Published On : Thu, Jul 18th, 2019

Seamless, integrated transit in Nagpur — path from possibility to reality

Nagpur: With the Metro services at the dusk of being fully operational in the city, many Nagpurians’ hopes of better lives and livelihoods are on the brink of realization. The next step towards strengthening the city’s public transport and the paratransit economy, which would serve every stakeholder’s interest, should be focusing on seamless travel to and from the commuter’s destination.

Apart from the Metro and Starbus services, the paratransit sector plays a very major role in the concept of seamless travel. Currently the paratransit sector in the city is shared by various modes, auto rickshaws, e-rickshaws and franchise run cab services which provide services with 4 wheelers, 3 wheelers and in recent times, 2 wheelers also. These cab services have become extremely popular in the past half-decade as the services that are provided, cater to most of the urban commuter’s lifestyle.

Auto rickshaws have been a major part of the city’s paratransit since many decades. Currently, according to the updated comprehensive mobility plan of Nagpur dated 2018, a whopping 19% of all commuters use auto rickshaws. For commuters, there are two main issues pertaining to three-seater auto-rickshaws – lack of uniform fare from one point to another, and lack of meters. Unfortunately, a number of attempts have been made to regulate the auto rickshaw system but the stakeholders have repeatedly failed to reach a consensus among themselves. This has led nowhere and the second-most-used mode of public transport in the city remains largely unregulated.

This has resulted in cropping up of certain phenomenon like modifications to the vehicles to accommodate more than the specified number of passengers per vehicle and provision of shared auto services which become unauthorised under such circumstances. Though this is outlawed, such vehicles still ply on city roads, usually catering to passengers who use the Starbus and prefer cheaper, shared auto rickshaw commutes to their destinations, which are priced at about 10-20 rupees per passenger compared to the shared services of the franchise cabs which cost about 50-60 rupees per passenger. Thus, the services provided by these auto rickshaws, even though unauthorised, specifically cater to a section of the society.

Apart from this, the cab drivers employed by the franchises get incentives by the company on finishing a certain amount of trips. The franchises also employ auto rickshaw owners but according to the drivers, the incentives provided are negligible and the fares set by the company are much lower than what could be earned if they ply privately. Another issue is that many auto rickshaw drivers, particularly those providing shared services come from a lower section of the society, and are technologically handicapped to efficiently work with the franchises.

Owing to apathy from the authorities and improved lifestyle choices of the commuters, the auto rickshaw industry is struggling to adapt to the changing market conditions, thus losing a major share of commuters who previously did not have the option of booking franchise cabs on demand using their mobile phones. This change has taken its toll on the ridership of auto rickshaws, creating a fierce tiff between the two unions, which often results in violence at major centres in the city like the railway station and the airport. The autos have stopped allowing radio cabs inside the station. If any radio cab is seen, they start damaging it, and even pelt stones.

The recent call for the state-wide strike, which was called off on the very day it was supposed to begin, was just another attempt made by the auto rickshaw unions to make the authorities understand and analyse the situation in detail and make life easier for every stakeholder involved in this system.

Previously, in the year 2016, a Commission was set up by the government of Maharashtra to derive the standard fares for auto rickshaws and taxis. The Commission had its first meeting in December 2016. The commission engaged in forums with different stakeholders, the Consumers, The Auto Rickshaw unions and the Taxi Aggregators, in different regions of the state.

It was found that there is an urgent need to set the base fare prices for auto rickshaw services, which should be updated in specific intervals of time depending upon the fuel prices. It is surprising that CNG fuelled auto rickshaws are not plying on the roads. Use of CNG will help make the fares economical. Limited, point to point, shared auto rickshaw services should be permitted on certain routes at certain times. It is the responsibility of the RTO to make sure these vehicles adhere to the norms strictly and are not let off for violations after simply paying fines.

These services cannot be done away with at the current situation, as commuters and the service providers, both are an important section of the society and play a major role in the city’s economy, therefore, the policy makers should conduct a detailed qualitative survey of the industry to formulate the strategy to integrate this into the mainstream transportation system of the city. Specific areas should be set apart as auto stands and taxi stands, near important destinations within the city, thus limiting the scope for conflict between auto rickshaw drivers and cab drivers.

One of the demands from the auto unions was to provide the same benefits to them as are provided to a suitable section of government employees. This demand is logical and not very difficult to fulfil. It is a bitter pill for auto rickshaws to swallow, but the auto rickshaw market has significantly reduced, as such the industry should be minimized. Giving the auto drivers the status of government employees will give the authorities more power to regulate the industry and eventually phase it out.

E rickshaws are a recent if not new addition to the city’s paratransit. These have almost replaced the cycle rickshaws from the roads. With proper regulation, the problem of unauthorised shared auto services can be completely done away with, without affecting the livelihoods of those involved in the profession.

As of now, the seam between the Nagpur metro and the Starbus infrastructure and the front door of the commuter’s destination should be the focus of every stakeholder involved. There is much buzz about integrated transit in the city, now it is the perfect time to ponder upon what we are supposed to integrate.

The bottom line is, apart from the dirigiste, technical solutions, as citizens of a smart, rapidly developing city, most of our problems can be solved if we possess empathy for each other, communicate and understand each other’s perspectives while carrying out our daily affairs.

….Pratik Sarode