Transportation in India

Introduction

Transportation, Telecommunications and Energy forms the backbone of any developed economy. Today, unfortunately India is lagging in all of these three areas. But this is also an opportunity as so much investments could be made. Here, I’ll present some suggestions which might help in improving the transportation system in India apart from the obvious need of creating an environment where we have ease of doing business, no license raj, stable policy structure, sound law and order, efficient judiciary and transparency in governance.

Transportation/Routes Model

Today you’ll find that there is no coherent model of transportation as you’ll find the trains, buses etc. originating from some arbitrary place and terminating at some other arbitrary place like Ambala to Fazilka. This model has many drawbacks like you need thorough knowledge beforehand about which trains or buses are originating from which city and at what time. Even though this sounds normal while being used to this model but in truth this is very flawed model. Also the present system of transportation takes a lot of time to travel due to frequent stoppages. Plus, as the Indian economy has socialist bent so the transportation is cheaper but less efficient and unreliable and often unavailable or congested and hence uncomfortable.

I propose every place of India should be divided under three different categories. First state capital or state center, second state district and third towns. So we should only have three different kind of routes, First interstate, second inter-district and third intra-district. So in interstate category the trains or buses would only travel from one state capital/center to another and won’t stop anywhere else. In inter-district, the trains or buses would connect districts and in intra-district, the train or buses would travel between two adjacent districts and not beyond plus these would also connect two boundary districts of  adjacent states. So let say for example if you want to travel from Hyderabad to some town of Punjab then first you would take interstate train to reach capital/center of Punjab and then take inter-district train to reach nearest district and finally you’ll reach your town by taking intra-district train. The advantage of this model is that there would be continuous service at regular interval, less time consuming, better availability, less congestion and hence comfortable. So if you want to go from Delhi to Bhopal then you would know beforehand that you could definitely get a train or bus every hour and similarly for inter and intra district trains and buses.

Railway

Types of Trains: Run two kind of trains; first reserved trains and second unreserved trains. Both trains would be equally fast so would take same time to reach from one place to other with the only difference being that one type of trains would cater to middle class while the other category would cater to lower class. Prefer running trains during daytime so that it requires less sleeper trains.

Redefine Ministry: Separate state level train department from central level. Central department is limited for connectivity from one state to another through the state capitals/centers and will retain control over those routes and railway stations. Transfer state level routes and railway stations to state and let them decide how they want to operate it including if they also want to run private trains. But that would only be possible if the trains run based on the model defined above.

Train Website: Have single website for trains rather than multiple websites like at present. Let railway website to focus only on trains and remove everything else like hotel, cab, flight bookings, advertisements etc. from the website. Needs to have data analytic team to analyze travelers traveling behavior and take steps accordingly like by increasing number of coaches or train frequency during peak travel season or on weekends. The government should provide both website and API and let private players to build websites on top of that who could charge convenience fees for that.

Upgrade Stations: Platform charges could to be added to ticket like Airports. Platforms need to be constructed similar to Airports.

Ticketing: Reserved tickets should only be booked online either through websites by passengers themselves or through agents and the government shouldn’t sell reserved tickets at platforms. And even for unreserved tickets, governments should come up with new digital payments methods like accepting payment cards at railway counters. So in brief, the ticketing system should be on the lines of Digital India.

Waiting and Confirmation: Reserved booking should require IDs of all travelers to avoid black marketing. 50% cancellation charges once booked up-to 3 days before journey and after that no cancellation and no waiting queue and no tatkal for remaining berths. Charting system should be scrapped and the TTEs should be provided with laptops to verify tickets.

No cooking in pantry cars: Every state capital/center would have canteen service and food could either be ordered to be delivered on seats or loaded into pantry coaches. No cooking should be done in trains, instead only have ovens and freezers and have foods that could either be served directly or cooked just by adding hot water like cup noodles or instant Poha etc.

Routes licensing: Sell routes through transparent auction both for public and goods transport. Gradual move out from service provider to regulatory framework. Move towards norm based and license free model.

Amenities: Paid Wi-Fi service inside trains, spacious seats and remove ticket booking quotas. Also as this model would require changing trains so paid service of luggage check-in would also be helpful.

Buses

Redefine Ministry: Need to have central ministry for bus travel.

Website: Same as trains. Provide a single platform for booking buses tickets anywhere in India.

Upgrade Stations: State capitals/centers stations would come under central ministry and would be developed by them.

Routes licensing: Same as trains

Tie-ups with restaurants:  Tie-ups with restaurants where buses could stop en-route for refreshments.

Air travel

Sell AirIndia: Move towards regulatory framework and away from service provider. Could be started by divesting individual verticals of the company.

At present, India lacks a well established airline infrastructure as many airline carriers are not willing to fly their planes on many routes because of expensive route license and customers not ready to pay higher prices for tickets. Following methods might make it viable by reducing the ticket prices:

Reduce Platform Charges: Build no frill domestic airports terminals to decrease platform charges for domestic flights.

Reduce Taxes: Recognize routes which are nonviable at present and reduce taxes for those routes.

Reduce Route Licensing Prices: Cap the ticket price for the nonviable routes, which will automatically reduce route licensing cost.

Allow no-frill services: Allow the carriers to offer no frill services wherein the passenger would be charged less if not using certain services like additional luggage services and only be charged on À la carte basis.

Fixed non-Airline costs: At present, the air ticket has many components for Taxes, Fees and charges viz., Passenger Service Fees to cover security, User Development Fees for passenger facilities, Development Fees for Airport Infrastructure, Service Tax, Fuel Surcharge, Airline charge, CUTE/CUPPS charges for terminal equipment. Out of these, only airline charges should be made variable depending on the airline carrier and rest should be fixed for all carriers. The idea is to lower the entry cost and give the differentiation to airlines based on the service provided only.

Roads

Same road network model as mentioned above by connecting capitals/centers by NHs and districts by SHs. Frame nation-wide regulatory framework wherein any company could acquire land, build roads and collect toll taxes without applying for any licenses.

Waterways

As India has many rivers, so there is also a vast scope for building waterways as it could be the cheapest means of transport downstream without wasting any fuel and the goods being transported with the help of potential energy of water alone.

Conclusion

Provide platform for entrepreneurship and bring private sector participation. Merge these four ministries under one transportation ministry and provide one unified travel platform. Move to bare minimum govt. run services and more towards regulatory framework. The same above model might also be used for Fiber optics laying model.

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