Public Private Partnership for three PMPML routes in Pune – A Pilot Project

Pune is a city that is notorious for citizens that don’t use public transport and who use extensive private vehicles, particularly, two wheelers. A former city of cycles matured into a two wheeler city, as city expanded and faster paced commuting was required. Very recently, data revealed that Pune is the first city in India to have more number of vehicles than its population.

Many transport improvement solutions and projects have been proposed to ease traffic congestion in Pune, where private vehicle use is very high. However, the humble bus service offered by the Pune Metropolitan Parivahan Mandal Ltd (PMPML) is sorely lacking when it comes to offering good, clean and reliable public transport to citizens. There are many transport experts and activists that have contributed to numerous small to large scale proposals for improving the bus service. However, a largely loss making PMPML is unable to find investors, within the government, to bring in a fresh change to its buses and service. Despite numerous efforts over the last 30 years, the bus service remains dismally bad. Hence, the shift of citizens to private modes of transport.

The most current movement towards improving the bus service is a proposal from the BJP, the political party with majority and that which governs the city today. The primary concept of this proposal emerged when BJP, through its city chief, Shri. Yogesh Gogawale, sought the help of private industries and companies to assist in the matter of public transport. What began as a primarily Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative of private companies, has culminated into a possible public private partnership model on which Pune can improve its bus service.

As with any solution, Pune’s active citizenry is quick to critique and debate any such proposal, especially when it concerns the possible entry of private sector into a primarily public service. And as with most proposals, the critique tends to be more emotional than a factual debate about its pros and cons. The ‘privatization’ word sparks a flurry of criticism and even when the service of the government is in a critical condition, entry of a private enterprise is resented. Conventional arguments that are linked to privatization, like increase in fares, are used to polarise popular opinion. After all, even when everyone expects an improved service, no one really wants the fares to increase.

So what is this proposal to improve the bus service of Pune that includes the private agency? Here are some of its salient features:

  • Force Motors, with its assembly plant situated in Pune, has offered to take up the challenge of improving Pune’s bus transport, under the CSR initiative call of the BJP and has now arrived at an investment cum revenue sharing model with PMPML.
  • The proposal focuses on three most congested routes of the city, in order to have a maximum commuter impact. The thought is that if these three routes are taken up as a pilot, Pune will have a chance to showcase a good example.
  • Force Motors will make an initial investment in the buses of good quality on these routes, replacing the old stock of run down buses that are highly polluting and that offer no comfort to the commuters. The company will also make an initial investment to run and operate these three routes, by adding new trained staff, ticketing systems etc.
  • This investment by a private company is made with a view that this will lead to increased commuter traffic on these routes and which will make these routes profitable, if they are running at a loss and increase their profit margins, if they are already profitable. In the revenue that is generated, the company will share the revenue with PMPML.
  • This will be a pilot for 3 months, at the end of which, the city, the PMPML and the citizens will get a chance to see if some perceptible improvement has occurred or not. After this trial period, the city can decide to move ahead on the same PPP model or revise and mature the model to suit the requirements and expectations.
  • The biggest benefit of this proposal is that the city will get improved bus routes at no upfront additional investment and no increase in fares. With this benefit, if the routes have to share a part of its revenue, it’s an absolute win win situation for the citizens.
  • If this PPP model works and is found suitable, it may get extended to other routes as well. Or alternatively, if PMPML gets a share of the revenue without having to bear the expenses of operating these routes, the surplus money can be used to improve other routes in the city.

Across the world, cities have used a variety of PPP models in urban transport. Right from private investments in bus rapid transit systems of Bogota to the metros and light rail systems, cities have found private investors to pump in the upfront investment into buying buses and laying down lines. In this day and age, to expect that all and entire investment should come only from the government coffers is foolishness. Many cities are also using suitable PPP models to operate and maintain urban transport systems. In fact, it is found that cities have used the PPP models especially, when things are not working in status quo and it is imperative to search for innovative and out-of-the-box solutions. In 2011, the Asian Development Bank has generated a document for Government of Maharashtra that outlines multiple models for private engagement to improve public transport in its cities. So the idea itself is not new, but a serious consideration and follow up on it is happening for the first time. And Pune, is always a city of firsts!

Pune is struggling with its bus service for a long time. Private, well intentioned companies that are ready to invest need to be attracted to invest in public infrastructure. At the end of this, private companies are going to look at recovering their base investment, in the least. Such give and take of monies, should be encouraged and systems should be matured to allow this to happen without any side taking advantage of the other. Like the government, private company monopolies should also be avoided, by allowing exit options in the PPP model. However, consistently being suspicious of private investments will never allow the maturing of PPP models in public infrastructure.

This current proposal of infusing a new energy into the bus service of Pune is a great opportunity. The best part is that it’s a pilot. So any failures, changes that we want can still become a part of the final model for the city. It’s a great opportunity to see if we, as citizens and the city, is ready to take on the challenge of a new style of public transport system. In all probability, we will all talk about and get lauded about how Pune fixed its bus service after a few years. Let’s open our minds and explore the possibility! That’s the least we can do for our city to begin her move towards a good bus service.

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