Learning urban transport lessons from Mangalore’s bus services…

Most cities  in India do not have inter-city bus services. And those that have, most of them are appalling making people increasingly rely on their own vehicle. There is always this clamor to adapt lessons from some western city leading to endless official tours. But most of the time these end as failures as population factor is missing. We have a much larger population here compared to most western places and even contests are different. Instead, we should first look around the country. On bus transport (and auto too), Mangalore surely provides some lessons to learn.

One just visited the city of Mangalore recently and was amazed to see the quality of bus transport in the city. Infact the entire district of Dakshina Kannada (which included Udupi till 1997) is really well connected with buses. They actually give everything else a run for money including autos.

Even more interesting is that most of these buses are run by private transport companies unlike most other cities of India where State runs the bus services. This is important as we there are different experiences with respect to private vs public bus services. Private buses are cleaner etc but prefer to fill passengers and that wastes time. Public ones are not bothered about filling seats (you see several AC buses running empty in Bangalore wasting huge resources) but they are mostly dirty and unkempt.

In Mangalore, you get best of both worlds – private buses which hardly waste anytime. There is a long history which goes behind all this. Apparently Canara Public Conveyance (Dakshina Cannada was called as South Canara earlier) was one of the first bus transport companies in India:

The first successful private bus system was started by Canara Public Conveyance Company in 1914 in Dakshina Kannada. It was popularly known as CPC Logistics, and in a few years, expanded to a fleet of buses covering South Kanara, North Kanara, Mercara and parts of Kerala. The first overnight bus journey was started by CPC to Bangalore in the 1960s.

They also started the first bus service between Mangalore and Mumbai (Bombay then).

The bus services also came up as roads started developing in the region. Due to difficult geography and region being mostly ignored by British, railways did not develop in the region. The first railway line came in the region in 1907 which connected Mangalore to Calicut. The region also has number of rivers and streams flowing making it difficult to connect rails without bridges which added further costs. Later railways did not expand as they feared competition from private bus services!

As rail service was deficient, the region’s entrepreneurs took special interest in roads. One roads started developing, they looked to connect bus services wherever possible. The terrain was a challenge but this is what drives entrepreneurship as well. The region had potential for trade and transport was the key to if gains from trade were to be made. Infact, till road bridges were not developed, the bus and ferry combined to take passengers from one place to another! There is a very interesting account of all this evolution here.

Moving from history to today, it is amazing how the region’s bus service operators have managed to continue the legacy. Usually, we see all these services dwindle overtime but not here. Though, will not be surprised if citizens of the region tell me services have deteriorated (yes they are rash). But compared to other places, it is still very good.

There are some other things which need to be pointed as well:

  • Pricing of tickets is reasonable compared to most other places. They don’t even issue tickets saving paper.
  • The bus stations/stands are mostly clean which is big deal for an Indian commuter.
  • Last but not the least, is availability of small change with ticket issuers. This is such a relief really and one of its kind experience. In most places, either give the change or forget the change. But here there is always ready change available with the collector and just gives it to you without any fuss.

I was told by a friend that even in Kerala we have pretty much the same services. So, there is something about western coast and private bus transport services.

There is so much to figure in India. This whole issue of origins and evolution of city transport is so fascinating..

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