Q&A with Madhav Pai, Part 1: Basic Guidelines for Bus Reforms
EMBARQ India's new guidebook analyzes Seoul's new bus system. Photo by Bebouchard.

EMBARQ India's new guidebook analyzes bus systems in cities around the world, including Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Bebouchard.

This interview is part of a bi-weekly series of Q&As with sustainable transportation advocates, planners, engineers, journalists, sociologists and other experts working to shed light on best practices and solutions from across the globe. We welcome your suggestions for future Q&As.

Bus Karo: A Guidebook on Bus Planning & Operations,” released in December by EMBARQ (a producer of this blog), provides information on global case studies, recommendations and specific methodologies that serve as a helpful reference for cities and states in India as they “set up new transit agencies, operate buses [and] monitor their performance.” The publication helps develop a framework for continuous system improvement by providing detailed information and recommendations on major cities’ experience with operating bus systems.

The Hindi title of the report, “Bus Karo,” has a double meaning: “Take the Bus” and “Stop it!” (as in “Enough!”),  reflecting the local context of the bus transport sector. It addresses India, specifically, by providing case studies of restructuring efforts and opportunities to build on bus systems in the cities of Mumbai, Indore, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. The guidebook also includes case studies of three non-Indian cities—London, Sao Paulo and Seoul—where city-wide reforms have made notable impact.

The report analyzes several key issues for bus transit:

  • route planning based on demand assessments
  • infrastructure and transport
  • types of vehicles
  • technology
  • contracts and tenders
  • finances
  • system monitoring

We spoke with Madhav Pai, director of EMBARQ India, about how the guidebook was developed and why it’s important for Indian cities. This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Tomorrow, we’ll post the rest of his responses.

TCF: What niche or role does your report fill that’s different from other guidebooks on bus operations? And who do you envision using this report?

MP: The primary contribution of Bus Karo is to document experiences in implementing reforms and innovative solutions for bus-based transport in Indian cities – experiences that would otherwise be difficult to capture. Secondly, by identifying the key success factors of city-wide bus system reforms, the guidebook provides a framework for documenting and analyzing future experiments in bus transport in India. Finally, the publication includes a series of tutorials and exercises that can be used either by practitioners or students as a resource for learning basic bus service planning concepts, such as determining fleet size, headways, travel demand and so on.

This publication of Bus Karo also parallels the Government of India’s Jawarharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), which has become a source of financing for Indian cities to acquire new buses. Cities across the nation that have received these buses are incorporating them into their existing fleets or are starting new public bus companies to operate them.

TCF: How limited were you by a lack of data or differing methods of documenting bus system reforms?

In the case of the international case studies, data availability was not a problem. For London, the local transport authority, Transport for London, regularly publishes statistics on bus usage, system costs and so on. Similar data was also readily available, albeit less extensively, in the cases of Seoul and Sao Paolo. Where specific information was not easily accessible, we were able to contact city officials and their related transport agencies who were more than willing to help us with our information requests.

Data availability was more a problem for the India case studies. Much of the needed information was not published or in the public domain. All of the information we used for these case studies were based on interviews with staff at the relevant transport agencies. [Read our previous post, including comments from Pai, about the importance of data collection and analysis in the transport sector.]

TCF: How did you choose the different case studies you picked in the report?

For the international case studies, the main aim was to select a diverse group of cities that would enable us to identify broad, high-level commonalities in successful city-wide bus reforms. The goal was to select from a wide range of geographies  from a group of countries at different stages in the economic development process.The choice of London (Europe, developed), Seoul (Asia, recently developed), and Brazil (Latin America/developing) thus fulfilled these criteria.

In terms of the Indian case studies chosen, we also selected cities of different sizes. We thus settled on two major metropolises, Bangalore and Mumbai, and two medium-sized cities, which are growing at a rapid rate, Ahmedabad and Indore. Ahmedabad also recently launched the first full-fledged BRT system, making it an appropriate choice for our guidebook. Similarly, Indore has chosen an innovative business model (public-private partnership) to deliver public bus services and is also in the process of developing a BRT corridor.


GET THE FULL REPORT: All the chapters of the guidebook, including the case studies, are available for download here.

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