Tribune News Service
Amritsar, November 18
Amritsar’s one of its kind dedicated bus service under the nomenclature of Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) is gaining momentum slowly but steadily.
To instil ‘bus culture’ among commuters of the holy city, several freebies and incentives are being offered, which have resulted in an upsurge in passengers’ count and subsequently, bus frequency, too, has been increased gradually. The scheme provides employment to around 800 persons, who are either matric pass or had basic computer knowledge.
The service was recently in news for bagging ‘award of excellence’ under the category of ‘Best Urban Transit System’ by the Union Ministry of Urban Affairs. The Punjab Bus Metro Society (PBMS), which runs the project, has 93 buses at its disposal. At present, a total of 702 low-floor air-conditioned buses are bring run on the dedicated 31-km corridor covering key locations of the city, sufficient to cater an average of around 25000-30,000 commuters per day on a nominal charge of Rs10-15 per head.
In January, free rides were announced for the next three months, which witnessed the ridership rise to up to 75,000 daily but after lapse of the said period, it plunged to 15,000-16,000 again. CEO of BRTS project Inderjit Singh Chawla said the drop in commuters was for a few months. “Now, it’s catching the fancy of city residents and we expect the ridership to rise again in the coming times. On any given day, we can spare 86 buses to provide flawless service with just five-minute wait and have a back up of seven buses to meet any emergent situation,” he said.
On its feasibility and profit aspect, Chawla said the bus culture among city residents needed to be evolved. The cheap auto-rickshaws still pose a competition as they drop passengers nearer to their doorstep in narrow lanes, unlike the BRTS route plan, wherein people have to go on foot for some distance to reach their destinations.
“Nowhere in the world, the public transport is run for profit motive. Similarly, the BRTS is not a commercial venture but a public service,” he said. The monthly expenditure to run the BRTS fleet comes out to be Rs4 crore, whereas the revenue it generates is just between Rs60-70 lakh. The gap is met with the help of government aid. Officials said a part of the cess collected against the fuel sale is ploughed back to keep the BRTS running.
Baldev Singh, a physiotherapist, said it required proper marketing and maintenance of buses to run it on full throttle. “I avoid using my own vehicle during local travels as the BRTS is the cheapest and safest mode. There is a lack of maintenance, as I found ACs not functioning properly in summers and seats lying broken in some buses. No promotion has been done by the authorities to make people aware of its benefits,” he said.
The 548-crore project was conceptualised by the Central Government in 2014 and was funded under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The then state Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal took a keen interest and flagged off a fleet of 60 buses in December 2016 in the first phase.
After the change of command, former Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu tried to run it on full throttle.
At present, the ride is free for school children, there is 66 per cent discount for college students and 50 per cent discount for senior citizen and handicapped persons. Vidya Sharma, a student, said it was safe to travel in a BRTS bus than an auto-rickshaw or battery-operated rickshaws, though they charge the same. “We have no fear of snatching or eve-teasing,” he said.
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