Learnings from Indore’s iBus: Public perception and awareness is key to gaining support.
Indore | 13th August 2013:
Sandeep Soni, the CEO of the Atal Indore City Transport Services Limited, is amongst the first to arrive and last to leave the office. He currently heads the AICSTL, the body responsible for the initiation and implementation of the iBus, Indore’s first full BRT system.
The need of the hour I must confess, when I first saw the system being constructed in Indore, I was stumped. At the time I was posted outside of Indore, and only visited the city on weekends. When I was appointed CEO of AICTSL, I had no idea what to expect – but thanks to the team and EMBARQ, I was brought up to speed on BRT systems and why it was so seminal to Indore. I truly understood how the iBus could improve people’s lives.
But I soon realized the same was not true of the common public. It was absolutely important to inform and educate the people about the long-term benefits of the iBus. There had to be maximum accurate information in the public sphere.
Awareness outreach I was very aware of the need to avoid an antagonistic situation of the kind the Delhi BRT system faced.
We reached out to journalists and media personnel, educating them about the corridor and its necessity. I was aware that information may not translate into positive press – but my intent was to ensure that the press had adequate, accurate knowledge; no matter what position it chose to take. AICTSL ensured that team members, who could answer queries and clear doubts, always accompanied media personnel. The media visit to Ahmedabad was the turning point.
For the general public, the question to be answered was ‘Why should people accept the BRT?’ I knew that only a first-hand experience could convince people, and a good experience always leads to word-of-mouth publicity.
And it worked! People were amazed that such a system existed, and they got a chance to experience how much easier and more efficient it made their daily lives.
First hand experience leads to word-of-mouth publicity Indore conducted multiple trial runs, including those personalized to target audiences. We invited about 30 groups, and nearly a thousand people, to test the BRT corridor in 3 days. Feedback surveys showed us that the experience was mostly positive. What’s more, the word-of-mouth appreciation and publicity was a remarkable catalyst in changing the public mood. (Student coverage?)
Even the dry run phase was important in boosting public confidence. For the public, seeing buses, although empty, run consistently along the corridor for almost 3 weeks, boosted confidence about the BRT being operational. Motor vehicles could see that the BRT did not impose on their road lanes.
One of my fondest memories was driving ahead of the iBus, during trial runs, and asking two-wheelers and motor vehicles to get off the corridor!
Managing the system A BRT is not just about buses – the pedestrian, service and motor-vehicle lanes need to be maintained well. Running an efficient system is always a challenge. We observed that people were parking their vehicles in the service and pedestrian lanes. I undertook a drive to ensure people don’t park in parking lanes. This has been a good regulatory measure, and also incentivized people to maintain the system, especially the MV lane.
Ultimately, cooperation of all agencies is the only sound way to ensure the BRT system can run effectively and efficiently.
Nothing can replace consistent, efficient service.
From 19th April to 10th May, empty buses ran the corridor for 4-5 hours daily. On the first day of free-ticket travel, we saw about 500 people ride the corridor, and that figure quickly rose to 36,000 in about 20 days! When we began charging for travel, the numbers dropped. Even so, initial figures for ticketed travel began at 14,000 and have risen to over 20,000 daily! The response has been great, even though there is no significant branding of any kind along the corridor.
AICTSL believes that consistent, efficient service is irreplaceable – and that is our motto.