Can a New Business Model Save teh Ratri Sewa

The popular Ratri Bus Sewa is mired in rumors about closing down. Its successful execution points to an entrepreneurial approach on the part of the Nepali government. What can help it —an open line of dialogue or a new business model?

Ever wish there was a safe and non-adventurous way to go home after a late night? You may want to try the government initiated Ratri Bus Sewa. With closed circuit TV and policement on duty inside each bus, the bus service runs every evening until 11pm for the benefit of late commuters. It also covers most the busy routes in the capital.

Yogesh Shah, a student as well as a part-time tuition teacher, relates an experience he had on a regular bus. A woman was feeling unwell and was voicing her concerns; the driver and conductor disapproved and told her to be quiet. Yogesh was affected by this story because it revealed the lack of concern for passengers using public transportation. He feels that Ratri Sewa, as it runs till late and because of the security personnel, is a service that demonstrates more concern for passengers, and that an incident such as this would not have occurred in a government-run bus service. Along with security features including mobile security units (motorcycles), the bus service in its inception had uniforms for the driver and conductor, but this feature was removed later on. Other than that, the bus appears typical, apart from the list up ‘Ratri bus’ sign on the nose of the bus.

My experience of riding on the Ratri Sewa was unique but uneasy. The feeling was one of suspicion and a little paranoia. Most passengers didn’t seem to like traveling at night. There was some reckless and fast driving and a general uneasiness at taking out one’s phone, wallets and portable music players. Some passengers are not regular users of Ratri Sewa – the service has instead become an emergency ride for many. People back from wedding receptions use it as much as young folk back from parties. Mixed with this urban demographic is a healthy dose of manual laborers, back from their day jobs. One passenger mentioned that he did not travel at all at night when the Ratri Sewa service was not available. When asked about the other alternative, getting a taxi as being safer too perhaps, most passengers agreed that it was too expensive.

In any case, there was one rule: no walking. It was deemed that walking at night was too unsafe. In contrast, due to the presence of two police officers and a CCTV camera, passenger Ajay Pande, a salesman, felt quite safe using Ratri Sewa. With drunks and thugs taken care of, the police also check reckless driving. Passengers also mentioned that security outside the vehicles should also be tightened, as all passengers eventually have to walk varied distances. A high school student, Yogesh Shah felt positive about the Ratri Sewa service as it created numerous jobs, but mentioned that the bus might still not be ideal for women, sick people and the differently-abled.

Sadu Ram Bhattarai, Coordinator at the Ratri Bus Operating office, believes that Ratri Sewa is the first such venture that provides a method of travel for factory, hotel and restaurant workers who work late at night. This section of the public in particular have responded well to Ratri Sewa, saying that it is necessary and should be continued. Another positive response is that private micro-buses and mini-buses also operate till much later. However, Bhattarai mentioned that the organizers felt Ratri Sewa was hard to sustain, given that there is a scarcity of workers at night and rarity of other night time activities. Mr Bhattarai believes that for Ratri Sewa to continue and expand, political stability is key as nobody will listen to the need for sustainability without it. The interest of other business partners in the venture is also important, as the Office of Kathmandu Metropolitan City cannot finance Ratri Sewa every year. Bhattarai believes that Ratri Sewa must be self-sustainable soon.

People using the bus service believe that people will pay for reliable means of transport and for security while traveling at night. Nepal has a culture of immobility at night, where there is not a big market for night activities and travel. Given this, however, Ratri Sewa may still be profitable in the future if people trust it to be a secure means of transport. However, there also needs to be a more open process with input from the public, which would increase the public’s confidence in the venture. According to Prabhat Kumar Chalise, a Ratri Sewa passenger, “The public doesn’t have the opportunity to analyze the fare based on fuel prices and engage with the government’s analysis, and there is no platform for us to speak about public transport.” Until these issues are corrected, Ratri Sewa must be seen as a social venture for the welfare of the public rather than for profit. Had Ratri Sewa been a private venture, it would have been marketed for profitability, whereas the government markets Ratri Sewa for social good. If Ratri Sewa were a public-private venture, with both for-profit and for-social welfare components, it would have been run better.

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