyres.

For solid tyre production, the plant has three stage tyre building machines, two-stage auto machines, and strip winding machines. Explains Vaidya, “Contrary to manual mill operation, we chose advanced technology machines like a specially designed station with two mandrels for application of base and cushion compound by auto controlled calendar sheets. We have machines that apply beads precisely at controlled distances. Apart from tread application and strip lamination machines, we have installed multi-daylight curing presses that enable higher productivity.” The new systems at Bhuj include on-line auto weighing system, PLC band program on bias cutter, and a quality (FTQ) monitoring system that avoids rework generation and helps to achieve the highest FTQ per centage for cured tyres. Apart from Kaizan, the Bhuj plant has safety systems built-in explains Vaidya. He informs that third party audits are carried out.

img_0092-copy

New products from Bhuj

Armed with an advanced manufacturing infrastructure at Bhuj, BKT is working towards launching a good number of new products. According to Vaidya, the company will be launching non-marking compound solid tyres, deep tread solid tyres, new ‘Liftmax’ radial forklift tyres, new ‘Portmax’ radial port tyres, new ‘Multimax’ radial multi-pattern truck tyres, and new ‘Earthmax’ giant OTR tyres. Expressing that agricultural tyre buyer’s needs are changing, Vaidya states that their new IF and VF technology agricultural tyres lead to reduced soil compaction and improved traction. Associated with most construction equipment OEs in India according to Rajiv, BKT caters to the needs of various CE sectors through their associations. Rajiv stresses upon OE being a big segment for growth. About their plan to carve out a greater pie of the Indian market on their way to achieve their strategic global objective, he avers, “India is a growing market. This is the right time to be India.” With the Bhuj plant paving the road to increase the market reach, the days ahead for BKT Tyres look bright.

dsc_0806-copy

Riding the AC bus

Demand for air-conditioned buses is on the rise.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

Privatisation of education has given rise to a set of challenges that extend all the way down to securing admission at the kindergarten level. In Delhi, getting admission is a monumental task says Jasmeet Marwah, a businessman from a plush South Delhi colony. For the last one year, he has been desperately looking out to get his tiny tot an admission in a good school. He is also particularly concerned about logistics and the environment. His home is Air-Conditioned (AC), and he is looking for a school that has AC classrooms. He is also looking for a AC school buses that his tiny tot can ride. Reflective of the change that is taking place when it comes to buses, school, the market for bus AC manufacturers is looking good. With the demand for AC buses gaining prominence, especially as temperatures rise, bus AC manufacturers are expanding their operations and reach. The market for AC buses is expected to grow at a rate of 15 per cent, and in fair proportion to the growth of the bus market in India. Finding favour with corporates, educational institutes, and others, it is not just the private operators who are warming up to the prospect of AC buses, government operators like STUs and city bus undertakings are also warming up to the prospect of AC buses. In fact, most STUs and city bus undertakings already have AC buses as their flagship offerings. In an organisation like the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC), AC buses may account for a meagre one-per cent of its current fleet of 18,150 buses, they make for a better earning potential however. It is not for no reason that MSRTC is keen to lease 500 air-conditioned buses from private operators under the ‘Shivshahi’ scheme.

Gearing up for growth

The number of AC buses in India may be estimated to be 10 per cent of the total bus market, there number is rapidly growing. Two years ago, the AC bus market was estimated to be in the region of 5000 units. Today, it is estimated to be over 10,000 units per annum. Looking at the rising demand, it is natural for bus AC manufacturers to gear up for growth. Claiming to be the market leader in India for luxury bus ACs, Eberspaecher Suetrak, the Indian arm of USD 4.4 billion German major Eberspaecher, is known to supply over 2500 units of its AC 353 model to large buses till date. It is aiming to make India the global manufacturing hub for mid-size bus ACs according to K P Singh, Director India, Eberspaecher Suetrak. Singh informs that the AC 505 model that was launched last year for mid-size buses has already attracted orders from Australia and the Middle East. Efficient than the AC 310 model, the AC 505, according to Singh, boasts of a local content of 70 to 85 per cent. It is engineered with MCHX condenser technology, and is lighter in weight and needs less refrigerant. It is easier to mount too. Expressing that the operations in India are stabilising, Singh says that it would be cheaper to source bus ACs from India rather than to buy them from Europe.

Post the acquisition by multinational automotive supplier Valeo, Spheros, which operates through a joint venture in India with Motherson is expanding its reach. Spheros Motherson holds close to 30 per cent market share in India, and is fully geared up to cater to the African market by riding on Ashok Leyland buses. A 100 per cent supplier to DTC AC buses, the company also caters to the needs of JBM. “We will supply 100 units of CC 350 model to Ashok Leyland for its buses that are set to debut in Ivory Coast. We are also supporting JBM for its Citylife bus venture with AE 350 model destined for African markets,” beams Cyril Xavier, Chief Operating Officer, Spheros Motherson Thermal Systems Ltd. The company recently supplied 50 units of AE 350 model for JBM buses which will be operated by Noida Metro Rail Corporation. An order of 20 units of CC 225 model was bagged by the company recently. The ACs were fitted in Tata Marcopolo midi buses bought by Shiv Nadar university in Delhi NCR. Spheros Motherson has also supplied 250 units of Revo Global 400 model ACs to Scania. Each unit of these is claimed to weigh 50 kg less than the AE 400 model AC, and offers better flow based on the virtue of the design changes that reduce refrigerant usage by 50 per cent according to Xavier.

Focusing on a full range of buses – small, medium and large, Thermo King has launched a TK-Cool series of products that offer a unique proposition to the customer. An Ingersoll Rand brand, Thermo King, catering to coaches, school buses, staff buses, tarmac and special application buses, has specially designed the CS 1100, CS 1000 and CF 500 AC models for modern buses. These models are claimed to offer superior operational efficiency and low noise temperature control. This is especially true of the CS 1000 and CS 500 ACs. These are one piece designs that are compact, and have a side air intake for higher system efficiency and better maintenance. Both the models come with an optional brushless blower and improved condenser coil, which enables higher heat transfer efficiency and lower noise. “The TK Cool Series ACs are tested and certified by ARAI for homologation requirement in India, which make them compliant with Indian operating condition standards,” states Sudarshan Ananth, Territory Vice President and Business Leader – Trane & Thermo King, Emerging Markets and India Territories. He adds, “When designing a product as per the customer needs, it is important to offer higher reliability and performance.”

A 100 per cent supplier of bus ACs to Force Traveller, ranging from 4kW to 8kW, Subros is an important player in the Indian automotive AC market. It has been busy expanding its reach in the Indian commercial vehicle market for some time now, and has launched a 45kW AC for low floor city bus application. According to Pawan Sabharwal, Director- Marketing, “The heat load in city buses and school buses is high due to frequent opening and closing of doors. For such applications, we have developed a design in collaboration with Denso that uses aluminium based condensors for weight reduction, and for lower air resistance.” He adds, “The design, results in reducing the refrigerant usage despite frequent opening and closing of doors, and brings down the overall power consumption.”

images-pdf-1-copy

Chinese ACs

img_2455-copy

In a market that has the presence of global majors like Spheros Motherson and Eberspaecher Suetrak, Chinese bus AC manufacturers like Songz, Trans ACNR and Haiger are participating for a share of the market. Trans ACNR and Haiger are ensuring that Chinese bus ACs are not looked upon as low cost and cheap products. “The stress on quality,” says Shatrughan Kumar, Director, Trans ACNR. He adds that stress on quality is working to their advantage. “Since most of the transporters are connected to each other, reference lists and word of mouth publicity also plays a vital role in convincing and executing sales of our products,” he mentions. For better reach, the company has developed a wide product portfolio of ACs. Its Astro series offers copper tubes and aluminium fins. The SL series of ACs offer aluminium coils. Points out Kumar, that India is a price sensitive market. The demand is high for aluminum coil-based ACs in India, he avers. The flagship SL series AC that Trans ACNR offers, weighs 10 per cent less than a conventional AC that would ideally weigh 200 kg at least. This is achieved, says Kumar, by removing the condensor bottom and deploying aluminium coils. Where 10 per cent weight reduction can be achieved by changing coils, another 10 per cent can be shed by making making changes in the structure. Aware of the rising demand for ACs in city buses as well as school buses, Trans ACNR, to address the needs has been importing A & E series models from China. It is expecting a multi-fold rise in demand for ACs under the AMRUT scheme.

s-ananth-4-copy

With precise focus on the aftermarket, Haiger India is currently importing Completely Built Units (CBUs) from China. The company is working closely with a list of renowned schools and transporters, and has recently launched two new bus ACs, Alpha 21 and Beta 43 for mid and 12 m city buses. The ACs boast of multi-flow technology. This design is claimed to cool down the hot refrigerant quickly, enabling multi-point entry for the hot refrigerant, which reduces refrigerant usage. Avers Rishi Pathak, Director, Haiger India, “It not only cools faster but also makes the AC more compact, thus reducing weight, and making it easy to handle as well as install.” With an aim to reduce cost, Pathak says, Haiger India will began localising once volumes rise. To offer a complete solution in bus air conditioning, along with AC installation, Haiger India also undertakes high density thermocol and nitrile rubber insulation along the interiors of the bus to increase the efficiency of AC and reduction in load on the engine.

Future ready

The count of conventional buses running on fossil fuel may be more as of current, the same technology may not be used tomorrow. As new propulsion technologies emerge bus AC manufacturers are all set to cater to buses with new propulsion technologies including electricity. Eberspaecher Suetrak premiered the AC 230 model at Busworld Kortrijk. It is a roof top air conditioner that works on air flow reversal function along with a heat pump for electric and hybrid buses. It uses common refrigerants and serves customer specific needs. Eberspaecher Suetrak also offers an additional plate heat exchanger to take the heat out of the battery pack and other operational areas in an electric or hybrid bus. It also offers heat exchangers to address residual sources of heat in the vehicle.

Especially designed for electric and hybrid buses is the Thermo King Athenia Mkll model. With air-to-air reversible electric heat pump, it offers better performance based on reversible refrigeration circuit. Its battery unit works independent of the passenger compartment’s heating and cooling mode. This is claimed to effectively recycle the heat generated by the batteries during bus movement, thereby reducing energy consumption when the heat mode is on. For reducing total power consumption, the pump uses an electric variable speed compressor that modulates heating and cooling capacities up to a range of 60 per cent.

The Revo E bus AC from Spheros has been specially designed for hybrid and electric buses. Spheros Motherson has already supplied the Revo E to the two diesel hybrid buses Volvo has delivered to the Navi Mumbai Transport Corporation. The company is currently importing the model from Neubrandenburg in Germany because it needs special testing and validation before actual deployment. Avers Xavier, that safety is of paramount importance to his company, and it is therefore that the Revo E is tested in Germany before importing rather than test it here. From a cost point of view, Spheros Motherson is mulling to produce the Revo E locally. It is working closely with its German counterparts in this direction. Opines Xavier, that the government should have clear policies. This would help us to phase out and phase in technologies at the right time. “Policy and technology can’t go together, and have to be disconnected if we were to progress faster,” he adds.

Support is crucial

With the rise in demand for AC buses, support is turning out to be a crucial factor. Thermo King claims to have appointed 20 sales and service channel partners and 30 service affiliates across India. Ananth states that emphasis will be on increasing the reach by adding more touch points. “Apart from service training programs for OEM clients, we also conduct service training programs for dealers. We ensure that they are up-to-date on knowledge and have the ability to address the needs of the clients,” he adds. Thermo King has two R&D centres in India, one at Chennai and one at Bengalore. These centres, according to Ananth, help for application and customisation of products. The centres cater to the domestic as well as the international operations of the company.

Spheros Motherson has a network of 40 dealers. With close to 60 per cent of its revenues coming from OEM business, the company is working to expand its reach in the aftermarket by increasing its dealer network. The single shift capacity of the company at its Noida plant for 3000 ACs is already full. Work in the second shift has begun. Apart from bus ACs, Spheros Motherson is also looking at markets like reefer trucks and construction equipment. Claims Xavier that the company holds a 40 per cent market share in Karnataka and is looking at strengthening its market positioning in states like Kerala, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu.

It is the Chennai facility of Subros that is serving the CV segment. It is expected to roll out 1,00,000 units annually when fully operational. Currently sourcing compressors from Valeo and Bitzer, the company, according to Sabharwal, could look at making compressors for commercial vehicles in-house once the volumes pick-up. Subros, in the meanwhile, has set up a team of 15 people to man its R&D centre. The centre is instrumental in the introduction of new products and increasing localisation. The plant is claimed, is to achieve a localisation of no less than 60 per cent in a short time. This would help the company to attractively price and position its products. Having dispatched 50 units of 36kW AC units for retrofitment in 12 m buses that will be plying in Qatar, the company has joined hands with Tata Motors for their buses destined for Bangladesh.

Not to be left behind, Haiger India is busy expanding its base in South India. The company has already set up a service station in Hyderabad, and is set to launch two new plants at Zaheerabad and Pune respectively with a combined area of over 1.3 lakh sq. ft. Once operational, the two units will hike the company’s manufacturing capacity to 1900 units in the next one year from the current count of 1000 units. Haiger’s capacity will almost double. This will help it to increase its market reach and address the market requirements better. Haiger sources draw attention to the 14 service centres the company currently has in India. Out of these, five are in Maharashtra. The aim, claim sources, is to have over 20 service centres across India in the next one year. Trans ACNR has five service centres for complete vehicle support in Delhi, Chandigarh, Bengaluru Chennai and Cochin. Plans are underway to add five more centres in the current fiscal. An amount of support is provided by the company through its resident engineers at Jaipur, Jalandhar, Jamshedpur, Kolkata, Patna, and Hyderabad.

img_2475-copy

Towards a bright future

The need for bus ACs is rising. The demand for AC buses is growing. Rising disposable income in India is said to be a reason. The other reason is said to be the rising temperature levels in cities and towns across India. Rising urbanisation and growing infrastructure is creating a market for buses, and AC buses are no longer looked upon as costly alternatives to conventional non-AC buses. Travellers are ready to pay for comfort. With STUs and city bus undertakings warming up to the prospect of AC buses in their fleet, the journey towards a brighter future looks certain for bus AC manufacturers. Investment in additional capacities is certain to help bus AC manufacturers to increase their market reach and offer a deal that promises ‘best value for money’. Investment in R&D centres, application engineering centres and service networks are steps in the right direction. Such steps will ensure that the industry grows beyond the estimated rate of growth of 15 per cent.

Cab aggregators continue to speed

Cab aggregators are proliferating. They are drawing diverse elements of the concept of shared mobility.

Story by: Ashish Bhatia

1-book-your-ride-copy uber_india_request-screenshot-copy

Cab aggregators is a global phenomenon. It is redefining the very basis of public transportation, and India is not an exception to it. The cab aggregator business model is also proving to be disruptive. It continues to proliferate under the guise of aggregators like Ola and Uber. Both the aggregators are no longer limited to metro cities. Bullish in an environment that is no less competitive or even hostile, the two cab aggregators are pushing their way forward, irrespective of whether they are bleeding or just about breaking even. There is a certain opacity that surrounds the cab aggregator business model many will agree. The fact is, cab aggregators are proliferating. They are proliferating despite the ire of existing cab organisations, and despite facing several litigations. A capital intensive business model, cab aggregators have been fighting out with state-run taxi and auto-rickshaw operators and unions, which claim to have been adversely affected. Such is the disruptive nature of the cab aggregator business model that it is accused of taking away half the taxi and auto-rickshaw operators’ potential to earn. The operators and unions have been very vocal about this. They are compelling the government at the centre as well as at the state level to look into their grievances and come out with a solution. The government is expected to play god in the form of cab aggregator policy.

OEM play

anand-mahindra-chairman-mahindra-group-and-bhavish-aggarwal-co-fou

As cab aggregators and taxi and autorickshaw operators, albeit through their unions, fight it out, OEMs seem to warm up to the concept of shared mobility. They see it as an opportunity. For cab aggregators, it may well be an opportunity to make good profits. Recent associations between automakers like Mahindra and Tata Motors and the two (Ola and Uber) aggregators are well known and well publicised. Interesting is the recent association between Tata Motors and Uber Technologies Inc. to provide driver partners on Uber platform. This association will enable owners and drivers affiliated to Uber to buy Tata cars using flexible financing solutions from Tata Capital Financial Services and Tata Motors Finance. They will get insurance from Tata AIG. Madhu Kannan, Member – Group Executive Council and Group Head – Business Development and Public Affairs, Tata Sons, is known to have said that the move will help to turn individual entrepreneurs into a formal workforce. Had this arrangement not emerged, it would have been very difficult for individuals to access formal financing modes and purchase vehicles. Eric Alexander, head of business at Uber Asia is known to express that the association with Tata Motors will make it easier and affordable for drivers to get into the micro-entrepreneurship mode.

eric-alexander-uber-copy

Last year, Tata Opportunity Fund invested in Uber. Through its association with Tata Motors, Uber, claim industry sources, is under the impression that its prospects in India are bright. Not be left out, Ola and Mahindra have also entered into an association to bring 40,000 drivers into the shared mobility space. The duo is aiming at vehicle sales and financing to the tune of USD 400 million (Rs.2,600 crore). Drivers affiliated to Ola can avail of an integrated ‘Mahindra-Ola’ package that includes Mahindra cars at special prices. Drivers will be also able to avail of attractive financing with zero down payment at attractive interest rates. Subsidised insurance premiums are among the list of other benefits. Mahindra and Ola are certain to explore other areas too, in an effort to build next generation mobility solutions including those that facilitate a unique transportation business case. “We are marrying the Ola and Mahindra ecosystems,” averred Anand Mahindra, Chairman and Managing Director, Mahindra & Mahindra, recently. “As we go along we will keep re-inventing and add new business models,” he said. Expressed Bhavish Aggarwal, Co-founder & CEO, Olacabs, that the move will help his company build a significant scale through mobility options including electric cars.

Alliances with OEMs are happening at a time when cab aggregators are seen taking some tough decisions. Ola, for example, has announced that it has shut down ‘taxi for sure’. Cab aggregators, it is clear, are focusing on rationalising costs, the slowdown in funding evident. The reason often given is business realignment. The cost reduction achieved by Ola (by shutting down ‘taxi for sure’) is said to be to the tune of Rs.30 crore a month. SoftBank-backed Ola is also claimed to be looking to reduce its cash burn as the battle with Uber intensifies. Uber recently sold its cash-guzzling China operations to rival Didi Chuxing, which is also a minority investor in Ola. Uber Technologies Inc. will redeploy 150 engineers from its China operations to other key markets in South East Asia. The China deal is expected to allow Uber to up its ante in India. A significant portion of USD 3.5 billion funding Uber has raised is likely to find its way into its Indian operations. This will exceed Ola’s USD 500 million funding.

Battle of the Titans

Having raised more than USD 15 billion and valued at USD 68 billion, Uber is known to have a long bench of investors from venture capitalists and hedge funds to sovereign wealth funds. It was only recently that Didi invested USD one-billion in Uber. Ola, according to industry analysts, in a counter-response, is strengthening its presence across various price points with multiple offerings to tap into the booming cab transportation segment in the country. In a bid to prepare for intense competition, Ola has come to offer ‘Óla Micro’, a low cost air-conditioned cab service in 90 cities; Ola Lux is a premium luxury cab service that includes Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Toyota Camry, Fortuner and Honda Accord cabs; Ola Rental and Ola Outstation are new additions. Passengers can rent a cab on an hourly basis under Ola Rental. In the case of Ola Outstation, it facilitates inter-city transportation. Not just that, through Ola Corporate, the cab aggregator is also looking at corporate entities, which rely on transporters to provide cabs. Ola plans to get as many as 10,000 companies onto the platform. In comparison to Ola’s rising aggression, Uber, in 2015, significantly increased its market share by spending on acquiring cabs. At times huge subsidies to drivers were paid claim industry sources. Low fares were offered to customers with flexible payment options, they add. This helped the market share of Uber soar to 40 per cent at the beginning of this year from just five per cent a year ago. Ola’s cheapest offering, Ola Micro has however helped it to put up a tough fight. The service, launched early March 2016, has helped Ola reverse much of last year’s (2015) market share loss to Uber. Ola has managed to simply race ahead of its rival. Not very convinced, industry sources claim that Ola has had a massive cash burn in the process.

A new element to the battle are the local taxi and autorickshaw operators and their unions. It is no secret that they are up in arms against the two cab aggregators. Ironically, the fight between traditional cab and autorickshaw operators and cab aggregators is happening with many cab and autorickshaw operators having aligned with either of the two cab aggregators. More are said to be on their way. There also those who have moved back since they did not find it lucrative.

Consider the case of Mumbai-based Sudesh (name changed on request) for example. He joined Ola six months back, and availed of its self financing options to buy a WagonR. Claiming to earn between Rs.20,000 to Rs.30,000 per month, Sudesh is of the opinion that he cannot imagine earning so much anywhere else. Rakesh has refrained from moving over to Ola or Uber. He did not switch over to Meru and TAB cab either. His observation is that not all those who moved over are earning well. He fears that these companies (cab aggregators) may decide to withdraw the moment they see their earnings dwindle. He draws attention to Ola’s closure of ‘taxi for sure’.

On June 21, 2016, a taxi union in Mumbai organised a one-day strike to mark a protest against Ola and Uber. Representing black and yellow cab operators, the union protested against the two cab aggregators for adversely affecting their business. The bone of contention is the lack of a level playing field according to the taxi union sources. They are of the opinion that taxi transport services can be provided only by those taxi owners who possess necessary contract permit issued by the state government under the Motor Vehicles (MV) Act. Under the said Act, all such cab and taxi drivers have to have Public Service Vehicle (PSV) badges which are issued by the Government’s State Transport Authority after verifying the antecedence of the driver. All such cabs and taxis are required to be fitted with a functioning electronic meter. They have to charge only the specified fare.

Taxi union sources point out that the Ola and Uber cabs do not have an electronic meter. They mention further that aggregators do not therefore adhere to the fare structure the Roads and Transport Authority has determined for taxis. They also indulge in surge pricing and similar such alleged malpractices claime sources. Ola and Uber cabs are tourist vehicles, and under section 88(9) of the MV Act, inform sources. They add, that the duo are granted permits to promote tourism, and are not taxis or cabs. According to Aspi Chinoy, senior counsel appearing for the Association of Radio Taxis (fleet taxi operators), Uber and Ola are in effect and substance running a scheme without having applied for and received the necessary license and hence are clearly violating the provisions of the law. The court that the Association of Radio Taxis has filed a case in, is known to have questioned the very basis for tourist cabs operating as city cabs without having a city cab permit, nor having taxi stands dedicated to them. Commuters are of the opinion that over the black and yellow cabs or autorickshaws, which refuse to ferry passengers far more often than they agree to, the cab aggregators offer a comfortable, air-conditioned and cost-efficient cab ride.

800px-taxi_in_mumbai

An aggregator cab is booked online whereas a black and yellow cab is flagged down by the kerbside. The starting fare of a black and yellow taxi is Rs.22; that of an Ola cab is claimed to drop down to as low as six-rupees. The fare structure of Ola micro cab, for instance, works such that a traveller is charged a base fare of Rs.45 for the first four km. Thereafter he is charged Rs.6 per km. For every minute of travel, he is charged one-rupee in addition. Service tax is charged extra. In the case of a black and yellow cab, the starting fare of Rs.22 holds good for 1.5 km. Thereafter the traveller is charged Rs.15 for every km. Uber in comparison charges fares on similar lines, albeit with a couple of exceptions. It charges Rs.8 per km. In case of ride cancellation, Rs.60 is levied.

Black and yellow cabs running as share-cabs (plying short distances between a suburban train station and a nearby locality) have each traveller paying a certain amount pre-decided by the operator in consultation with the regional transport authority. For example, a black and yellow share taxi from Lower Parel to Dadar station costs Rs.12. A Santro taxi ferries four people. In comparison, the Ola share-cab model works such that a traveller is charged 50 per cent of Ola mini’s fares. The Ola mini cab charges Rs.100 for the first four km. Thereafter the traveller is charged Rs.11 per km. A one-rupee charge for every minute of travel is levied additionally. Travellers moving in the same direction are clubbed by the system to share the cab. The traveller pre-pays only a fixed fare generated by the system at the time of boarding the cab.

badami

Convenience and affordability

All four – Ola, Uber, Meru and TAB, run a comfortable and modern fleet. The reason why the taxi union in Mumbai to be specific has decided to target Ola and Uber over Meru and TAB is because of their fare structure. The fare structure of Meru and TAB cabs is similar to that of the black and yellow, and blue and silver air-conditioned ‘cool’ cabs. If the falling standards of BEST city buses have forced travellers to look at other options including share-cabs for short distance rides, the tendency to seek long distance rides has also led travellers to opt for cab aggregators. According to Sudhir Badami, Transport Analyst and Member of Committee, Road Safety (PWD), Maharashtra Government, “It is a matter of availing convenience at an affordable price and not a question of loyalty.”

Ola and Uber are said to have invested huge sums, and without a strong ability to break even in a short time. Claim sources, that Ola’s net loss in 2015 was Rs.796 crore. While the cab aggregator earned a revenue of Rs.421 crore, an eight-fold rise over the previous year (2014), the losses are known to have cumulated at a rate even faster. The losses, sources claim, could be attributed to Ola expanding operation to new cities, and pumping money into advertisement and sales promotions. Both Ola and Uber have been expanding their reach beyond metro cities. Ola has been reaching out to rickshaws as well. It is thus possible to hail an Ola autorickshaw or cab in Bangalore, Pune, Delhi and Trivandrum as well.

delhi-auto-rickshaw-copy

No less

In no mood to give up are the black and yellow taxi operators of Mumbai. A recent permit allocation drive has elevated their numbers. Even as they demand that cab aggregators be brought under the same rules as them, they are said to be working on a slew of measures including the development of a mobile app. and modernisation of the fleet. Expressed Badami, “GPS technologies and App. based management systems cannot be the domain of only a handful. Competition will pave the way for black and yellow taxis to get back in business.” Expressing a need for the government to weigh consumer convenience and service provider’s profitability, Badami said that the current methodology of surge pricing deployed by aggregators could be calculated by collective computations of service availability and the travel time component rather than pricing an adhoc x-times that lacks transparency.

In Delhi, a group of state transport ministers constituted by the Union transport ministry earlier this year recommended that aggregators should follow the rules related to fares, fuel and safety as mandated by the transport department, and that there should be a cap on fares. Ola and Uber are facing increased scrutiny from authorities over aspects of fare pricing and passenger safety. Ola’s Ride-hailing app. has applied for a city taxi licence in New Delhi under the Ola Fleet name. Industry sources claim that Ola is doing so to stay ahead of its competitor Uber. In August 2015, the Delhi Government introduced the city taxi scheme, urging mobile app-based taxi aggregators to come under the legal framework and register themselves for continuing operations in the National Capital Region. Under the scheme, any one licence-holder cannot register more than 2,500 cars and needs to follow conditions such as installation of GPS devices, taxi meters and fare regulation. The licence-holder should ensure that every taxi is a motor cab with a valid fitness certificate issued by the transport department, is driven on clean fuel (CNG, LPG), and has an engine capacity of 600 cc and above. The seating capacity should not exceed seven, inclusive of the driver.

Companies operating over 2,500 cabs can apply for additional licences by creating new subsidiaries. Experts are of the opinion that such a move will not affect drivers in the short term. In future there is however a possibility of the drivers’ union pushing for additional incentives and minimum guarantees. Experts add that there is a need for the government to come out with a well-defined policy therefore. This will ensure that the cab-aggregators integrate with public transport. The Delhi High Court has placed restrictions on surge pricing by app-based cab-aggregators. It has also placed a cap on pricing. From August 22, 2016, cab-aggregators have been told that they cannot charge more than Rs. 23 per kilometre for their big cars. It has also been told that they cannot charge more than Rs.12.5 per kilometre on economy services. This in effect places a cap on surge pricing as against doing away with it completely. Calling for the entire National Capital Region (NCR) to be treated as one entity, the court has acknowledged that cab-aggregators help to reduce pressure on the public transport system, and are providing more options to the commuter. It has however underlined the need for a uniform policy to be devised by the government as a regulator. The court has asked the committee appointed by the Centre to draft regulations for cab-aggregators, and to file a report within three months after consulting all stakeholders, including the Delhi Government.

Karnataka notified rules for cab-aggregators in April. The Karnataka On-Demand Transportation Technology Aggregators Rules, 2016, makes it mandatory for cabs to operate with digital meters capable of printing receipts. In July 2016 Ola got a licence to operate as an ‘on-demand transportation aggregator’ in Bengaluru. Uber’s application was rejected by the government, claiming incomplete paperwork. In Telangana, Uber has teamed up with the state government to come out with ‘own your car’ scheme. Launched in association with Backward Classes Welfare Corporation and Tribal Welfare Corporation, the scheme provides financial assistance to candidates from backward classes and scheduled tribes to become cab operators. The government will provide 60 per cent upfront subsidy on the on-road price of a commercial car (select models only). Uber will assist the department in qualification and selection of the beneficiaries, coordinating with the financiers and dealers and subsequently provide training to them on technology, navigation, driver etiquette and other soft skills. In Bengal, cab-aggregators have another challenge to face. Their licenses stand suspended if they fail to comply with regulations to improve passenger safety. The state’s transport department has mandated that taxis be fitted with cameras and a panic button which passengers can use to alert the police in the event of an emergency. Both Ola and Uber at first are required to obtain a license from the transport department to operate in Kolkata. Uber, it is claimed, has not been able to expand its fleet in Kolkata with the transport department not issuing new licences for cabs. At the other end, taxi operators are known to have been offered technological support to set up their own aggregator. The plan is yet to materialise. If and when it does, the cab-aggregators may have to look up and check their speed.

popular-yellow-cabs-of-kolkata-copy

Riding to sustenance and growth

MSRTC is tapping new opportunities to keep growing, and to improve its ability to sustain.

Story by: Ashish Bhatia

img_5618-copy

The Maharastra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) bus stop at Dadar is always crowded. People board ‘Shivneri’ air-conditioned buses from the cramped stand under the Dadar TT flyover to go to Pune. One bus leaves every 15 minutes, and is destined to Pune station bus terminus or the Swargate bus terminus. Named after a historic fort in the state of Maharashtra where Shivaji was born, the Shivneri buses make a promising mode of travel; they are comfortable and fast.

Archana, a frequent traveller, is headed to Pune for her training, and has just bought a Shivneri bus ticket for Rs. 520. Her bus will leave in another 10 minutes. Not more than 50 m away, Mr. Kulkarni is standing in a queue to buy a ticket to go to Pune for the non air-conditioned Hirkani bus of MSRTC. The ticket costs Rs. 240. Another 50 m away from Archana is Rajesh. He is on the way to Uran, and is waiting for a ‘red’ ordinary bus. Catering to the transport needs of the people of Maharashtra, MSRTC operates 18,150 buses out of 607 bus stations and 3632 pickup sheds.

Some 20 minutes later, daftly cutting through Mumbai’s traffic, the Shivneri, with Archana onboard, is cruising on the creek bridge leading into Navi Mumbai. Kulkarni’s Hirkani semi-luxury bus has just left the stand and is taking a U-turn under the Dadar TT flyover. Rajesh’s bus for Uran has arrived, and he is boarding it. Having got down from the suburban train at Dadar railway station, Savita has walked for two minutes to where Rajesh is boarding the bus. Her ‘red’ ordinary bus to Dapodi is expected to arrive in another 15 minutes. The ‘red’ ordinary buses, fondly termed as ‘Laal Daba’ in Marathi, have been the identity of MSRTC from the time the organisation came into existence. Established in 1948, MSRTC, called as Bombay State Road Transport Corporation initially, runs 15,962 ‘red’ ordinary buses. They form the core of MSRTC’s opration even today. Starting operation with 36 Bedford buses in 1948, MSRTC operates 18,150 buses. Besides 15,962 ‘red’ ordinary buses, it operates 23 Shivneri Volvos, 949 Hirkanis, 592 Yashwant midi buses, 13 Sheetal AC luxury buses, two Ashwamedh Volvos, 73 hired Volvos and 536 city buses. It also operates 35 auto-transmission Scanias as Shivneris, and five multi-axle Scanias on long routes.

The bus Savita boards for Dapodi is a Ashok Leyland. Its body was built at MSRTC’s Aurangabad (Chikalthana) bus body shop. Building most of the buses it operates, MSRTC has bus body shops at Pune (Dapodi) and Nagpur (Hingna) besides Aurangabad. It is only the new breed of buses, the Scanias and Volvos, which come in a ready to operate form. Feeling cold, Archana looks up to the AC louvre built into the hat rack. She tries to turn it away, but it fails. The charging socket on the bus isn’t working either. For the money she has paid, Archana expects better service. To improve the service standards is one of the challenges that MSRTC is facing. Transporting 67 lakh people per day, it recorded a drop in the passenger count in FY2014-15 over FY2010-11 at 245 crore people and 253 crore people respectively. Operating 37416 routes, the drop is attributed to the arrival of private players. Ironically, the last time Archana took a private Volvo to Pune her experience was far from good. It felt like she was on a tour of the two cities as the bus took a circuitous and slow route out of Mumbai and into Pune.

img_5519-copy

The challenge of sustenance

MSRTC earned a revenue of Rs. 7038.43 crore in FY2014-15 from travellers, Rs. 23.26 crore was from other traffic revenue streams, and a sum of Rs. 196.97 crore was the non-operating revenue. The total earning for FY2014-15 was Rs. 7,258.66 crore. Not bad, but not the best, claim industry experts. They draw attention to the fact that MSRTC is incurring loses since 2012. The last time MSRTC made profit was in 2012. The year 2012 was the sixth year the organisation made profit. The loss in FY2014-15 was Rs. 391 crore.

While the arrival of private players, and their capability to offer better service may be a reason for travellers migrating away from MSRTC, the fact is, the organisation has seen a rise in employee expenditure and fuel costs. The total employee strength of MSRTC is 1,07,500. Inclusive of in-house and external training costs, expenditure on staff amounted to 38.76 per cent in FY2014-15; 34.01 per cent expenditure was on diesel and engine oil, and 4.85 per cent was on stores, repairs and reconditioning. Expenditure amounting to 11.81 per cent was incurred on passenger tax, motor vehicle tax and other taxes. Expenditure of 10.57 per cent was on account of depreciation, interest, insurance among other miscellaneous expenses. Paying Rs. 5.5 lakh tax per bus per year as compared to Rs. 2.5 lakh paid by a private operator, MSRTC has seen the running costs for the fleet per kilometre double. The costs have gone up from Rs. 19.39 in FY2005-06 to Rs. 37.89 in FY2014-15. Hinting at the social obligation his organisation is expected to fulfill, Ranjit Singh Deol, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, MSRTC, avers that his organisation has earned the loyalty of its passengers, especially rural passengers. He adds, “We cannot overlook our priority to fulfill social obligations towards the welfare of the people from different stratas of the society.” Offering concession to travellers from different stratas of the society during FY2014-15, over 50 per cent of the seats on a given route are reserved for various categories of passengers. This translates into 22 seats out the 44 seats a bus has. Some 625 buses operating in 125 tehsils of 22 districts are said to provide free of cost travel to school girls up to 12th standard under the ‘Manav Vikas Yojana’. The government reimburses for such allocation but at a later date. Till then, the MSRTC has to bear the costs.

img_20150220_110950216_hdr-copy

Manpower

MSRTC employees make it what it is. Wages of MSRTC employees are claimed to be not on the higher side of the industry standard. MSRTC employees find it difficult to sustain, yet their dedication does not waver. Contributing money towards the ‘welfare fund’, and towards ‘family welfare’ scheme, the employees have seen their workload rise. A committee under a retired secretary level officer to study the wage structure has been constituted, claim industry sources. Awareness about difficulties the employees face is growing. The rupee-one lakh financial assistance given to the legal heirs of a deceased employee is looked upon as a good development. During FY2014-15, an assistance of Rs. 3.73 crore was given in 373 cases. Over 44 driver counselors are working on a honorary basis. In FY2014-15, 4820 drivers were counseled.

img_5702-copy

Apart from employee satisfaction and care, MSRTC is working on enhancing organisation efficiency without losing the ‘value for money’ proposition it offers. Expresses Deol, that there is a need to offer services that are comparable with some of the best private players in the industry, and at an affordable price. He adds, “Service at a tangible cost could be a simple math for a private operator, for us it is not. We are a ‘no-profit-no-loss’ undertaking, and therefore cannot engage in dynamic pricing like a private operator would.” MSRTC’s road toll expenditure amounts to a significant Rs. 142 crore. It has been a bone of contention between the STU and the state government. Consuming 10 lakh litre of diesel per day, which is supplied by Indian Oil Corporation at market rates, the operational cost of MSRTC for FY2014-15 was Rs. 7893.66 crore. Non-operational cost was Rs. 69.05 crore, and loan outstanding was in the region of Rs. 236.02 crore.

Claimed to be one of the largest STUs in India, the initial ratio of capital investment from central and state government in MSRTC was of the ratio 1:2. This operative model was scrapped in 1994. From 1994, the entire capital investment was converted into equity shares. Says Deol, that the corporation, as of current, is not entitled to any capital investment. Ten per cent out of the 17.5 per cent passenger tax collected, he adds, is ploughed back. Earlier it was five per cent. Cumulatively, Rs. 3000 crore has been the investment of the state government till now. Informs Deol, “The inflow and outflow in terms of cash management is neck-to-neck.” To ensure that loyalty towards its buses is not lost, MSRTC is reviewing its polices and contemplating their quick implementation. The idea is to increase the traveller count. Under the ‘Balasaheb Thakare Apaghat Sahayyata Nidhi, accident insurance will be increased to Rs. 10 lakh from rupees two lakh. To win more travellers, early this year, a decision to operate 500 air-conditioned buses was taken. These buses, states Deol, will ply under the ‘Shivshahi’ scheme.

img-20160203-wa0006-copy

Shivshahi

The 500 air-conditioned buses under the ‘Shivshahi’ scheme will be leased from private operators. They are expected to be deployed on routes leading into and out of Marathwada and Vidharba. Other regions will be also visited, but the priority is on these two regions. Shivshahi fares are expected to be 20 per cent cheaper than those of the Shivneri. They will be higher than the non AC Hirkani. Considering the significant expenditure MSRTC has made a representation to the government for exemption from road toll. Road toll in Maharashtra is among the highest in the country, and their number is also quite high, claim industry sources. Giving an example of the stretch between Pune and Satara, they add, the quality of road is also bad. Even highways like the Mumbai-Goa highway, where a bridge washed away in the rains, and took with it two MSRTC ‘red’ buses, are in bad shape. Citing that the roads connecting smaller towns and villages in Konkan and many parts of Maharashtra are in a highly deplorable state, sources mention that for an organisation like MSRTC it should be painful. They incur toll costs and high maintenance costs.

To ensure that its buses meet the Bus Code norms that have been implemented, MSRTC has fitted new Hirkani buses with comfortable 2×2 reclining seats. There’s more space between two rows. Rear suspension is pneumatic. Likely to provide women a reservation of 10 seats in the Shivneri, MSRTC, to reduce fuel costs, is taking measures like route-wise fixation of vehicles, speed governance, driver incentive and training drivers, and better maintenance of the vehicle. It is aware that a 10 per cent fuel saving translates into Rs. 259 crore worth of savings. A simulator training centre at Nagpur with the help of Western India Automobile Association has been established. For Bus Code compliance, MSRTC has entered into an agreement with CIRT, Pune. MSRTC constructed two bus bodies on Tata and Leyland chassis each and obtained the (Bus Code) type approval certificate from CIRT. Additional bus bodies are being built in compliance with the AIS:052 code in the three MSRTC facilities.

img_5575-copy

Other revenue sources

Tapping into additional revenue sources including ads on the back of the bus ticket, renting out hoardings and bus banners, 20 second slots per minute on passenger information screens, and display of two wheelers and farm equipment on specially designated platforms, MSRTC is looking at 30 bus terminals to take the lead in helping it to generate additional revenue. States Deol, “The extra revenue measures we are looking at will be not on Build Operate Transfer (BOT) basis.” BOT, he feels, will shift the focus from enhancing passenger amenities to exploiting depots for commercial interests. An estimated Rs. 2000 crore will be allocated towards building 13 new bus ports in-line with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) plan to build multi-storeyed bus ports that are expected to replace existing bus terminus. A project management consultancy firm has been appointed for the same and the Request For Proposals (RFP) are expected to be out by May 2017. The ports will be built on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) basis according to Deol. Some 30 architects have been given a free hand to plan what should make ports that are attractive to travellers. They should be future-ready too. A sum of Rs. 100 crore has been assigned for redevelopment of 41 bus stations. Other expenses that MSRTC will incur, include fitting of CCTV cameras, passenger information systems, workflow automation based on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Buses would be fitted with GPS to optimise their utilisation; they will be also equipped with in-house Wi-Fi entertainment pack. Considering the pan-India implementation of BS IV emission norms by April 2017, MSRTC is inducting new buses. The cost of these buses will be inclusive of training drivers and mechanics to deal with the electronics and other advanced systems onboard the buses. Rear air suspension has been successful in Hirkani buses. Their success is encouraging MSRTC to extend them to the ‘red’ ordinary buses.

Opportunity for growth

MSRTC buses cover 57.12 lakh kilometres per day, a fact that is unknown to Vivek who is waiting for a bus to Gondakhairi at the Ravi Nagar stand in Nagpur. Ashok, waiting for a bus to Tuljapur at the Latur Bus stand is unaware of this fleet as well. So is Manisha, who is at the Islampur bus stand to take a bus to Kolhapur. Neither does Bhiku, who is waiting for a bus ride to Jawhar from Mokhada. Over 67 lakh people ride the MSRTC fleet every day. The buses operate at 70 per cent capacity according to Deol. He avers, “The challenge we face is like the chicken and egg story. If we should wait for the traveller count to go up and then add capacity, or should we add capacity for the passenger count to go up.” Deol is expecting the fleet count to increase to 25000 in the next three years. This is inclusive of a fleet that will be dedicated to offerings like logistics services. Load utilisation can go up to 90 per cent from the current 70 per cent. The organisation is currently plying up to 14-tonne vehicles. It is now looking at elevating this number to 17-tonnes.

Over 92.41 per cent of the MSRTC operations were by the ‘red’ ordinary buses; 6.57 per cent were by the semi-luxury Hirkani buses, and a mere 1.01 per cent were by the AC buses. Decommissioning 13 per cent buses on an average every year, in FY2014-15, MSRTC commissioned 675 new buses, re-body built 117 buses and reconditioned 1506 buses. Of the 1329 chassis that were purchased in FY2014-15, 768 were of Tata make and 561 were of the Ashok Leyland make. According to Deol, the organisation will purchase 244 bus chassis from Eicher in 2016 to build ‘red’ ordinary bus bodies. Rural focus continues to be the motto of MSRTC even as it invests in a modern bus fleet for inter-city and long distance services. Concludes Deol, “We are confident of negating competition from private players. Our endeavor is to take a holistic approach, and to address all the touch points.”

CAPTION

ð The ‘red’ ordinary bus of MSRTC has been its prime identity. These buses number 15,962.

ï Ranjit Singh Deol, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, MSRTC.

ò Hirkani is MSRTC’s semi-luxury service. On the Mumbai-Pune route it is called as ‘Nim-Aram’.

ñ Under the ‘Shivshahi’ scheme 500 air-conditioned buses will be leased.

ñ ‘Ashwamedh’ marks the premium luxury service brand of MSRTC.

DTC: Modern and dependable

The Delhi Transport Corporation operates a modern and dependable bus fleet, which is also the world’s biggest CNG fleet.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

1-copy-5x7

I am returning home. A red coloured air-conditioned low floor entry bus rolls to a stop in front of me, outside the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Even at 8 am, the temperature is no more than 10 degree Celsius. It is the winter season. Inside the bus, it is warm. A part of the express service, the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) operates, the low entry rear-engine Tata Marcopolo bus, moves away with alacrity. I walk over to the ticket issuer, seated like a maharaja with an electronic ticket vending machine. He looks at me without interest, takes the money and hands me the ticket. The journey lasts for an hour and a half as the bus comes to a halt in front of Delhi railway station, past the picturesque Connaught Place, former location of the headquarters of the British Raj built in 1933, and developed as a showpiece of Lutyens’ Delhi with a prominent Central Business District. The low floor height makes it easy for me to alight. The level of occupancy, I remember, was neither too high nor too low. It may perhaps have to do with the fare structure of this particular route. The bus, capable of a refined and comfortable ride, is part of the 4168 buses that DTC runs in the National Capital Region.

Estimated to cater to 1.8 crore people, DTC has been managing world’s biggest Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) powered fleet. Ferrying close to three and a half million passengers daily by operating 4168 buses on 550 routes, DTC, tracing its roots to May 1948 when the Indian Government, under the aegis of the Ministry of Transport took over the local bus services of Delhi, called as the Delhi Transport Service then, and operated by a licensee, the Gwalior and Northern India Transport Company Ltd., has held its own despite competition from modern medias like the Delhi Metro. Constituted under the Road Transport Corporation Act, 1950, and named as the Delhi Transport Corporation under the Road Transport Corporation Act, 1950, DTC, under the Delhi Government continues to be a dependable mode of public transport for the people of Delhi National Capital Region.

800px-dtc_bus_green_non_ac-copy 800px-dtc_normal_bus-copy

Dependable transport

Claiming to transport close to 2.7 million people everyday, Delhi Metro may have succeeded in diverting a good chunk of Delhi’s travelling population away from the overburdened roads of Delhi, it has not managed to take away the task of last mile connectivity that DTC has been doing. Each DTC bus, on an average, travels 210 km per day. According to Dr. R.S. Minhas, DTC spokesperson, the aim is to do a cumulative 10 lakh kms everyday. “Over 90 per cent of this is covered regularly by our fleet, which undertakes 40,000 trips,” he mentions. Over 80 per cent of the DTC buses operate on time. The rest are affected by traffic congestion, and seldom by staff shortage. Supported by Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland, the DTC fleet comprises of front and rear engine buses. There are 1275 rear engine low floor air conditioned buses (painted red), and 2506 low floor non air-conditioned buses (painted bright green). Both bus types comply with the JNNURM scheme. Each low floor bus has a seating capacity of 33. It can accommodate 20 standees. The 387 standard floor buses (yellow coloured) that DTC operates were converted to CNG when the first phase of environmental reforms were rolled out. Most have surpassed DTC’s norm of five-lakh kms and eight years of life. They will soon be phased out according to Dr. Minhas.

Better, greener future

Delhi’s reputation as the most polluted city in the world has ensured that DTC looks at new bus technologies which assure a better and greener future. Expresses Dr. Minhas, “DTC shifted to CNG and followed up with the introduction of low floor rear engine buses.” New, advanced technologies, he adds, are good for public transport as they ensure better sustainability and comfort. If and how the quest for new technologies will help DTC to counter the problem of traffic congestion is the question. For traffic congestion in Delhi can be frustrating. Transport analysts claim that DTC buses, with varying frequency, operate within a range of five to 30 minutes depending upon passenger traffic and route requirement. Traffic congestion adds to their operating time, and the interval between two buses rise. Dr. Minhas is aware of this, and expresses, “It is only when the public will get buses without delay, will they be more willing to shift to public transport.” He claims that one bus can take up to 60 cars off the city roads. He pointing at the odd-even vehicle formula the Delhi Government experimented with twice. It resulted in the travel time of the people of Delhi going down by over 50 per cent according to Dr. Minhas. “The distance covered by DTC buses went up by 98 per cent almost. People were very happy because they were getting buses on time,” he adds.

Subject to extreme weather fluctuations (temperatures can reach 47-50 degree Celsius in summer and close to zero degree Celsius in winter), DTC buses endure a lot of pain. Yet they continue to be a cheaper and comfortable means of travel for many. Operating out of 43 depots, the biggest being the Millennium bus depot on the banks of river Yamuna with a parking space for 800 buses, DTC, in its quest for a greener future, trialed a fully electric bus from BYD recently. Covering 225 kms on a full charge, the battery of the bus takes six hours to be charged fully. “We tested the bus for 16,915 km across different routes (for four months) with heavy and light passenger traffic. We tested the performance of the bus. The operational cost of the bus turned out to be Rs.17.25 per km, almost three-rupees cheaper than that of a CNG bus,” reveals Dr. Minhas. He opines that despite being passenger, driver and environmentally friendly, the initial cost of the bus, which is three times the cost of a conventional bus, is a matter of concern. Surprisingly, the battery does not need replacement for the entire life cycle almost. “At DTC, we are always keen to imbibe the latest technological advancements in bus body designs, engine equipment, technology, systems, etc to be able to provide commuters a comfortable and efficient bus service,” avers Dr. Minhas.

img_2413-copy

A day in the life of DTC

Transporting 3.5 million commuters everyday, DTC employs 18000 people. The work schedule at DTC stretches over two shifts, and 16 hours. For efficient operation, the equation works such that behind every bus that runs are 7.05 employees. Each bus has 2.65 drivers. Close to 700 DTC buses also double up as school buses. Avers Dr. Minhas, “A DTC bus doubling up as school bus, post student drop off, resumes its public duties from the nearest depot”. He adds, “The peak hour starts at 8 am; DTC buses however start plying from 6 am in the morning.” For efficient operation, up to 11000 buses may be required on any given day. To achieve this goal, the state government sought the services of Delhi Integrated Multi-modal Transit System (DIMTS), a joint venture (JV) established in 2004 between Infrastructure Development Finance Company Ltd (IDFC) and Delhi Government. DIMTS divided Delhi’s 600 bus routes into 17 clusters, and selected private operators through bidding for each cluster. Agreements for seven clusters have been signed. DIMTS is operating 1200 buses according to Dr. Minhas. “Both, DTC and DIMTS, have agreed to follow a joint timetable for consistency in services. Overlapping of two buses on same route is unavoidable due to traffic,” he states.

In an effort to travel to Gurgaon, I wait for a bus at Maharani Bagh. It turns out to be a long wait before the bus arrives. When it does, it is so crowded that getting in is no less than an athletic activity. I somehow manage, and then start hunting for the ticket issuer. Like a maharaja he is seated in some obscure corner. I struggle to get to him; get my pursue out, and hand him the fare charge. I feel like I have won an Olympic gold medal after he hands me the ticket. A chat with commuters reveals that they have to wait for long for the bus to arrive. So, I am not alone. I start thinking if increasing the bus count to 11000 will make a profound difference? Expresses a commuter I speak to, that in a non air-conditioned bus, it can get difficult to breathe during peak hour. Another commuter draws my attention to DTC wanting its commuters to alight from the front. Reaching the front in an overcrowded bus is impossible he reasons. It gets suffocating in winters, he adds. If the views of DTC bus travellers indicate the issues they face, it is easy to understand why preference for cab aggregators like Ola and Uber is rising.

img_1119-copy

Managing the operations

DTC’s office at Scindia House manages the operation of buses. The operation schedule is sent to respective bus depots. And, the depots take over the bus operation. Driver and conductor matching is done at the depot level. Every depot has a time keeper. His job is to manage bus segregation. His job is also to time the buses coming in and going out of the depot. In each zone, DTC has also placed one regional manager for checking ticket-less travel. “Each manager has four vans which are deployed to check ticket-less travel. This is done not only through regular checks, but also through surprise checks across regions,” explains Dr. Minhas. DTC, with an employee strength of 18000, apart from serving the transportation needs of Delhi, also operates the Delhi to Lahore air-conditioned luxury coaches. These ply thrice a week according to Dr. Minhas. The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation bus also travels to Delhi thrice a week – on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. DTC also operates a bus to Kathmandu, Nepal, regularly.

img_2444-copy

Minimising breakdowns

A whopping 400 breakdowns (on an average daily) were reported last year. In many cases, the break downs triggered traffic jams. To minimise breakdowns, DTC has put in place a plan. States Dr. Minhas, “Irrespective of the bus route origin and destination, any breakdown of a DTC bus across the city is attended to by a team of mechanics from the nearest depot. This is closely supported by allocation of annual maintenance contracts. “AMC contracts allow us to concentrate on strengthening our services and penalising manufacturers for every breakdown of the bus,” explains Dr. Minhas. Tata Motors and DTC joined hands recently to ensure breakdown free operation of Tata buses in the DTC fleet. Under the initiative, the buses are attended to during their rest period at night. Standard buses are maintained by DTC. A team of 30 people control and keep a bird’s eye view on the maintenance contracts being executed by manufacturers for preventive measures. The team also also keeps tab of the inventory.

Expanding horizons

Despite having the space to park up to 5500 buses, DTC is developing five depots – Seemapuri, Hari Nagar, Wazirabad, Kingsway camp, as pilot projects to double deck park buses using a system developed by PWD. “It will increase the parking capacity of depots by 1.5 times. If it turns out to be successful, we have already earmarked 31 depots out of 43 for double deck parking,” states Dr. Minhas. To support such initiatives, DTC is evaluating ways to increase its earnings. Since 2009, the fare structure has not been revised. Stress therefore is on increasing non traffic revenue through streams like bus ad wrap, depot boundary ad wrap, advertisement LCDs in depots, etc. Not having procured new buses for sometime now, DTC, according to Dr. Minhas, may need to invest in midi-buses considering the rising traffic congestion. “There are many places in Delhi which are always choked because of heavy traffic and where bigger buses take time to transit. Midi-buses at such places can be used, and also at rural areas where passenger travel is less,” he adds. DTC, he reveals, is in the process of procuring low floor buses. Midi-buses may take time.

Going digital

DTC has been technologically upgrading its services with initiatives like electronic ticketing machines and surveillance cameras. Post a few months of testing, the entire DTC fleet will shift to electronic ticketing machines (ETM) for fare collection. Pilot operation is currently on in Rajghat depot and Rohini depot 1 according to Dr. Minhas. Entire fleet conversion should happen by the end of October, he states. This would also help DTC to syndicate with Delhi Metro for fare collection. Delhi Metro card will be usable for fare collection in a DTC bus. “Testing for prepaid fare collection from Delhi Metro cards has brought in good results, and the integrated system will ensure transactions that are segregated in a central clearing house automatically at a certain time slot every day,” states Dr. Minhas. He also points out at CCTVs installed in over 2000 DTC buses on pilot basis. Each bus has three cameras, at front, in the middle and at the rear. These are controlled from the Sarojini Nagar and Rajghat depots. “The control room keeps the footage for one month. Complaint-based footages are kept as records for longer. In the next two years, all DTC buses will be fitted with CCTV cameras. For women security, we have deployed 8000 marshals in uniforms, especially during late night travel,” informs Dr. Minhas. He adds, “There are plans to launch full fledged public information system. We are also gearing up to offer app. based public information, in-bus information system and also information visibility at bus shelters. This will happen in less than two years. We are laying much stress on system stability.”

Vital workforce

DTC drivers are selected through a stringent selection program. They are also subjected to training. It is the same for conductors too. The two are also sensitised about behaviour towards commuters. In case a driver does get involved in an accident, he is charged a token by the DTC as a deterrent. Well aware that the drivers and conductors form a vital workforce of the organisation, DTC, last year, started hiring women drivers. They too are subjected to a stringent selection criteria, and have to undergo training at the Nand Nagri training centre. Out of the seven women drivers who applied, one has been recruited till date. Her name is Venkadarath Saritha, and she is from Telangana. DTC has 250 women conductors. The number of drivers and conductors in DTC is 11,007 and 11,488 respectively. This is inclusive of permanent and contractual employees. According to Dr. Minhas, the undertaking has a shortage of 210 drivers. Once DTC upgrades its fleet, this number is expected to rise.

Working towards delivering a pleasant experience, it is clear that DTC is working on a slew of measures to stay modern and dependable. Concludes Dr. Minhas, that people should understand that DTC buses are their own property. They should not be damaged.

caption

ñ (top) Low floor rear engine non AC buses have been a crucial mode of transport for masses in Delhi; (bottom) Standard floor buses are expected to be phased out by this year end.

ñ Despite facing heavy competition from Delhi Metro, DTC continues to be the face of mass transport in Delhi.

ð Dr. R.S. Minhas, DTC Spokesperson opines that timely technological advancements are important for a comfortable bus service.

ò DTC’s Millennium bus depot near Yamuna is the biggest among 43 DTC depots, handles 800 buses

ò DIMTS buses (centre) are of crucial support to DTCs fleet of 4168 buses.

Chennai MTC mulls a makeover

Chennai MTC is increasing its fleet strength by adding ordinary and small buses to establish better connectivity and to increase the efficiency of operations.

Story by: Anusha B

chennai-broadway-bus-terminus-copy

The T Nagar bus terminus is ten minutes away from the office I step out of. The meeting went well, and the young manager of the company I went to meet treated me well, spoke to me at length, and was courteous. It is the beginning of summer, and it is quiet warm and humid in Chennai. Conceived as a residential locality, T Nagar has turned into a business district better known for its saree shops and jewellery showrooms. The bus terminus off Usman Road that I am headed to, is a hub for services operating to Thiruverkadu, Mylapore, Kodambakkam, Avadi, Nungambakkam, Parrys Corner, Ennore, Manali, Tambaram, Poonamallee, Thiruvanmiyur, Ambattur, Pattabiram and Annanagar. There are also routes to various neighbouring districts like Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur that go from here. Operating under the aegis of the (Chennai) Metropolitan Transport Corporation, which employs an estimated 24,587 people, the T Nagar bus terminus is always bustling with travellers. I want to take a bus to Koyambedu. The route 27c bus arrives in some time. I climb the bus; it is crowded. The bus gets moving after a while and exits the terminus. The traffic on the road forces the driver to drive slowly. Unable to get a seat, I manage to secure a place with two other lady commuters in the front section of the bus. The crowd swells as the bus moves along the route. Many office goers are returning home.

Changing with times

With its roots dating back to 1947 when the Government of Madras nationalised the passenger transport for the first time by introducing 30 buses in the then city of Madras, the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (Chennai) Ltd., is popularly termed as Chennai MTC by the people of the city. Operating buses alongside those that were run by private operators, it was in 1972 that the departmental setup was transformed into a company in order to inculcate a commercial approach without sacrificing the social responsibilities. Thus, Pallavan Transport Corporation Limited was formed under the companies Act, 1956, by the Government of Tamil Nadu on January 01, 1972, with a fleet strength of 1029 buses. The fleet strength gradually increased. So did the population of the city. By 1994, the fleet strength reached 2332 buses. Pallavan Transport Corporation Limited was bifurcated as Dr. Ambedkar Transport Corporation Limited and Palaver Transport Corporation Limited on January 19, 1994. The south of the Chennai Metropolitan City from EVR Periyar road came under the operational jurisdiction of the Pallavan Transport Corporation Limited, and the North of Chennai Metropolitan City from EVR Periyar Road (including EVR Periyar Road) came under the operational jurisdiction of the Dr. Ambedkar Transport Corporation Limited.

image-01-copy

In June 1997, the two were renamed as MTC division 1 and MTC division 2. To make the corporations viable and for better administrative control, MTC division 1 and MTC division 2 were amalgamated in 2001. By 2003, the Chennai MTC came to have a fleet strength of 2773 buses that operated out of 23 depots. The Chennai MTC also came to have a body building unit at Chromepet, a ticket printing press at K.K Nagar and a reconditioning unit at Patullos Road. During FY2003, 117 buses were purchased to replace aging buses. The Chennai MTC fleet strength in 2009 was 3,260 with 25 depots. Today the fleet strength of the organisation is an estimated 7456 buses that ply along 838 routes and cover a distance 3,929 sq. km around Chennai. Serving an average of 5.2 million people per day, the 7456 buses that the Chennai MTC is estimated to operate include ordinary service buses of Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland make; semi-floor buses of Ashok Leyland make mostly (later buses were included under the JNNURM scheme); vestibule buses of Ashok Leyland make having two conductors as they can accommodate almost double of what a conventional bus does; air-conditioned buses of Volvo make that run on select routes (and are estimated to be 100 in number), and small buses of Tata Motors make that connect Chennai with surrounding mofussil areas. Chennai MTC is also said to have 10 double decker buses!

According to Chennai MTC, the buses are segregated as ordinary services with white board and black letters; L.S.S. or PP services with yellow board and black letters; express services with white board and green letters; deluxe services with white board and green letters; deluxe services with green board and blue letters; M services with white board and blue letters, and night services with black board and white letters. Claim sources that MTC has an established transportation planning division, which prepares route plans and schedules for the operation of buses. Specials are also operated during fairs and festivals, they add. The Chennai MTC is also known to operate district services, night services, late hour services and night service to serves the needs of a diverse nature of commuters including those that work in the film industry. For monitoring the operation of buses, MTC has posted time keepers at terminals. There are traffic officers with wireless set that are mobile. MTC also has checking squads, which function round the clock to monitor ticket-less travel and crew behaviour.

The journey

It takes an hour for the bus to reach Koyambedu. I alight, and so do many other commuters. For me and all those who have alighted alongwith me, the Chennai MTC has come to play a vital role in shaping our lives. Operating buses out of 32 depots, with an average parking capacity of 200 buses each, Chennai MTC operates the most buses out of the Chromepet Tambaram depot amounting to 200 in number. Boasting of having the highest occupancy ratio among Indian city buses at 84.35 per cent, each bus of the Chennai MTC is claimed to carry on an average 72 people including 24 standees. This may perhaps make it easy to explain the biggest challenge I face every time I travel in a MTC bus. During peak hours, it is not unusual to have the bus to Koyambedu fill up to the brim. It croaks and moans as it moves. With commuters hanging for dear life, it does not make a pretty site. Bus intervals over the last few years have gone up, I feel. The reason behind this, I am told, is the aging bus population of MTC. Old over aged buses are being replaced with new buses, but this is putting a certain constraint on MTC. My experience is, the staff that communicates with the commuters could be trained to be more responsive and sensitive. I am aware that they work long hours, and six days a week, they would however do with a smile on their face as they interact with commuters. Providing services even on holidays and Sundays, which is perhaps a fact that office goers like me fail to recognise, the ticket issuer, I feel, has quiet a job to manage of the overcrowded bus. The organisation, claim sources, conducts special counseling and yoga sessions for its employees.

image-07-copy

Challenges

Buses in India carry a certain socialist agenda, it is no secret. It is also no secret that many city bus undertakings are incurring losses. The reasons could be many, claim sources. Many times, undertakings end up operating buses on routes that may not be sustainable. This is simply because they are under pressure from the political class to have buses going to their constituencies, or through their constituencies. Incurring losses, the Chennai MTC, hiked fares in 2012. The per km revenue of the organisation increased from 20 to 28. The revenue went up from Rs. 2.2 crore per day to Rs.3.1 crore per day. The patronage however fell. The commuter count shrunk to an estimated 52 lakh from 56 lakh. Surprisingly, the revenue of Southern Railways went up as more commuters turned to the suburban trains. Increasing its fleet strength since 2012, one of the challenges that MTC faces is to be profitable and to have sustainable operations. Said to have a per day collection to the tune of Rs.30.2 million as of today, MTC’s challenge, apart from making profit, would be to be looked upon as an agile organisation.

Providing 50 per cent concession tickets to students, including those that are studying in colleges, technical institutions and medical colleges, MTC also provides concessional tickets to students of evening colleges and part-time education institutions. A chunk of MTC’s income comes from provision of chartered trips, luggage fee for bags that weigh more than 5 kgs, fish baskets and by giving buses on hire to government departments and private parties.

The small buses that the MTC has, have begun playing a role as feeder services to plug the gaps, albeit as the Metro gains in form and mass. The MTC is said to have not yet been integrated with the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) since some of the MRTS stations are located away from bus stops which makes transfers difficult. To connect the city with important travel terminals like the airport, the MTC has engineered bus routes like 18A and 18B. Route 18B has air-conditioned buses plying on it. Chennai MTC, from the airport, offers services that connect with various parts of the city. Many airport passengers and airport employees are known to use these services. The bus stop is close to the international terminal.

img_20150617_095702825-copy

The number of women travellers in MTC has been growing. They often make a soft target for harassment by rude male commuters. It can also get uncomfortably hot and sweaty in the bus, especially during summers. Roughly 65 per cent of the people in Chennai travel by buses, and the rest travel by the suburban trains. The second (8 km) leg of the Metro was recently inaugurated. It along with the earlier 14 km leg is not capable of taking a lot of people off Chennai’s roads, I am told. The Metro is operating in a region of the city that simply does not see as much people travel as do people in other areas. Ironically, an overcrowded bus in peak hours is a sharp reality. Its very appearance can typify that. The slant has become the natural pose after years of carrying passengers on the footboards. A Union Ministry report is claimed to reveal that MTC has the most crowded buses in the country with 1,300 passengers travelling per bus per day. The report titled Review of the Performance of State Road Transport Undertakings (Passenger Services) for April 2014-March 2015 mentions that the Chennai MTC carried the highest number of passengers per bus per day during 2014-15. Sources point out that the on-going replacement of over aged buses is causing overcrowding. Close to 57 per cent of Chennai MTC’s fleet is said to be overaged. New buses are joining the fleet, but it will take time before intervals between two buses on a route come down. Industry experts claim that overcrowding and accidents is an issue that could be resolved with better route planning. Several routes are quite long and not effectively utilised, they add. An article in the New Indian Express last year mentioned about the Second Master Plan Traffic and Transportation Review Committee meeting. In the meeting, a proposal to the state government to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, to permit private bus operators in the city was put forward.

Safety is one challenge that MTC is facing claim sources. They draw attention to the accident branch that MTC has opened in an effort to ensure complete safety of its commuters, staff and fellow passengers. While overcrowding of buses is said to be a reason, the other reason claim sources is the lack of road discipline among fellow road users in Chennai.

The road ahead

Rapidly growing and expanding, Chennai is one of the smart cities announced by the Centre. Setting the stage for implementing the 1,366.24 crore smart city project in Chennai, the government recently issued an order for the formation of Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), a requirement to get funds from the Union urban development ministry. The SPV for Chennai, among the top 20 cities selected for the programme, will plan, approve, release funds, implement, manage, and evaluate development under the project. An official communication from Greater Chennai Corporation has mentioned that Chennai Smart City Ltd (CSCL), formed under the Companies Act, 2013, will be promoted jointly by the state government and the corporation, both having 50:50 equity share holding. How the MTC will align under the AMRUT scheme, and the kind of allocation it will attract, will be clear over a period of time. Under the pan-city plan, smart solutions using information and communication technology have been proposed for non-motorised transport and water management. If such measures ease the pressure on Chennai MTC buses will have to be seen. The need, first and foremost, is to offer safe and comfortable means of transport to the commuters of Chennai. By replacing its fleet with modern buses, MTC it is clear, is committed to providing safe, efficient and comfortable travel to the people of Chennai.

caption

ò MTC bus connecting moffusil areas.

ðAshok Leyland make semi low floor bus at Koyambedu Junction.

ò Vestibule bus connecting Broadway and Tambaram.

ò Volvo make AC bus runs only on selected routes.

Regulatory implications on Indian bus industry

Regulatory implications on the Indian bus industry will be disruptive, and throw up unlikely winners.

Story by: V G Ramakrishnan

To say the bus industry in India is undergoing a transformation is an understatement. Regulatory changes in the form of Bus Body Code, which has been implemented in totality from October 01, 2016, and BS IV emission norms, which will come into force pan-India from April 01, 2016, are two such transformational programmes that will deeply impact the participants in the ecosystem. BS VI emission norm regulation is also on its way. It is slated for 2020, and will be yet another transformational program that will deeply impact the participants in the ecosystem. With programmes like these, there is a definitive need to study them, and to evaluate them. The top level impact the programmes like these will have on various players across the value chain. There’s a definitive requirement for deep dive assessment on the regulatory impact. As is the case with any transformational change, the impact is broad based, and as the dust settles, there will be clear winners and losers.

skypak-xl-semi-low-floor-city-bus-650-mm-copy

Adapting to change

Adapting to change is imperative. There is no option. Resistance to change or efforts to maintain a status quo will delay the inevitable. The winners in this transformation will be the consumers, and people. They will be able to avail of safer transportation mediums. With anticipated lower emissions for new vehicles, they will also get to breathe cleaner air. The impact of the regulatory changes will be primarily felt by a large number of State Government owned and operated State Transport Undertakings (STUs) and bus body builders. It is these two that will find it difficult to improve manufacturing process to meet the requirements of the bus body code.

STUs operate large bus fleets in India and the capital cost of renewing their existing bus fleet with new buses adhering to bus body code and BS4, and subsequently BS6 buses, will be significantly higher. Of the over 60 STUs in India only three STUs are profitable. State Governments fund the STUs for the operational losses (due to uneconomical ticket prices) as well as fleet purchases. Higher bus prices will lead to larger fund requirement. This will potentially impact replacement demand and push bus operators to extend the use of their existing fleet beyond the service life. Private bus operators will look towards increasing user charges to offset higher purchase price of new vehicles. Another large segment of bus buyer, educational institutions will also look to pass on the higher vehicle cost as higher prices to the consumers.

Cost impact on fleet and travellers

busservices-airavatbliss_468x280-copy

Regulatory changes apart from those that concern the body and emissions will also contribute towards a rise in the cost of buses. These include fitting of GPS, live video feeds for passenger safety, and passenger convenience features like Wi-Fi. Customers (bus travellers) should brace for higher transportation costs when using private operator fleets. In comparison, the ones that travel by public transport buses will be less impacted. Governments are expected to step in, and reduce the price impact through higher subsidies. This will however impact the finances of state governments, and lead to higher taxes on consumers. There’s also the hope of tax buoyancy through faster economic growth to offset higher subsidies.

Hike in prices is likely to compel bus operators to extend the replacement cycle. They may decide to use buses beyond their replacement age. In India implementation of regulation on vehicle fitness is generally lax, and with state governments acting as both, operator and regulator, chances of stringent implementation of fitness tests on government fleet is low. Past incidents of poorly maintained buses causing accidents have been widely reported. Many STUs do not insure their buses. This acts over and above poor maintenance as a disincentive for fleet renewal on account of insurance oversight.

The short gap between the implementation of BS IV and BS VI emission norms, and the roll out of GST, will play a part in customer decision. Government bus operators as well as the private operators are expected to be cautious in their approach to invest further. STUs make a significant chunk of sales as far as bus manufacturers are concered. The manufacturers will stand to gain if STUs and other operators decide to pre-buy; buy new buses before the BS IV and BS VI norms are implemented. There’s also a possibility of operators, given the short, three-year time gap between BS IV and BS VI, wanting to postpone the purchase of buses to a later date. They can thus evaluate the cost impact better. A critical element here will be the fleet age and the replacement requirements of bus operators.

A likely scenario is customers indulging in advance purchase. They could purchase buses ahead of the BS VI emission norms roll out. This would help them to beat the price increase. Bus manufacturers can thus expect to witness a spike in growth in specific years to be followed by suboptimal growth for intermediate period and beyond 2020. The volume growth and higher prices of buses will help OEMs to improve their earnings even as they witness growth cycles with swift reversal between growth and de-growth.

Bus Code, a mixed bag

Changing regulations, the bus body code in particular, is expected to be a mixed bag for bus body builders. Operations of unorganised and semi-organised bus body builders are expected to be severely impacted due to their inability to invest in infrastructure, equipment, R&D and people expertise to meet the standards prescribed in the bus body code. These busineses will eventually have to shut down. The shutting down of unorganised and semi-organised bus body builders will benefit the organised bus body builders, OEMs and component suppliers. The three will be able to avail of new business opportunities. They will be able to expand their capacities and increase volumes.

The transformational changes in the bus industry will be disruptive, and throw up unlikely winners. The commercial vehicle industry will be watching how the unorganised and semi organised bus body builders respond to the challenge of bus body code. Smaller companies have used ingenuity to survive, grow and thrive in a challenging environment using innovative business models. The outcome of the regulation driven changes in the bus industry will be watched with interest as it could well serve as a road map for other markets to chalk out their strategy. Epecially those markets or sectors that are likely to witness changes driven by regulations. The bigger question is, are we moving from an unorganised sector to an organised sector? And, how prepared are we for the far reaching implications that will arise?

—————————————-

V G Ramakrishnan is Managing Director and Partner of Avant Advisors LLP.