Himachal Roadways: Time for a turnaround – 1


By: Manish Verma

Most of us have taken a ride in HRTC (Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation) buses many times and have our own experiences to tell. There are complaint and feedback boxes in these buses that are seldom used. Even a mobile number of the Transport minister is explicitly mentioned, but I wonder if they ever get some suggestions? And if they do get, then why doesn’t it reflect in their service.

I am a regular commuter in HRTC inter-state buses, especially in night services on long routes like Delhi-Shimla. So, this time around, when I was travelling from Delhi to Shimla, I tried to jot down my dispassionate thoughts about this. Despite my serious efforts to be precise what I came up with was a pretty drawn out piece of writing. So I am presenting it in two parts. First I’ve discussed what has changed so far and in the second I’ve talked about what has to be changed. I hope others will also make contributions and then may be we can forward our suggestions to Mr G S Bali, the Transport Minister, who needs them most.

There is no doubt that HRTC has come a long way in improving connectivity to the remotest corners in the state. It has successfully performed its responsibility of universal service obligation and welfare state. Following are some operational statistics about HRTC (Courtesy: http://himachal.nic.in/hrtc/):

As compared to 1974, when the Corporation was formed, the total number of routes operated by HRTC has increased five times to 1733 (in 2000-01) and the fleet strength has more then doubled to 1728 (2000-2001). The total live coverage has also increased 5 times to 1495.14 (in lakh km) in 2005-06 from 303.29(1974-75). Accidents per lakh km has halved from 0.17 (1974-75) to 0.08 (2005-2006). The KMPL (km per litre) has increased from 2.90 (1975-74) to 3.65 (2005-2006). The fleet utilisation, in 1974-75 was 79.8% whereas it has increased to 98% in 2005-2006. Computerisation in HRTC was started in 1994 by installing one Server along with five terminals at Head Office. At present the computerisation in HRTC has percolated to all the levels. Recently, HRTC started a courier service to earn additional revenue through its buses. Overall, the coverage has improved considerably along with operational efficiency and, in non-existence of alternatives like railways, HRTC has become the lifeline of the state.

The hardship that HRTC encountered was that its operation expanded more in the far flung areas and on newly constructed kuccha roads which led to less utilization of stock, higher expenses on operation & maintenance and fewer yields in revenues. The operations are not only highly uneconomical, but also are hazardous. Benefits though accrue to the residents, mostly villagers, in terms of accessibility to normal human needs like education, health, supplies etc. But it leads to aggravation of losses to the Corporation. In the socio-economic situation that prevails in the State today, one cannot think of economics of operations as the benefits that accrue to the people by the bus services are of vital importance to the economy of these areas.

Today, HRTC caters to four distinct categories of markets. These are rural, intra-city, intra-state and inter-states. So, when we talk about HRTC incurring huge losses, we cannot talk about all of them together. Because, all of them have different characteristics, for which different approach has to be followed. For example, the questioning the HRTC’s profitability and quality of service on interstate routes is justified, where as on rural it may not be. Instead these markets should be treated separately and the problems need to be identified and tackled specifically.

As in any business, these services can be treated as different product lines being offered to customers having different preferences. The success mantra is providing customised services according to these preferences. You cannot have the same bus plying on long route in night and on rural routes in the morning (this is a strange practice followed by HRTC).

Within the state, there is not much competition for HRTC, but on busy routes like Shimla-Chandigarh-Delhi, it’s facing stiff competition. Basically, these are markets with customers having certain preferences. So, the principles of management needs to be applied here as in any commodity market. The focus of all the efforts should be to know customer better in order to improve the service and differentiate the product and create a distinct identity for it.

Next we’ll discuss about how we can show the way.

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