A roundtable discussion on the regulations around the new Bus Aggregators models
On 2nd August 2016, WRI India Sustainable Cities invited transit agencies of different cities, regional RTO officials, and other policy and industry experts to deliberate on issues being faced by bus aggregator models, and possible methods of incorporating these services into the larger transportation ecosystem of the city. The roundtable sought inputs from participants on aspects like engagement framework, route selection, and fare setting and points to keep in mind while addressing these issues
The session saw participation from government bodies like, The Association of State Road Transport Undertakings (ASRTU), the Regional Transport Authorities of Mumbai, transit agencies from Delhi, Maharashtra, etc. The group also had representation from institutions like Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT) and UITP.
New enterprises are using technology to change the way mobility services are being delivered to commuters. Bus aggregators allow commuters to book a seat on a private bus through an app. These buses run on predefined routes, and commuters have real-time visibility of arrival information and cashless payment options. Although these services have witnessed a high uptake and can potentially combat pollution and congestion, the legality of these services have been questioned. As a result, bus aggregators have found themselves in complex situations with regulators.
A number of interesting points emerged from the discussions. While commenting on the existing model of aggregators, it was identified that aggregators serve a premium segment of customers and only operate on profit-making routes. Public bus operators, on the other hand, have a social obligation of operating on all routes and even on holidays. For a possible collaboration between the aggregators and public undertakings, it was suggested that the while the technology of the aggregator can be leveraged, the service delivery should be decided by the public operators. It was also noted that concerns around liability, safety, investments in a new fleet, needed to be addressed as a partnership. The impact of collaboration on permits, regulation of clandestine operations, and human resources investment towards training drivers were also discussed.
However, participants also realised that public transport systems have inherent bureaucratic hurdles that might stifle innovation in new business models. Resorting to cost mitigation using subsidies was dismissed as a poor solution because of cumbersome processes in claiming them. There was an agreement that bus aggregators must be treated differently from the conventional net cost, gross cost models, and new ideals like dynamic routing, crowd sourcing origin-destination pairs must be permitted. All participants placed emphasis on developing a framework that is citizen-centric.
The roundtable concluded by summarising the views, opinions, and suggestions of all participants whilst identifying the need to have more conversations around integrating aggregator-like models into legacy systems in Indian cities.