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Friday , 23 February 2024

Interview: Transforming Mobility Experience

General Manager (P&A) at Capital Region Urban Transport (CRUT) and Officer on Special Duty, Odisha State Road Transport Corporation (OSRTC), Dipti Mahapatro

As General Manager (P&A) at Capital Region Urban Transport (CRUT) and Officer on Special Duty, Odisha State Road Transport Corporation (OSRTC), Dipti Mahapatro, has introduced revolutionary initiatives to transform mobility experience for people, especially for women by providing an integrated gender inclusive public transport system. She shares here with TrafficInfratech her intense journey through the years.

Your journey of more than 16 years so far has been quite versatile…

I consider myself to be lucky to be given portfolios by the Government of Odisha that are diverse and challenging. With each and every administrative position I have held, I ensured to set milestones that were never thought of before with the only motive to serve the public better. By aiming for the impossible I have been able to push myself and my team to strive for the unthinkable.

I was entrusted with the responsibility of being the General Manager (P & A) at CRUT at its nascent stage of formation. This was soon after Bhubaneswar got selected as the top-ranking smart city of India in the first round of selection process. It was that moment I knew that I had to do something that would totally transform the urban mobility system of not only the city of Bhubaneswar, but the entire capital region of Odisha. CRUT is not just an organisation for me, it is like my own child, which was born after my joining, have seen growing and bringing glory to the State by making public transport available, accessible, affordable, smart, safe and inclusive for all.

It is remarkable that CRUT is bringing in reforms in public transport and transit. It is committed to change “the way we move”. What have been the challenges faced?

In 2018, CRUT evolved from Bhubaneswar Puri Transport Services Limited (BPTSL). BPTSL that was formed in 2010, lacked a customer centric approach because of which the number of private vehicles in Bhubaneswar increased threefold over the past decade. So, as soon as CRUT came into existence, its biggest challenge was to attract the public to change their preferred mode of commute to ‘Mo Bus’. Another major challenge was the hindrances caused by the private operators of public transport in the city who felt threatened with the advent of ‘Mo Bus’ in the city’s public transport network.

My team and I worked tireless and within four months got our Mo Buses on the road to serve the citizens of the capital region of Odisha. We came up with an affordable fare mechanism and integrated Mo Bus with Intelligent Transport Management System to assure hassle-free, safe and comfortable travelling experience for the commuters. The name ‘Mo Bus’, meaning ‘My Bus’ in the local language, was chosen to instil a feeling of ownership among the citizens. Our rigorous branding campaigns followed by the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup, 2018 where there were special services provided for the audience played a major role in attracting the public. Our committed grievance redressal mechanism and prompt response to feedback received from our commuters have indeed transformed the region’s public transport system and made our impact felt by ‘the way we moved’!

What are the special features of Mo Bus?

Serving over 405 km of network across Bhubaneswar, Khordha, Cuttack, Puri and Konark; Mo Buses have been designed by keeping in mind very minute details to ensure that the best facility is provided to the public. CRUT has consciously invested in revamping its transit services by integrating innovative technology in its transit services. All Mo Buses are already enabled with Automatic Vehicle Locating System, Automatic Fare Collection System, Public Information System and onboard announcement for the commuters to have a comfortable journey. The CCTV surveillance and emergency panic button inside Mo Bus ensured safety of the commuters. Each Mo Bus is equipped with fire extinguisher and first aid box to tackle any emergency.

The ‘Mo Bus App’ available in Play Store (both in Android and iOS) provides a range of facilities like live tracking of buses (ETA / ETD), travel planning, e-ticketing, availing special passes etc. The Tap and Pay Mo Bus card and QR enabled payment method were launched during the pandemic to ensure contactless payment of bus tickets. There are special discounts given to differently abled people and flat 50% discount for senior citizens to make our service universally accessible.

The State-of-the-Art Mo Bus Depots are designed adhering to green building norms that act as one stop solution for all activities required for smooth operation of Mo Bus. The Bus Queue Shelters of Mo Bus are well-lit, equipped with Mo Bus route map and strategically located that serve as safe waiting area for the public waiting to board the bus.

You have been working to bring in gender sensitiveness and transforming the mobility experience especially for women. You have managed to balance both these aspects— one, encouraging women to enter the transport sector and two, making the commute comfortable for women by providing safety and other convenience which were neglected earlier…

As a woman, I understand the specific problems women are facing while commuting in public transport. For example, the level of discomfort for men and women differs substantially in the same crowded bus. This is why I have stressed on gender sensitive passenger management as a mandatory module in training our crew. We have daily counselling sessions before outshedding, along with having periodic special training sessions to enhance the soft skills of our crew.

The public transport sector in India is highly male dominated. I have the vision of changing this notion. Today we have 40% women Guides who are working at par with their male counter parts. This policy had a two way effect where CRUT was not only able to become the pioneer in having women as part of its bus crew in the country, but the presence of women guides in Mo Bus encouraged women commuters to avail Mo Bus service even during late at night. This initiative coupled with the presence of CCTV cameras and emergency panic button inside the Mo Bus made both the women commuters and women guides feel safe inside our bus.

CRUT is the first public transport Authority in India to have disaggregated ticketing system. Our Integrated Transport Management System enabled Automatic Fare Collection System is equipped with collection of data on the type of commuter using Mo Bus service. Data on age, gender and physical ability are collected based on which we are able to take managerial decisions that are backed by data. Through our disaggregated ticketing, we have been able to plan and execute better to make our Mo Bus service truly inclusive.

As an organisation, we have also gone a step further to promote gender sensitive and gender inclusive public transport by active usage of our social media handles to spread awareness on the issue. In the contemporary digital age, it is important to go beyond policy decisions and reach out to the wider public through the commonly used social media platforms. Several campaigns have also been organised on Women’s Day and other special occasions to send out the message to the mass that CRUT strongly stands for the promotion, creation and sustenance of a gender inclusive and gender sensitive public transport ecosystem in the capital region of Odisha.

It is a new concept to appoint women and transgender drivers in Mo E- Ride by providing opportunities to them. How did you come across this idea?

The Covid-19 induced pandemic caused havoc across the world. It was during the lockdown, when the people belonging to the disadvantaged sections of the society got pushed further into state of destitute. The transgender community which largely survives through begging or prostitution was one of worst hit communities. There were several reports on the increase in cases of domestic violence on women during the lockdown. These instances made me feel that something must be done urgently to mainstream and empower these people. This led to the genesis of us conceptualising the Mo E-Ride project spearheaded by women and transgender driving E-Rickshaws that provide last mile connectivity to the inter pockets of the city from the Mo Bus – Bus Queue Shelters.

The unique selling proposition of the Mo E-Ride project is that 100% of its drivers would be women and transgender. This is again one of its kind initiative that is taken up by any public transport organisation in India. There has been a different set of challenges to bring the beneficiaries together and commence their training programme. Today when the women and transgender drivers ply by the streets of Bhubaneswar driving the E-Rickshaw with the confidence and self esteem like any of their male counterparts, it gives me immense pride that I have been able to incrementally see the society transforming into what I had envisioned.

CRUT also encouraged bicycle as the sustainable mode of urban transport. Please give more information. We need dedicated infrastructure for cycles as well.

Soon after the launch of Mo Bus in 2018, Mo Cycle was launched to promote Non Motorised Transport system in the city as a sustainable mode of urban transport. Proper infrastructure was created across Bhubaneswar ranging from dedicated cycle tracks to cycle stands beside the Mo Bus – Bus Queue Shelters for smooth operations of Mo Cycle. Like Mo Bus, Mo Cycles are also enabled with smart technologies making the service customer-friendly. Large scale promotional activities like cyclothones were conducted from time to time to reach out to the people. Mo Cycle remains a popular mode of transit among the youth budding cyclists of the city.

How challenging it was to help change the mindset of women in Bhubaneswar and initiate them into becoming crew of Mo Bus and Mo E-Ride and getting into other positions in the transport sector?

The initial days were most crucial as having women guides in bus or women and transgender as drivers of E-Rickshaw were very new concepts for the public. Starting with the basics, we ensured having proper infrastructure like washrooms in our depots. In fact, Mo Bus depots are those few public spaces that have provision for separate washrooms for transgender. Even we took the support of NGO to reach out to the communities of transgender and slums for women. With large scale outreach programmes we were able to bring in women and transgender who were ready to become pioneers in this field. Gradually over the passage of time, the numbers started increasing, hinting at the fact that people have normalised seeing women and transgender become a part of this mainstream profession.

Feminism is often misunderstood by many being gender biased towards women and this misunderstanding often leads to animosity. One way flow of information is never beneficial unless there is an equal reciprocation of those ideas that we are advocating. So, it is necessary to create an ecosystem where all the stakeholders are equally gender sensitive and at CRUT we have consistently been able to execute our core value of gender sensitive and gender inclusive work environment in our daily operations

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