Transportation3030Bus transportationTaking theHigh RoadThe massive upgradation of national highways and the construction ofa network of expressways linking important cities have given a boostto the coach-building industry in India, as demand for luxury buses hasgone up exponentially, says Annamma Oommen.
THEY are among the new crop ofexpressways that have come upin India, linking important cities.The Mumbai-Pune expresswayand theAhmedabad-Vadodara expressway– each nearly 100 km in length – are amongthe busiest roads in the country.Sleek air-conditioned coaches zoomacross the fast lanes, hitting speeds of 100to 120 kmph. Inside the coach, passen-gers can relax in luxurious pull-back seats,watching their favourite Bollywood flicks.Travelling along the new expressways,one experiences the sea-change that hasoccurred in the quality of surface trans-port. Sturdy luxury coaches, replete withair suspension, comfortable seats, amplesitting space and enormous holds forbaggage, zip across India’s leading cities,transporting millions of business travel-lers, holidayers and students.Many state transport undertakingshave also acquired a fleet of fancy coaches,catering to the burgeoning demandfrom passengers, most of who do notmind paying a premium for travelling inrelative comfort.Withdemandfrompassengerssoaring,transport operators are also placingorders worth millions of dollars, acquiringhundreds of modern new coaches. Conse-quently, the coach-building business inIndia is on the fast lane, and has startedluring in major international players.While European commercial vehiclemanufacturer Volvo continues tostrengthen its position, other foreign andIndian vehicle majors are also unveilingplans to set up manufacturing and assem-bling units in the country. They includeDaimler-Chrysler, Tatra Vectra, AsiaMotor Works (AMW), Man-Force, Scaniaand Isuzu.Fortunately for the industry, largeamounts are being invested by thegovernment in building a network ofinternational standard expressways andnational highways, besides upgradingthe existing roads. The nearly 6,000-kmGolden Quadrilateral project, which linksthe four metros of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkataand Chennai through a network of four-laned highways, is nearing completion.According to the National HighwaysAuthority of India (NHAI), the country hasa total road length of 3.3 million km. Whilenational highways comprise a mere twoper cent of the overall road network, theycarry about 40 per cent of the total roadtraffic. With the improvement in overallroad connectivity, the potential for surfacetransport is obvious.Akash Sheth, ceo, Raj Travel World– which operates coach services underthe Raj National Express brand – says thatin spite of the growing popularity of airtravel, there is a growing trend for travel-lers to opt for buses.It makes more sense to take a coachwhile travelling between two cities that liewithin a distance of about 250 km and arewell-linked with four- or six-lane highwaysor expressways. This would, for instance,include Mumbai-Pune, Delhi-Chandi-garh, Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Jaipur, Bangalore-Chennai and Ahmedabad-Vadodara.It takes an hour or two to reach anairport – in Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore– from the city centre; early check-in,security drills and delayed flights due toair congestion or bad weather add anothertwo to three hours to a journey that wouldtake about three to four hours by road.Similarly, while the luxury coacheshave adequate leg-room and offer enter-tainment, travelling by air – especiallylow-cost airlines – can be quite tiring.Coach tickets are available even at the lastmoment. Consequently, coach servicesare now being used for not just shortjourneys, but also for inter-state andovernight travel across different states.Demand for buses and luxury coachesis expected to expand phenomenally overthe coming years. India’s bus transportbusiness is already huge – the countryranks among the top-10 in the world inthe bus segment – with about 30,000vehicles being sold every year.But the market for air-conditionedluxury coaches is limited, less than about1,000. The luxury-bus segment, however,is growing at a compound annual growthrate of about 25 per cent.Volvo Buses India Private Ltd (VBIPL),the newly-formed company of theEuropean major, is targetting public trans-port companies, starting with Karnataka.It has already won an order for 240 citybuses from the Karnataka government.Volvo buses can now be seen even on31With demandfrom passengerssoaring, transportoperators are alsoplacing ordersworth millions ofdollars, acquiringhundreds ofmodern newcoaches.comfortable ride: Holidayers are increasingly travelling by luxury coaches to destinations like Goa
TRANSPORTATION32local routes in Bangalore.“Though we have been fairlysuccessful in bringing about a sea-changein road transport across India with ourhi-tech truck and luxury buses, our game-plan is to revolutionise public transportin metros and cities by providing safe,efficient and eco-friendly buses to ordinarycommuters,” saysAkash Passey, managingdirector, VBIPL.Based on the Karnataka success, Volvois now targetting other cities such asMumbai, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad andAhmedabad, while also looking to partici-pate in the proposed Bus Rapid TransitSystems in Vijayawada, Visakhapatnamand Hyderabad.In fact, in a bid to improve deliverycycles, Volvo has formed a joint venturewith an Indian partner, Jaico Ltd, to set upa nearly $20 million bus body building plant(with a thousand-unit capacity) adjacentto its truck manufacturing operations inHoskote in Karnataka. By next year, ithopes to roll out 50 buses a month fromits plant.VBIPL also aims to emerge as a majorplayer in the export market, selling busesto other countries in South Asia, the Asia-Pacific region, the Gulf and Africa. It plansto upgrade its production capacity fromthe current 450 buses per annum to 1,000by 2010. This year, it hopes to more thandouble its sale of luxury buses.Tata Motors too is leaving no stoneunturned to get a piece of the action. Itsbus-building joint venture with Marcopoloof Brazil, and the earlier strategic alliancewith Hispano Carrocera of Spain, havefructified in the launch of its new rangeof fully-built coaches under the ‘Globus’brand, and a range of branded buses underthe ‘Starbus’ portfolio.The ‘Starbus’ range is assembled andsupplied byTata Motors along with its jointventure partner, Marcopolo, at Dharwadin Karnataka. These 32-seater buses aredisabled-friendly and feature roof-mountedalternative fuel cylinders (for CompressedNatural, Gas), gas leakage detectionand alarm systems, speed governors,pneumatically-controlled doors operatedby the driver, rear engine and alpha-numeric destination display boards.The buses will in the future alsobe equipped with general packet radioservice (GPRS) and global positioningsystems (GPS).“The company has already baggedan order for 500 vehicles from the DelhiTransport Corporation,” says P. M. Telang,executive director, commercial vehicles,Tata Motors. Its buses can also be seen inMumbai and Pune.Ashok Leyland, part of the HindujaGroup, also launched a low-floor conceptbus – the iBus, priced at $140,000 – at theAuto Expo 2008 held in Delhi.The world’s largest selling bus manufac-turer, Daimler-Chrysler, has a joint venturewith Sutlej Motors Ltd (SML), a Jalandhar-based bus body manufacturer. Productionis to start by the end of 2008 in Pune on100 acres of land acquired by Daimler-Chrysler especially for this project.The joint venture is seen as a culmi-nation of an India visit by a high poweredteam from Stuttgart, Germany, headedOur game-plan isto revolutionisepublic transportin metros andcities by providingsafe, efficientand eco-friendlybuses to ordinarycommuters.highway halt: Food courts, mini-malls, restrooms and other facilities are coming up along the new expressways andnational highways
33TRANSPORTATIONOnthe RoadBUS travel is popular in many parts ofthe world: the famed Greyhound Linescriss-cross the US, Canada and Australiaand several top coach operators haveservices in Europe. In India, however,bus travel never really attracted affluenttravellers.But there has been a sea changein the surface transport business, withthe construction of new, internationalstandard expressways and nationalhighways, the deployment of luxurycoaches, and the establishment ofrestaurants, restrooms and otherfacilities along many highways.As a growing number of well-to-doIndians travel by coaches on holidaysfrom Mumbai (to cities in Maharashtra,Gujarat, Goa and Karnataka), Delhi (toUttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh andPunjab) and Bangalore (to Tamil Nadu,Kerala and AndhraPradesh), entrepreneurs are building achain of smart restaurants and shoppingmalls, amusement parks and otherentertainment outlets along highways.The change is evident right from theinitial stage of booking tickets. In thepast, booking a bus ticket meant visitinga roadside vendor or a hole-in-the-walloperator, who would issue a hand-written receipt and ask the traveller towait for the bus to arrive.Today, many private and publictransport operators offer Internetbooking of seats on coaches. Portalslike MakeMyTrip and redBus.in offer busticket bookings on their sites.Passengers can book online, paythrough cards or internet-enabled bankaccounts, and reserve seats in air-conditioned, deluxe, sleeper andsemi-sleeper buses across a score ofcities in India. The e-tickets are like theones accepted by airlines and evenIndian Railways – a passenger can takea print-out of the ticket and report at thebus terminus with an identity proof.Even state-owned corporations, likethe Karnataka State Road TransportCorporation (KSRTC), have introducedonline booking of seats on itsvast network.redBus.in offers home delivery ofbus tickets in over half a dozen citiesincluding Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi,Chennai, Pune and Ahmedabad.Started by a group of techies inBangalore – former students of theBirla Institute ofTechnology, Pilani – andmentored by the Bangalore chapterof The Indus Entrepreneurs, it offerstickets on over 3,500routes, servicedby over 250bus operators.Indeed, a wholenew world of high-speed highways,c o m f o r t a b l emotels and pubs,s p e c t a c u l a rmountain roads andscenic countrysideawaits the new-ageIndian traveller.by Wolfgang Diez, the head of Daimler-Chrysler, buses and coaches businessunit. On its own steam, SML has alsoset up an independent fully integratedbus manufacturing company – LexiaMotors. It has exported vehicles toSouth Africa, besides catering to thedomestic market.Another European auto giant,Volkswagen, also plans to start manufac-turing ‘business buses’ that will trans-port executives. “We will start withsmall buses by the end of the year,” saysJochem Heizmann, Volkswagen’s manage-ment board member. “We will importthem initially and volumes will decide theirmanufacturing here.”Asia Motor Works Ltd (AMW), whichmanufactures heavy commercial vehicles,will also roll out buses next year from itsplant at Bhuj in Gujarat. According to R.C.Mangal, senior vice-president, marketing,AMW, “The company will produce bothcity and inter-city buses.”The market for buses is expected toremain buoyant, as millions of consumerstravel on holidays, business and for socialpurposes. With highways being expandedand hundreds of kilometres of newexpressways being built, bus travel is setto emerge as a major component of thetransport sector.We will importthe ‘businessbuses’ initiallyand volumeswill decide theirmanufacturinghere.