As Goa heads for polls, public transport needs an overhaul

by Brian de Souza 08 Feb 2022


As Goa gets ready for the polls next Monday, the quality of public transport is an area of concern for the state’s voters. In public fora and meetings with the political parties, ordinary citizens have consistently flagged the need for better and reliable public transport.

In the state where commutes to work can take at least an hour, residents in Margao, the business capital in the south who travel to towns in the north typically travel close to 60 kms on a daily basis, many using point-to-point bus services called shuttles.

The need for reliable transport across the state has also made ordinary citizens demand an intra-state railway from southern taluks to towns in the north, mainly the capital, Panaji.  Also, in recent months, issues surrounding transport eco-system have dominated public discourse. These include the sky-high prices of petrol and diesel, and the woes of taxi and autorickshaw drivers whose livelihoods are tourism-dependent. Many installed electronic meters at the government’s order but were not given the subsides promised. These sectors which are avenues for self-employment bore the brunt of lockdowns and hotel closures during the Covid.

Public transport neglected

To highlight the high petrol and diesel costs, a member of a prominent local party took the state’s electric bus service over a 30km distance to the capital, and walked the remainder of the way, a kilometer or so to the state’s assembly building.  Another party, seeking a beachhead in the state has promised to form a corporation to address the needs of taxi and autorickshaw operators. But as veteran columnist Prabhakar Timble puts it, “Goa’s politicians have forgotten about public transport.” He recalls that  that about two decades ago, the state’s budget had proposals on public transport but now no longer. Professor Shivanand Swamy of the Centre of Excellence in Urban Transport, Ahmedabad, says governments that invest in urban roads should also invest in public transport too.

INtegrated roads

Last December, Goa’s state transport operator, Kabamba Transport Corporation received the second lot of electric buses taking its electric fleet to nearly 50. These buses operate as shuttles on designated routes and are fitted with features such as electronically-controlled air suspension, CCTV cameras, and the emergency button for passenger safety. Says one regular commuter, “At Rs 50 for a single journey, this ride is a steal.” However, as Timble puts it, travelling between towns may have become easier but inter-village transport leaves much to be desired.” This, he says, means people use personal transport all the time, and spend on costly fuel. That’s where Goa could have small buses in the 12-to-40-seater configuration on routes integrated with the bigger roads, according to Professor Swamy.

Like its neighbouring Maharashtra, Goa had announced an e-mobility policy a year ago. Its scheme focuses on incentivising electric two-wheelers by providing rebates for first 10,000 registered. Goa reportedly has a million two-wheelers that account for 70 percent of the state’s vehicle population.

Goa’s  fragile economy has been on the news over the last 18 months as a result of new policies which include a network of rails to ferry coal, from the main port to the hinterland.  A state once known for its clean air is now grappling with increasing air pollution, with one main source being mining activities which has since stopped under a Supreme court ruling, and more lately is attributed to the sheer number of vehicles that operate on the state’s roads.

The state also has one of the highest vehicle densities in India. According to the Economic Survey of 2019, 14.5 lakh vehicles were reportedly registered which makes it one vehicle per person. The survey suggested that taxi and goods vehicle registrations had also gone up.

The new government that takes charge in a month’s time has its task cut out. The people of the state have made clear their need for better quality public transport, and it remains to be seen how these demands can be fulfilled.