During my college days in the pre-Metro rail era, travelling in the DTC buses in Delhi was a common choice. Rather, it was the only choice available for youngsters. Then came the automobile explosion in our cities, and the four-wheeler entered our lives too. We moved to Gurgaon eight years back and with almost non-existent public transport, we had to have two cars for just two of us in the family.
It was only recently with the rapid metro reaching the city, about a ten-minute walk from our doorstep, that we started using it, especially on my trips to Delhi. My son also enjoyed the train journey, which gave him a view to the city and saved us from endless traffic snarls. But other than that, given the poor bus service in Gurgaon, one still needs a personal vehicle for going to work, ferrying the kid, running regular errands and so on.
However, in the last two months, it seems life has come full circle. I have been in Hyderabad on work these two months, without a dedicated vehicle to move around the city. Initially, for about a week, I travelled by cabs but the peak hour cancellations were quite frustrating. One day while returning from work, I hopped on to a city bus and it was an easy ride. Since then, I have been regularly using the buses here and no complaints yet! The route I have been travelling in has a decent frequency of about 6 minutes, even during peak hours.
The airport shuttle is reasonably priced with air-conditioning and comfortable seats at one-fourth the cab fare. There is one every 15 minutes, which is quite good given the fact that it is rarely utilized to full capacity. For travelling to the old Hyderabad quarters, I have used both the AC and non AC buses and it’s been hassle free.
One thing I have noticed in particular is the presence of woman ticket collectors in some routes, which is a positive step. Once I returned home at ten in the night and felt absolutely safe, as a third of the passengers were women.
Though some of these regular buses would do well with a fresh paint of coat and some repairs, Hyderabad RTC is doing a decent job. I haven’t used their mobile app yet but Google maps has been helpful in guiding us on bus numbers, timings etc.
The need for a push
Currently, Hyderabad has about 3500 city buses, which if augmented can help in reducing the numbers of private vehicles on the road.
In the last six years, two- and four-wheelers have nearly doubled and currently the city has over 50 lakh plus private vehicles. The shift to private vehicles has come about primarily in families where disposable incomes have risen, so that they can easily afford cars. But for such families to still opt for the bus during regular commute, public transport must receive a thrust. The quality of buses and support infrastructure such as walkways need an improvement. There are many busy stretches, where there are no crossings for pedestrians. These issues need to be looked at.
Most city buses here run on diesel as CNG stations and CNG supply is limited, which is an environmental concern. There is talk of replacing the old fleet with new electric buses, and linking some routes with the impending metro.
A well-implemented city bus service can go a long way in resolving the traffic deadlock in our bigger cities. Why, then, are city managers and officials bent on implementing complex and expensive solutions? The focus is mostly on road widening, grade separators, signal free movement, multi-level parking lots and so on. On the contrary, the need of the hour is to ensure an efficient public transit system, coupled with well-lit walkable streets.