As much as I stay aloof from watching news channels, I make it a point to stay abreast with India’s changing political and economic scenario. The last 12 months have seen tremendous activity on the FDI front, thanks to our proactive Prime Minister. Though I am thrilled to see India emerging as a safe haven for investments and manufacturing hubs, I am also concerned with the neglect of basic facilities and infrastructural support in most parts of the country. Make in India is a wonderful initiative. But when do we “Make India”?
I would like to stick to my area of expertise i.e. car rentals and outstation travel. My last 3 years of association with a car rental start-up has made me cognizant of the reality that there is still a lot to be done to improve road travel in India. In spite of India having the second largest road network in the world, I have encountered many passengers complaining about their trips.
My responsibility is to leave no stone unturned in sending well-maintained cars and reliable drivers out there, but certain external factors like unnecessary extra charges and bad roads spoil the overall travel experience. However, on the brighter side, the fact that there is a single political party at the helm of affairs, without the burden of having to satisfy its allies, prompted me to post this open letter.
The issues are followed by possible solutions which obviously need to be further debated to check if they are feasible for our Indian roads.
Focussing on long distance travel, National Highways and State Highways are no doubt a boon for fast transport. But it is also important to have effective and safe transport. Very often we see speeding heavy vehicles which are extremely dangerous. In times of adversity, the larger the vehicle, the more extensive is the scale of damage.
It is essential to have the traffic segregated into corresponding lanes for systematic and safe flow of traffic. Lane-traffic systems filter the fast moving vehicles from the slower ones and also separate the heavy vehicles from the lighter ones like cars and scooters. Such systems have been introduced on some highways but they are yet to be effectively implemented and governed.
Countless state permits
India, being a geographically vast land, is divided into 29 states and each state levies a permit of its own on the vehicles entering its borders. There are many instances where tourists have travel destinations on their itinerary which are located in multiple states. For instance, Pondicherry is a frequently travelled destination from Bangalore. However, customers are charged for the permit to enter both Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry (being a Union Territory). It also hampers the traveller’s overall trip when one has to factor in all these extra aspects making their travel experience cumbersome.
Having region-wise permits by combining 4 – 5 states within a region would ease a lot of confusion and hassles for tourists. In most of the cases, the journey would not venture into states located in a different region. Ex: A South India permit can cover the 5 southern states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Lack of transparency between commuters and authorities
Many customers have brought to my notice about unknown payments being collected from them by authorities in the name of tolls and permits. There have also been instances where the two parties have also gotten into heated arguments and fisticuffs. Tourists find this to be a major deterrence as they set out to have a leisurely trip instead of having to end up with altercations.
Patient and professional executives would make a world of difference at the toll and various other booths. When a commuter is being levied certain charges, he/she should be notified or educated regarding the amount being collected and an appropriate receipt should be handed over to the commuter on payment. Also, there should be grievance cells at important toll booths where commuters would have an option to sort out their travel issues.
I have come across unknown roads bifurcating and combining with no proper directions. This causes a lot of confusion and can sometimes cause lot of inconvenience. India is yet to be minutely covered on various mapping devices and applications which makes the presence of signs and symbols on the roads, all the more crucial.
Appropriate signage is a must in the vicinity of small towns and villages. Details regarding the nearest fuel station, hospital, hotel, etc. also need to be highlighted at regular intervals on roads.
These signs give a sense of security for tourists and do not make them feel disconnected from basic facilities. There is also the need for radium sign boards which would help reduce the large number of accidents at night.
Lack of basic amenities during journey
There is a sizeable amount of tourists who wish to travel to unexplored destinations. On noticing this, different state governments are also catapulting many new tourist destinations into spotlight. As a result, there are many travellers embarking on trips to these quaint towns and villages. Sadly, there are numerous complaints from customers regarding the shoddy state of basic necessities like toilets, resting rooms, restaurants and in some places there have also been complaints about no signs of refreshment stalls.
Petrol pumps with food kiosks would cater to the basic requirements of commuters to a large extent. Such stations would also generate employment opportunities for the local population.
Apart from food kiosks, dispensaries providing first aid and medication should also be present at remote and rural areas.
Rural and remote areas are often home to the most scenic destinations. At the same time, they are also home to the most treacherous of roads. There are roads which can cater only to heavy duty vehicles as normal sedans and hatchbacks break down on these roads due to their inability to absorb bumps and potholes. Apart from the damage to vehicles, these roads cause major inconvenience to travellers as most of them end up with sore backs and body pains.
Robust roads need to be constructed to these remote areas as there are many tourist destinations which experience harsh climatic conditions at different times of the year. This would ensure not only the longevity of these roads, but also prevent traffic congestions.
Lack of assistance for vehicle breakdowns
Hatchbacks are no wonder economical. At the same time, they are susceptible to breakdowns on long distance trips and trips to hilly areas. At such times, the travelers are left in precarious situations where they have to either look for help from the passers-by or go on a hunt for the nearest mechanic. Many mechanics also take advantage of the tourists’ desperate situation. The tourists have to shell out a lot of money and also end up way behind their schedule due to these unforeseen delays.
Adequate vehicle servicing outlets at hilly and rough terrains would be a boon for many tourists. There are many big brands specialising in vehicle servicing present in major cities. Such brands need to be encouraged to open their outlets en route to popular destinations. The presence of these servicing units would infuse a sense of confidence in tourists to embark upon trips to far off locations.
In the aforementioned, I have tried to accentuate genuine concerns with viable solutions. Some of the suggestions are bound to attract opposition which in itself is good as people would at least start discussing and coming up with alternatives.
[About the author: Aditya Prasad is the Head of Operations with BookCab with a vast experience in handling strategic initiatives of a typical start-up. Besides offering insights into running a start-up to his friends, he’s a passionate traveller and extremely patriotic.
About BookCab: BookCab is a nationwide car rental service with a focus on reliability and transparent pricing.]