After the automotive industry, it was the turn of state transport undertakings (STUs) to come in the line of fire of Union minister of road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari. Shape up, reform or else get bulldozed, is what Gadkari told representatives of 62 state transport undertakings in the country, who assembled at the Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT) in Pune on Friday.
Gadkari trained his gun on the public transport sector and told them that their buses were dirty, their bus-stands dirtier, they polluted the environment, operated with huge administrative costs and were running in losses in the name of serving the poor. Those willing to reform would get his support but the rest should not expect anything from the government, Gadkari said. He asked them to shift to alternative fuels instead of continuing to run with old petrol and diesel vehicles.
The poor did not want to travel in dirty buses, go to dirty bus stops and they too aspired to travel in good clean AC buses, he said, suggesting the transporters convert their bus-stands into bus-ports with the look and feel of an airport. People would pay for good services, he said.
STUs could no longer continue making losses and offering poor service and would have to look at cost-effective, pollution-free, import-substituting indigenous technologies, he said. The STUs in the south were performing better financially but those in UP and Bihar were in a difficult situation, he said.
He wanted the STU fleet to shift to buses running on ethanol-blended fuels, LNG and DME (dimethyl ether), and electric buses, which would help them reduce their fuel costs and turn profitable. A special scheme for charging stations for electric vehicles is being worked out and a Cabinet note on this scheme is coming soon, Gadkari said. Moving to electric vehicles would help in reducing costs, keeping fares lower and increasing profitability, he added.
He mooted a pilot project in Pune and Mumbai for running fleets on Methanol and DME as a factory in Mumbai was ready to supply Methanol. He suggested with LNG fuel coming to India, they could consider setting up terminals to convert LNG to CNG at their depots and cut their fuel costs.
The JSW Terminal in Goa would start receiving LNG and containers would start coming in with LNG. For states such as Maharashtra and Karnataka which have sugar factories, the minister said, they should move to bioethanol. The government would be coming with a scheme to put 1 lakh buses running on alternative fuels on the roads and they were looking at provide the finance, the minister said.
Another scheme for converting bus stands into bus stops is in the offing. “Public transport needs reforms and have to change with the time and look at new models. We will give first priority to public transport,” he said. Gadkari wanted London’s transport system to emulated. Nine operators run the service while the transport authority looks at planning, routes and ensuring uniform experience, he said. They need to study standards in Europe and the US and pick up best practices and models for India, he said.
There was no compulsion and it was for the states to decide whether they want to reform, but they should not go to him for any aid, Gadkari said. If they were willing to reform, funding was not an issue and they could raise funds from the equity market or through bonds as people were ready to fund it, he said.
M Malakondaiah, VP, Association of State Road Transport Undertakings (ASRTU) & VC&MD of APSRTC, said the 62 STUs employed 6.5 lakh people and ferried 70 million passengers every day but unfortunately they had not received much support from the Centre and were left to the states to fend for themselves.
Earlier, some equity support was given to set up the undertakings but nothing thereafter, he said. The CIRT, which was set up by ASRTU and the ministry of transport, is celebrating its golden jubilee. After initially focusing on training and research, CIRT diversified into testing type approval for safety.