Future-Ready Commutes: West Bengal’s Vision for Efficient Public Transport

Shri Rajanvir Singh Kapur, IAS

The combination of technology, environmental sustainability, and a passenger-centric approach can lead to a future where public transport in West Bengal is efficient, accessible, and aligned with the state’s environmental goals shared Shri Rajanvir Singh Kapur, IAS, Managing Director, West Bengal Transport Corporation, Government of West Bengal, in an exclusive interaction with Puja Banerjee of Elets News Network (ENN)

What role do you think technology can play in improving public transport in West Bengal?

In our contemporary world, technology wields a profound influence on efficiency across various domains, notably within the realm of transportation. Automation stands as a critical tool for optimizing outcomes by diminishing the demands on time, labor, and manpower resources. The rapid processing and seamless dissemination of information enable the achievement of effective passenger services through precise and essential planning. By harnessing technology, we can enable real-time tracking of vehicles, the strategic optimization of routes, and the management of traffic flow, culminating in the alleviation of congestion, the enhancement of scheduling precision, and the more judicious allocation of resources.

Furthermore, technology empowers us to furnish passengers with up-to-the-minute information regarding routes, schedules, and any unexpected delays. The advent of digital ticketing, mobile applications, and online platforms elevates the convenience and accessibility of our services, fostering inclusion, especially for individuals with special needs. The integration of electric buses into our fleet not only curtails emissions, thereby contributing to cleaner air, but also underscores our commitment to sustainable transportation solutions. The implementation of digital platforms for ticketing, information dissemination, and feedback collection enhances the overall passenger experience. Features such as online booking, real-time updates, and user-friendly interfaces collectively augment convenience and ensure that our services remain accessible and customer- centric in today’s technology-driven landscape.

Can you provide more details on the innovative initiatives that the West Bengal Transport Corporation has undertaken?

The West Bengal Transport Corporation (WBTC) has been proactively implementing several initiatives in the recent past to enhance the overall user-friendliness and effectiveness of the transportation system. One of these notable initiatives is the introduction of the “Pathadisha” mobile application, which serves as a valuable tool for passengers to access real-time information about routes, schedules, and other important travel- related details, making their journeys more convenient and efficient.

WBTC has also taken significant strides in promoting cashless transactions through the implementation of a smart card-based ticketing system. This not only simplifies the ticketing process but also reduces the reliance on cash, contributing to a safer and more secure payment environment for passengers. Furthermore, the construction of
high-facility bus stands has been a priority for WBTC. These modernized bus stands not only offer improved amenities and services to passengers but also enhance the overall experience of using public transportation.

In terms of safety, WBTC has gone a step further by installing vehicle location tracking devices equipped with panic alarm buttons. These devices are connected to a central command control center, ensuring rapid response in case of emergencies, thus bolstering public safety during travel.

Customer service and grievance resolution have been streamlined through the provision of a dedicated WhatsApp number, enabling passengers to seek assistance and report issues promptly, fostering a stronger connection between WBTC and its customers.

In addition to these initiatives, WBTC has addressed the need for access to clean drinking water by installing water ATMs at various bus stands. This thoughtful addition provides passengers with access to pure drinking water at affordable prices, promoting passenger well-being during their journeys.

Overall, WBTC’s recent initiatives reflect a commitment to improving the public transport experience in West Bengal by leveraging technology, safety measures, and customer-centric services to meet the evolving needs of passengers. These efforts collectively contribute to a more efficient, user-friendly, and customer- focused transportation system.

What measures are being taken to ensure that the West Bengal Transport Corporation operates in an environmentally sustainable manner?

The West Bengal Transport Corporation (WBTC) has a rich history of contributing to sustainable and eco-friendly transportation in the region. For nearly 150 years, it has been operating non- polluting tram services, showcasing a long-standing commitment to environmentally responsible transit options. In February 2019, WBTC took a pioneering step by introducing electric buses in and around Kolkata, setting a precedent for clean and sustainable urban mobility. Looking ahead, WBTC is planning to further expand its fleet with the addition of 1200 more buses in the next two years, which will significantly enhance the availability of green and eco-friendly public transport options for the people of West Bengal.

To complement this transition towards greener transportation, WBTC is actively exploring various sustainability initiatives. These include the possibility of equipping depots with rooftop solar power generation facilities, enabling the generation of clean energy to power operations. Additionally, measures such as rainwater harvesting, waste segregation, composting, and the construction of biogas plants are under consideration, demonstrating WBTC’s holistic approach to environmental responsibility.

Moreover, WBTC’s embrace of electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as alternative fuels like Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), serves as a strategic move to reduce harmful emissions and decrease dependence on fossil fuels, contributing to cleaner air and a healthier environment. Implementing eco-friendly practices, such as waste reduction strategies, energy-efficient operational procedures, and the integration of green infrastructure at transport hubs, underscores WBTC’s unwavering commitment to environmental sustainability. These proactive measures not only benefit the immediate region by curbing pollution but also set a positive example for the broader transportation industry, highlighting the importance of green and sustainable practices in ensuring a cleaner and more eco- conscious future for West Bengal.

What are some of the challenges that you have faced while working in the transport sector in terms of infrastructure and technology?

Some of the challenges in terms of infrastructure and technology I have faced while working in the transport sector are:
One prominent hurdle is the issue of fund resourcing. Effectively funding transportation projects, especially those involving substantial technological upgrades, has proven to be a persistent challenge. This is particularly true in cases like the Tramway system, which relies on outdated technology. Upgrading such systems to meet contemporary standards demands a considerable financial investment. However, the return on investment (ROI) for these projects often appears to be relatively low, which can deter potential funders and exacerbate the financial strain on transportation authorities.

Additionally, the intricacies of integrating modern technology with existing legacy infrastructure have been a significant challenge. This process can be complex and necessitates careful planning to ensure seamless operation. The need to avoid disruptions to existing services while implementing upgrades adds an extra layer of complexity to the task.

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Balancing the imperative for technological advancement with the imperative for uninterrupted service provision is a delicate endeavor that requires meticulous coordination.

Furthermore, the ever-accelerating pace of technological advancements presents an ongoing challenge. The transport sector, like many others, is subject to rapid technological changes. Keeping up with these innovations and ensuring that the transportation infrastructure remains up-to-date is a formidable task. This is further complicated by the need to secure adequate funding for the implementation of these advancements, which may not always align with budgetary constraints.

Infrastructure and technology challenges in the transport sector encompass difficulties in fund resourcing, the complexities of upgrading outdated systems, and the ongoing need to align with the swift pace of technological progress. Navigating these challenges necessitates strategic planning, financial acumen, and a forward-thinking approach to ensure that transportation systems can evolve to meet the demands of the modern era while remaining financially sustainable.

What is your vision for the future of public transport in West Bengal?

Our vision for the future of public transport in the state of West Bengal is ambitious and forward-looking, with several key objectives in mind. First and foremost, we aim to establish a completely integrated and synchronized transport system that seamlessly combines metro, bus, tram, ferry, and 3-wheelers to ensure comprehensive and efficient last-mile connectivity for passengers. This holistic approach not only simplifies travel but also encourages more people to opt for public transport, reducing congestion and traffic-related issues.

Furthermore, we are committed to prioritizing cleaner and more sustainable transportation options. This includes a strong emphasis on electric vehicles, clean fuels, and non-motorized transport modes, all of which play a crucial role in improving air quality and reducing harmful emissions, contributing to a healthier and more sustainable environment for all.

In our vision, passenger satisfaction takes center stage. We intend to prioritize passenger needs by offering user-friendly mobile apps that provide real-time information on routes, schedules, and any delays. This ensures a hassle-free and pleasant travel experience for everyone, making public transport an attractive choice.

Moreover, technology will be a driving force in realizing our vision. We plan to leverage innovative solutions such as smart ticketing and integrated mobility platforms that simplify the way people plan and pay for their journeys. By embracing these technological advancements, we aim to transform the entire travel experience, making it more convenient, efficient, and tailored to the needs of our passengers.

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