Improving public transportation system, curbing vehicular pollution and ensuring safety of passengers have always been top priorities for every state government. Ritika Bisht and Shubham Gupta, Governance Today talk to Kailash Chandra Sahoo, Joint Secretary, Commerce & Transport Department, Government of Odisha, to know about the overall transportation eco-system in Odisha. Edited Excerpts:

Kailash Chandra Sahoo, Joint Secretary, Commerce & Transport Department, Government of Odisha

The public transport is hardly able to match the rise in demand due to increase in population. How is the Odisha government planning to address this situation?

The urban population of Bhubaneswar is increasing exponentially which has culminated in traffic congestion and road fatalities. There is an urgent need for strengthening public transportation and utilizing information and communication technology to reduce travel time and distance of all commuters and provide better transportation.

As the economic growth and financial condition of the people in general are becoming better, people want quick and timely transport service along with comfortable journey. This has resulted in procuring personalized motor vehicles because public transport system in the state is neither quick nor timely, nor comfortable. As a result, innumerable motor cycles and cars are on roads resulting in overcrowding which does not exhibit a positive sign for environment and road safety. Hence, our state government has started popularizing rapid transit transport system and encouraging people of non-coastal districts through Biju Gaon Gadi Yojana by operating small and medium buses which not only provide connectivity from Gram Panchayats to districts and sub-divisional headquarters but also enhance mobility of rural public for their economic and integral growth.

Simultaneously, road transport system under JNNURM scheme is operational in six districts. Government is not only in the process of introducing more buses but also expand the scheme to neighboring districts for promoting public transport system.

Bus stands are being modernized and renovated through PPP mode providing different basic amenities to the passengers. To ensure safety and security of passengers, the Government is taking measures to make mandatory the provision of installation of close circuit cameras and GPS in all buses. Simultaneously, we are also taking important measures for improving road engineering and road planning.

Smart mobility has been named as one of the essential features for the ambitious smart city project. What plan and policies for smart transportation will your department implement for this purpose?

Bhubaneswar, the capital city, has been incorporated in the smart city projects which would result in implementation of new steps for smart mobility. Government of Odisha is going to procure more buses under JNNURM Scheme. Bus bays and bus stops in the city are being developed for safety and convenience of the passengers. Government has also finalized a plan to impose green tax on old vehicles and buses.

Further, each road is being provided now with designated foot path, cycle path with well marked zebra crossing. All efforts are being taken to provide an efficient public transport system in the city so that both car users and motorcyclists will find travelling in city buses easier. For smart transportation, Government is focusing on using various information and communication technology to encourage green mode transport, Integrated Transport System, multi modal transport with a vision and road map for implementing a rapid mass transportation system.

A shift to electric mobility is essential to counter depletion and increase in costs of fossil fuels, and to minimize negative impact of transportation on the environment. How will you move ahead in this direction?

Government is actively considering encouraging battery operated vehicles which can cater to shuttle trips in and around the city. Battery operated motor bikes with low capacity are also encouraged as need of registration is not required as per the CMV Rules, 1989. This will not only reduce dependence on fossil fuels but also prevent environmental degradation. The growing importance of e-transportation is felt in the State and our e-rickshaw policy is going to be approved by Government very shortly.

Intelligent traffic management, integrated multi-modal transport, hybrid and electric vehicles, city traffic surveillance, vehicle tracking system are just few of the elements of smart mobility. Technology would be at forefront while enabling these solutions. How is your department planning to introduce these elements for commuters?

Our Department is focusing on establishment of more and more pollution testing centres in the State. At the first instance, all the vehicle dealers and filling stations are being tagged for the purpose, which will definitely go a long way in curbing vehicular pollution. In addition to this, Odisha is one of the selected states to be given grants to a tune of Rs. 17 crore by MoRTH (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways), Government of India for implementation of modernized vehicular fitness certification centre. Further, two more centres have been proposed by the state government to Government of India which is waiting for approval. Besides this, the police officers have been delegated power to detect vehicles without PUCC.

Further, the Government has taken effective measures for installation of CCTV cameras for city traffic surveillance. Simultaneously, Government will mandate the provision of installation of close circuit cameras and GPS in all buses for safety of passengers and vehicle tracking.

What according to you would be the biggest challenge while working on introducing smart mobility?

Enforcement is an indispensable part of traffic safety management. It is widely accepted that IT enabled tools are practically best solutions for keeping a check on traffic violators. Implementation of smart mobility through introduction of mobile apps for reservation of seats in buses and identification the location of buses etc. will enhance the efficiency of public transport system. This will go a long way in creation of a robust public transport system which will also ensure road safety. But there are certain challenges in introduction of smart mobility. Foremost of these is the lack of awareness/ IT knowledge among the public. Secondly, the system for monitoring and surveillance of various IT enabled projects is still not very strong. Third, improper planning of road infrastructure inhibits the introduction of smart solutions.