Monday, October 10, 2011

Chorus of Cheers for the Buses

Since the Shillong Public Transport Service (SPTS) buses hit the city road, media and the public in general went gusto in showering words of praise for this brand new government initiative. Ever since the buses were introduced, the press has been generous in providing maximum space to this government enterprise by way of reporting, and letters to the editor. News report and letter to the editor on the buses’ subject appeared in the print media almost every day. From what appeared in the media; people partly welcomed the bus service to protest against the atrocious attitude of the Shillong taxi driver who; for so long had literarily taken the passenger for a ride. Shillongites are fed up with the taxi drivers, hence the buses are welcome by one and all and of course the buses are economical too.
People cheer the coming of the buses because for so long the people of the state had not had reasons to praise the government. The MUA was not able to come up with any project or schemes which give reason for the people to praise their government and the buses did just that, add to that because it happens in Shillong. The government in the state and the ECs in the ADCs have become arenas of a never ending power tussle of the MLAs and the MDCs which has put people off and for a change the buses give people a reason to cheer. The buses has been like a proverbial manna from heaven for the people of Shillong and the villages in its suburbs and for the MUA one heavenly send opportunity for government to prove to its citizen that it cares for the poor and the down trodden. Through the buses service the MUA is hoping that it is able to prove to the people that their leaders are not only involve in power wrangling but they can deliver too.
The buses service has received so much attention; in fact more that it deserved because it is a situation where everybody is happy, the government and governed. Not surprisingly now the people of Jowai, Tura, Nongstoin, Nongpoh and other district headquarter has appealed to the Government to see that these town too avail the opportunity that the denizen of Shillong enjoy. The Minister in charge of Urban Affairs Ampareen Lyngdoh was able to convince the ministry of urban development government of India to consider Meghalaya as special case and allow the flow of JNNRUM fund to the state without election, so for time being district headquarter too can expect the flow of fund from Delhi.  But the question is how long can we go on without elected local representative? The next question that begs answer is; if similar buses service is provided to the towns like Jowai, do we have a system is place to run the buses?  In Shillong we are fortunate to have the management of the MTC with time to spare; to temporarily run the business, but what about other towns of the state? It is high time that people start rethinking about the municipal election; we cannot compare the Rangbah Shnongs who are doing their job voluntarily with the ward commissioner. There is a limit to how much a person can perform voluntarily.  
It was also reported in the media that the Meghalaya Transport Corporation (MTC) buoyed by the media praise that was showered on the SPTS buses, the bankrupt and near defunct MTC too has approached the Ministry of Surface Transport Government of India to allot new buses for MTC. The media coverage that the SPTC buses received; is like a shot in the arm for the MTC and seeking central government assistance to revive the MTC sounds like grand idea but the question is; is it economically viable?
The authority should treat this over excitement on the part of the management of MTC with caution. Before allowing the MTC to embark on the proposed venture; one would expect the MTC to conduct a study to find out the causes that led to MTC becoming a sick corporation. Until and unless the government is able to diagnose the cause of MTC’s failure, it will be a futile effort to pump more money to the corporation. The MTC should pull its socks together before it even think of trying its hand on new undertaking less it become another white elephant of the state.
Since towns and the state capital are to be serviced by JNNRUM buses, I assume the buses the MTC requested are to be use to connect the many villages in the state with district headquarters and the state capital. If the MTC would conduct a study to find out the cause of the corporation to collapse, the major cause is that the MTC was not able to compete with the smaller buses or vehicle like Sumos operated by private transporters. Travelers especially those from rural villages travelling to the city for an errand don’t have the time to wait till the big buses is fully occupied, they want to reach their destination as fast as possible and care very less about the difference in the fare the buses might be able to offer. In the era where time is money the question is, are the MTC proposed fleet of buses a viable business option?  
MTC is not the only bus operator which was hit by the turn of event, the once success Mowkaiaw Transport Cooperative Society of Jaintia hills, met with a similar experience. In one of my interview with a prominent member of the Mowkaiaw Transport Cooperative Society, he said that the Transport Cooperative Society’s business started to decline the moment the Sumo hit the roads. Now the Mowkaiaw Transport Cooperative Society which at one point of time operated about ten buses and many smaller vehicles is but a shadow of its former self. The coop buses which caters to the need of not only the Laskein Development Block area but the entire district of Jaintia hills is almost a non-entity now.
Jaintia Hills can also offer a successful public transport model for the MTC to study if the corporation is serious and does not want to repeat the same mistake which led to the collapse of the corporation. The Sein Beh Iaw Transport Cooperative Society is one transport operator which was not hit by the coming of the new smaller and faster public vehicles; the Sein Beh Iaw is a thriving business venture of the traders in the District and its success lies in the uniqueness of its business. The Sein Beh Iaw Coop Society buses are specially made not only to ferry passengers but the buses are also made for carrying goods. A keen observer from Mawhati in the Ribhoi District, a bus operator himself has foreseen the failure of at least the SPTC buses which connects the villages in the vicinity Shillong with the capital. He predicted that the outer Shillong buses will not able to bring expected return because the buses are not designed to serve the people of the villages. When asked to elaborate, he said: ‘A passenger from a village is also a famer, when a farmer visits the city she would also have something to sell in the market, may be a basket of vegetables. The money she earned from selling her farm products it the city; is spend in buying the family’s weekly needs and the SPTC buses are not designed for that.’  Even if the buses can accommodate the stuff farmer carries, the question is, is there a fare for commodities? 
One must appreciate the management of the SPTC which under pressure from the public and the minister in charge; has given it’s all out efforts to make sure that the SPTC bus run smoothly. One hopes that the SPTC will be a success government venture and it will be able to serve the people of Shillong and its suburbs many more years to come. Hopefully the SPTC will not follow the MTC footstep and end like any another government venture. Let us be optimistic and hope that this time; public money will not go down the drain.

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