India relies mainly on buses for transportation, but they are being marginalised

Rural areas are poorly served by bus transport. File Photo: S. Siva Saravanan

Buses (and trams) account for the bulk of the spending on travel in India, a sample survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) has revealed; yet buses constitute only a small fraction of the total number of vehicles on the roads. Though most people in both urban and rural areas primarily rely on buses for travel, other kinds of vehicles, like two-wheelers and cars, have come to overwhelmingly dominate the transportation scene over the years.

Though the NSSO survey did not take into account the monthly per capita expenses for travelling using the respondents' own vehicles, the percentage share of buses is strikingly high in both urban and rural areas. This, despite those living in urban areas spending a much larger amount on transportation than those in rural areas.

The survey revealed that spending on transportation accounts for a large share of the expenditure on services. The majority of households - 66 per cent in rural and 62 percent in urban areas had incurred expenditure on bus travel. But in terms of the budget share on bus transport, rural areas were ahead with 68 per cent. The spending on buses was about 10 per cent less in urban areas. The data covered travel expenses for a month. The survey on ‘Household Expenditure on Services and Durable Goods’ was conducted between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015. A total of 7,969 villages and 6,048 urban blocks were surveyed.

Autorickshaws came next in terms of the spending priorities on transportation, both in rural and urban areas. Nearly half of urban households used autos compared to 38 per cent in rural areas.

Trains seemed to account for a very small fraction of expenditure, particularly in rural areas. In urban areas it accounted for about 13 per cent of the travel budget.

Air travel is primarily a luxury of the affluent living in urban areas, if households are segmented in terms of the size of travel budget. It accounts for 20 per cent of the budget in the uppermost 20 per cent segment in urban areas.

When it comes to the mix of registered vehicles in the country the percentage share of buses has declined over the decades, with two-wheelers emerging as the dominant segment in the country. The share of buses (including omni buses) as a percentage of the number of total registered vehicles declined from 11.1 in 1951 to 1 in 2012.

The modes of transport that are receding into the background are often the ones that need to be encouraged most. As a National Transport Development Policy Committee Report (NTDPC), released in 2013, observed, "rising car ownership and declining rates of walking and cycling have placed severe pressure on urban roads. Municipal bus services are often in short supply or entirely missing from urban areas where they are much needed. "

It described the the "current emphasis" on Metro Rail transit systems as being "rather excessive," because they "typically cost much higher compared to other modes such as city bus/bus rapid transit system". And rural areas are poorly served by bus transport.

The bus fleets of private sector operators has outgrown those of State Transport Undertakings several fold in recent years. But the bus fleets in many urban areas has got a boost thanks to the Jwaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. The working group on urban transport for the NTDPC Report had emphatically suggested organized city bus services in all state capitals and cities with a population of one lakh and above.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2022 10:15:41 am |