Patna: Rickety buses with passengers spilling out of doors, some hanging from the window grills and others sitting and swaying on the roofs - it`s a common sight on Patna roads. But public transport here is undergoing a sea change, thanks to entrepreneur Sacchidanand Rai`s Eden Transport Pvt Ltd.
In May this year, Eden launched 70 non-air-conditioned and eight air-conditioned 32-42-seat buses in the city, which are plying at the frequency of five minutes, bringing safe and comfortable ride for daily commuters.
Officegoers have heaved a sigh of relief and CN Mishra, who works in the Accountant General`s office, said: "I used to have a tough time travelling to office due to lack of good local transport. I used to travel by bike, but the hike in fuel price rocked my budget.
"Now Eden City Services have become the city`s lifeline. Just in Rs.5, I reach office. The buses are well maintained, staff are well behaved and this is certainly a help for Nitish Kumar`s development plan."
Homemaker Vibha Singh has become "a fan of their AC city service buses. Vehicles are clean, well-managed and staff are good. The fair is just Rs.10. The only problem is the timetable is not in place for AC buses yet and the company must increase their numbers."
The scene on the city roads changed after Rai, an IIT Kharagpur alumni, who is managing director of Kolkata-based Eden City Group, decided to return home to join politics
"In July last year, I came here to contest the election. While campaigning, I saw the pathetic condition of public transport here and I thought I owed something to my state and should have a business here," Rai said.
So he decided to mop out commuters` woes by providing a world-class service.
After the formalities, he first launched 40 inter-city buses between Patna-Chapra and Patna-Siwan in January this year, and in May started city buses in Bihar`s capital.
"I`m from Chapra, so naturally I wanted Patna-Chapra first. We will soon start six AC inter-city buses," he said, adding that he plans to "bring 300 more so that I can cover north Bihar".
"The main thing is the city service. We started with a big number because we wanted to make a difference in commuting immediately. These city buses are the best city bus services in India today," he said.
The business is not giving profit yet, but Rai is hopeful and says, "We haven`t broken even. But I`ll continue because I`m convinced if I keep improving the service it will bring profit one day."
The highlights of Eden buses are they are equipped with the best technology - every bus has the global positioning system (GPS), GSM Edge Cameras, microphone, hand-held ticketing machines and fuel sensors.
"GPS helps us in locating buses, maintaining the timetable. We can check overspeeding, overstaying. The camera sends us live images telling us the exact no of passengers in a bus. It`s also used for security reasons. Sensors check fuel consumption. To control this technical system, we have a control centre in Patna and a command centre in Kolkata," said the Anjesh Kumar, chief technical officer.
"The system is developed by Kolkata-based software firm PEOBRiCS, which is headed by IIT Kharagpur alumnus SS Raha. It works on ERP engine, collates all that data and gives us info," he added.
Rai says by the end of the year he plans to have 120 non-AC and 30 AC buses in the city.
"Till now we have invested Rs.22 crore and in the next round we will invest Rs.80 crore. We have investor partners. In 2012, we don`t have any expansion plans. Next year we will work on how to make it profitable. I am confident it will be successful," he added.
Rai is also facing problems in finding trained drivers.
"The Bihar transport department has not been issuing driving licences for passenger vehicles for many years; so we are getting drivers from West Bengal. There are very few drivers to chose from, so difficult to maintain quality.
"Another challenge is that these drivers are used to working in certain conditions. Changing the culture, for instance, trying to make them look better, is difficult. We give them t-shirts, but they keep it on their shoulders and work in vests!" said Rai.
"I think winter will change their habits and they will start wearing clothes."
Another challenge is the roads - the city roads are narrow, while inter-city roads are being re-laid.
But Rai is looking at the road ahead. He also plans to introduce inter-state buses at some point.