ASTC – A Sustainable Approach Connecting Assam and North East | Report on North East’s largest state owned transport corporation

Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC) is the largest state owned state transport corporation engaged in transportation of passengers and freight in North-East India. ASTC started its services in 1948 and the present day corporation was established on 31st March 1970 under the Road Transport Corporation Act, 1950. Over the years, the corporation has been in service for the people of the region  ensuring safe, time-bound journey at affordable cost. Biswajit Baruah, guest writer at UniTreed, met Mr Anand Prakash Tiwari, Managing Director, ASTC, at the Corporation’s Paribahan Bhavan Office  in Guwahati to know more about ASTC’s role in connecting people and places across Assam and North-East India.

Mr Tiwari said, “Over the years, since its inception as a corporation in 1970, aASTC has grown in terms of fleet expansion, increment of routes and an increase in number of depots and stations across Assam. Our bus fleet has increased from an initial 150 buses to 1300 buses at present for day and night services. We adopted privatization policy under which 3000 buses were included under the ASTC-umbrella”. ASTC also initiated inter-state routes connecting Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal, which helped the people to travel to the neighbouring states at ease and comfort. The corporation also started pilgrimage trips with ticket concessions for the devotees under the pilgrimage policy Dharma Jyoti. Such concessional trips were organized to holy pilgrimage sites likes Bodh Gaya in Bihar and Puri Jagannath Yatra in Odisha. ASTC has developed good infrastructural facilities and good workforce supporting it,  over the years of operation. The administration work is supported by its experienced staff constituting of engineers, chartered accountants and law professionals.”

A new ASTC Volvo bus

Speaking on ASTC bus services within Guwahati City, Mr Tiwari elaborated, “ASTC has around 300 buses dedicated to operations in Guwahati City including both smart AC buses like Volvo and Ashok Leyland Jan Bus and non-AC city bus segment comprising of Tata Marcopolo buses. Our goal is to provide comfortable and efficient transportation for Guwahati City, thereby reducing private vehicle congestion and promoting use of public transport”. The MD further added that the ASTC city buses operate from 6 am in the morning till 12 midnight covering 32 major routes within the city limits. “We have added AC Volvo semi low floor buses and Ashok Leyland low floor ac Jan Bus recently under JnNURM–II Scheme. It is worth mentioning that 200 buses were sanctioned to Guwahati City under JnNURM –I scheme earlier in the year 2008 -09”.  Focusing on Intercity routes, the MD told that corporation was incorporating new Volvo buses for intercity routes in March 2017 under ASTC’s PPP (Public Private  Partnership) model. The proposed initial routes under first phase are Guwahati  to West Bengal, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh. ASTC also plans to run premium Volvo Services to North Bihar and Sikkim in the second phase of route expansion.

ASTC City Service buses

ASTC forms an integral part of the state, representing the people of Assam. The Corporation runs special services like Kamakhya Temple bus service, Majuli Satra Parikrama, Pobitora National Park Service. The Kamakhya Temple is one of the holiest places in India. ASTC operates 6 buses from Judges Field, Guwahati to Kamakhya Temple, which includes 4 non-AC buses and 2 AC buses. The Kamakhya bus service starts early morning at 6:30 am. One of the Assam’s cultural heritage – the Majuli Satra situated at Majuli Island in Central Assam is a prime tourist and devotee attraction throughout the year, and ASTC runs a special Majuli bus service within Majuli Island. It also runs a Majuli to Madhapur Satra Special Service for the Satra-Visit. The Corporation also provides buses for Guwahati City Darshan on group booking scheme. It runs a special bus service at 7 am every morning to Pobitora National Park, from its Paltanbazar bus stand in Guwahati. ASTC provides Volvo AC semi low floor services from its Ulubari Volvo Point  to Guwahati LGB Airport. The service starts at 6:15 am in the morning with buses available at every half an hour and one hour interval till 3:30 pm in the afternoon, with free travel privilege for children below 6 years. ASTC have also started long distance intercity routes under its “City Connectivity Service” with Volvo 8400 semi low floor buses connecting Guwahati – Tezpur, Jorhat, Sibsagar and Hojai. Speaking on privatization policy of the corporation, Mr Tiwari added that, “The PPP (Public Private Partnership) model is based on adoption of new thoughts and concepts in order to improve the services of AXTC. PPP model promotes development and planning with private partners. We do understand that social responsibility is our duty as a state transport undertaking, keeping in mind economic viability, but economic viability cannot be our prime priority in the long run. We always remain committed to our social commitment in providing better services for the public. Private partners have been beneficial in business development and they have brought good returns to the corporation, enhancing quality of service, and providing smart infrastructure  to work towards development”. The MD further added that few services including maintenance of cleanliness in bus terminals and in buses have been also outsourced.  ASTC currently has 10 workshops, 9 operational divisions, 150 officers for operational works. The corporation has its central depot at Rupnagar in Guwahati for maintenance of its buses. ASTC have been adhering to recent bus codes, placing passenger safety at top priority on its agenda. The stu has a driver training program which have been started in all its divisions. The corporation takes help from voluntary organizations in conducting the training program. In this regard, Mr Tiwari added, “Consultancy services have been sought from  knowledge partners to enhance the skills of the corporation staff. The ASTC driver training program have helped the corporation to maintain fuel-efficiency and road-safety of its vehicles thus ensuring passenger safety on board on our buses”.

ASTC  has a good customer-service support and a public complaint and query addressal cell. The corporation has a control room with toll-free contact number for public grievance. It also has email facilities, dedicated mobile number services and help through whatsapp platform. The ASTC customer-service have been widely appreciated by passengers and public for its 24×7  effective services on the operation front. ASTC also plans for a public grievance e–platform which is due to be started from April 2017. The corporation also stresses on “Smart Mobility” and RTPI (Real Time Passenger Information) platform as its prime priority for its sustainable future services. The corporation has a GPS monitored fleet and it plans to introduce electronic-ticketing and electronic-tickets in days to come. It also plans to provide mobile-ticket machines to its crews. ASTC will also introduce exclusive multi-feature app for mobile phones on android and iOS platforms. With a large fleet of buses, ASTC is looking forward to the “Mukhya Mantri Lok Parivahan Yojna” to be implemented by Government of Assam by August 2017, wherein it plans to connect far-flung areas in Assam, thus improving inter-connectivity and transportation. Speaking about the JnNURM scheme, Mr Tiwari said, “JnNURM  Scheme was extended to bus funding scheme in the year 2008-09. The aim and objective of the bus funding scheme was to ensure a sustainable urban transport system in cities like Guwahati. Under JnNURM–I scheme 200 buses were sanctioned to Guwahati City. The scheme was piloted by Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority, which procured the buses and finally handed over to ASTC for operating the buses. The scheme was again extended for the year 2013-14, and under JnNURM-II  bus funding scheme, ministry of urban development sanctioned 400 buses for Guwahati City”.

ASTC has been a symbol of faith, belief and safety for the people of Assam. The trained drivers, road safety concern and clean buses as its USPs over the private operators in the region. On same lines, its city bus fleet undergo proper workshop check –up, routine bus checks under scheduled maintenance. ASTC city buses have unique fleet-management system which accounts for an upper hand over private buses. Speaking on bus operations in rough terrains and challenging road conditions in the region and natural calamities like floods, the MD said, “The hilly areas of North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong and the challenging and rough terrains of Dhemaji and North Lakhimpur prone to seasonal floods, are economically not viable but as its dedication towards providing services to people, ASTC is providing the bus services under extreme conditions. Buses have to undergo frequent checking and pro-active maintenance to operate on these routes as the road conditions prove sensitive to mechanical maintenance of our buses”. Natural calamities are unavoidable and Assam is worse affected during monsoons, with floods. Facing tough situations, ASTC provides additional services to remote areas on social relief grounds, carrying goods and essential commodities to the flood affected areas. Speaking on the sustainable road connectivity in Assam and North-East, the MD expressed that “In coming days we will be able to witness integrated terminus wherein bus terminals, airport and railway services will be integrated on a common platform of integrated-mobility services to provide sustainable transport for public, catering to needs to society”.

Briefing on Astc’s premium AC bus fleet expansion, the MD said that apart from the inter-state routes, Astc also plans to connect Upper Assam cities of Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Lower Assam cities like Dhubri with premium buses. He further added that design for AC-Sleeper coaches have been consulted for its implementation soon. AC Multiaxle intercity coaches have been scheduled in next phase of fleet expansion and they will be inducted on PPP model, as told by Mr Tiwari. Expressing his views on Smart Transportation for Smart City Guwahati, Mr Tiwari termed ITMS (Intelligent Traffic Management System) solution to be implemented in Guwahati in 2017. The corporation have already set the blueprint of the project and is currently studying the project under the guidance of experts. Terming  demonetization as a “positive sign” towards healthy development, Mr Tiwari added that, “ASTC was affected on the passenger flow during the first initial week after the implementation of demonetization policy. But the months of December 2016 and January 2017 have shown a growth in revenue for the corporation as a positive sign”. On a concluding note, Mr Tiwari termed ASTC as a sustainable corporation in India in terms of inclusion of latest branded coaches, implementation of intelligent transport solutions and IT-enabled mobile based services for fleet communication and customer service support.

Assam State Transport Corporation has played a positive role in connecting places and people of Assam right from North-Bank to South-Bank of Brahmaputra, and from Barak-Valley to Brahmaputra-Valley, through its dedicated and devoted services. “I believe we have to undertake measures to enhance capability of human resources, and use effective technology to go ahead with long term goals to connect places and people by our services”, concluded the MD with an optimistic note, forecasting a vibrant future for ASTC in its dedicated service towards Assam and North-East India.

 

About the author-

Biswajit Baruah is the Mentor/Director of Bus Bucket and a guest writer at UniTreed. He is also a Consulting Editor at Motor India.

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