After Bangalore, Volvo eyes other Indian cities

June 15th, 2008 - 5:32 pm ICT by IANS  

By Fakir Balaji
Bangalore, June 15 (IANS) Swedish transport solutions major AB Volvo is gearing up to emerge as the preferred choice of public transport in Indian cities. Having become a popular vehicle on inter-state and inter-city routes across the country for private operators as well as state-run transport corporations, Volvo says its air-conditioned buses will change the way millions of commuters are ferried in the cities on chaotic roads.

“Though we have been fairly successful in bringing about a sea-change in road transport across India with our high-tech trucks and luxury buses, our game-plan is to revolutionise public transport in metros and cities by providing safe, efficient and eco-friendly buses to ordinary commuters,” Volvo Buses India managing director Akash Passey told IANS.

In times of energy crisis, rising fuel prices and commuting woes, transport that is safe, comfortable and efficient has become the crying need of India’s recklessly-expanding cities choking on poor road connectivity.

Seeing a market in this chaos, the company launched a pilot project in Bangalore two years ago, introducing a dozen Volvo buses through the state-run Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC). Its target: people commuting long distances in private vehicles in the absence of quality public transport.

The response from commuters, especially the well-heeled techies, was “overwhelming”, Passey said. BMTC has now deployed an additional 60 Volvo buses on many thoroughfares, linking IT hubs, the airport, railway station, inter-state bus stand and central business district with residential colonies and commercial areas and markets.

BMTC launched a dedicated service with 40 customised Volvo buses for transporting air passengers to and from the new Bengaluru international airport at Devanahalli, about 40 kilometres from the city, round-the-clock. “It has been a turning point,” Passey admitted.

In a bid to ease the traffic gridlock in the city and induce the 2.5 million private vehicle users to switch over to public transport, BMTC has decided to deploy an additional 240 Volvo buses by 2009.

Sluggish infrastructure growth, inadequate public transport and poor road connectivity have forced thousands of people to use private vehicles, resulting in traffic snarls, road rage, wastage of precious fuel and lower productivity.

“Ever since BMTC started plying our AC buses on high-density routes, we have seen a dramatic shift in commuting, with hundreds of young and old, women and children queuing up to use them as public transport. Safety, comfort and clean environs in the cushioned buses have attracted many private vehicle users to switch over,” Passey said.

Showcasing its success in Bangalore public transport, Volvo has set out to replicate the same in other bustling cities such as Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. “The response from state-run transport corporations in these cities has been encouraging,” Passey said.

Since the launch of its high-tech buses in 2002 for inter-state, inter-city and tourist destinations, Volvo India has sold 1,700 of them to various operators across the country, with separate chassis. The target is to achieve 50:50 ratio in supplying buses for intra-city transport and inter-state transport from the present 20:80 ratio.

Passey said his company has sold about 150 buses in the first five months and has firm orders for another 350 by this year-end. “To increase the delivery cycles, we have formed a joint venture with Jaico Ltd to set up a state-of-the-art bus body plant adjacent to our truck facility at Hoskote,” he added.

The wholly-owned subsidiary of the 31 billion euro ($48 billion) transport major is also planning to convert the Indian facility as a hub to export buses to neighbouring countries in the Saarc (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) region, Asia-Pacific region, Gulf region and Africa subsequently.

Passey, however, admitted that the high cost of its AC bus - Rs.7.5-Rs.8 million - was an inhibiting factor for the state-run transport corporations to purchase a fleet of Volvo buses at one time.

“Though the initial investment is huge, the benefits are huge in the long-term, be it fuel efficiency, maintenance and safety. Comfortable and standard public transport is the only viable solution for the teeming commuters of Indian metros and cities,” Passey said.

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