Richard Branson, the phlegmatic owner of Virgin, was able to look at the funny side of things when he posed next to an employee taking a nap while at work. The Branson brand has permeated among staff more as a friend than an ogre, otherwise even though the employee had stirred and seen him, he couldn't have been comforted by the fact it was a dream. That's just one of the reasons why Branson has become what he has from the misty days of operating out of a garage. The gumption with which he took on British Airways (BA), not least exemplified by the famous 'No way, BA' emblazoned on his planes and then challenging British Rail by operating the Virgin trains, says as much of his audaciousness as it does if savvy business mettle. Quality service at a price is an acceptable commodity.
Private investment in the transportation sector has provided volume but the consumer continues to be denied the quality they should be getting. It's difficult to find any public transport on roads that doesn't resemble a shipwreck. Windows are missing, seats are torn but , and here's the catch, the fares are always in sync with the times of rising fuel prices and never when such prices are reduced. There has been a long standing suspicion that the government can't modernise railways because it would hit the road transport owners. Long haul buses in the private sector are definitely gleaming and comfortable resulting in the government's long haul buses being quietly taken out of service, thereby denying commuters the choice of cheaper transport.
So, when alternatives such as Uber are introduced, there has to be be more than a few sore heads. Lutfar Rahman Sarkar's brilliant Bikolpo taxi service , essentially for university students' additional income died an untimely death for the same reason. Yet it was an innovative initiative that should have been supported by a thought through backward linkage. Taxi-cab services have, by and large all failed basically because no one had the answer to calculating wait time in traffic snarls. On one hand, the commuter ended up paying more and , on the other, the cab-driver was denied of additional fare opportunities. But the sector is and can be viable; otherwise, why should Sena Kalyan Trust make the investment?
Away from the cities, inter-district buses are as bad, if not worse. A hapless mass, with no alternative have to make their journeys so when bus-owners impose a shutdown in seven districts a huddle between district administration, police and owners has to happen. The demands border on the ludicrous. Passenger carrying by motor-cycle riders on highways in exchange of fares seems to be the bone of contention. A while ago, Bridges and Roads Minister Obaidul Quadir ordered CNGs to be taken off highways, ostensibly to prevent accidents. That was also a cheaper short-haul travel option for commuters. If people choose to ride on a bike in exchange for a consideration, why should that be opposed by the authorities? Such travel is in vogue in Thailand and no one goes on strike.
In the past, there have been strikes protesting harassment and rent-seeking by police. In spite of the too-cops public announcement that any such instance would be dealt with, we suffer the humiliation of seeing in social media visuals of a foreign national arguing with a cop, not over rent seeking, but a sudden increase in demand .
It's as if, rent seeking is an acceptable norm.Incredibly enough there's not a peep from the authorities. From uniforms to appearances the traffic cops do look bedraggled. Often overworked, not well paid they too have families to take care of. Implementing the law is their job, but the cost of favourable postings, the inherent interference and cronyism have all taken their toll.
Newer options for affordable and quality transportation must be opened up. It's time for competition in the railway sector too. That'll bring in investment and hasten upgrade of facilities.