Delhi Tourism’s HOHO bus service stares at uncertain future as losses mount
The number of tourists availing Delhi Tourism’s Hop-On-Hop-Off bus service has dropped to below 80 per day, much lower than the 250 minimum required to keep the service profitable. The number of buses too have dropped — from 15 low-floor CNG buses in 2010 to just five today.
At the time of its launch during the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the Delhi tourism department’s Hop-On-Hop-Off (HOHO) bus service promised much in terms introducing visitors to the national capital’s art, heritage and lively markets. Nine years down, however, the service, modelled on similar facilities in the West, has not lived up to expectations.
The service is running into losses and while the private operator, whose contract ends in 2020, says it is yet to hear from the government on turning a corner, the tourism department says the terms of the contract doesn’t allow it to pump money into it.
The number of tourists availing the service has dropped to below 80 per day, much lower than the 250 minimum required to keep the service profitable. The number of buses too have dropped — from 15 low-floor CNG buses in 2010 to just five today.
As per Government of India’s “India Tourism Statistics, 2017”, Delhi shares more than 10% share of foreign tourist visits with over 2740502 visiting the national capital in 2017. The share of domestic tourists, according to the same report, is less than 2 %. with less than 3 crore visitors in 2017.
“When we started the service, we had no other model to follow in India. We had expected a good response because of the novelty,” said Jaijeet Dey, director of Prasanna Purple Mobility Solutions, the company that operates the tours in joint venture with Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC). The buses start, at an interval of 40 minutes, from Baba Kharak Singh Marg for the 20 sites in the HOHO circuit comprising monuments, museums and popular markets of Delhi. Each 12-hour trip, covering 64 kilometres comes at ₹499 for domestic tourists and ₹999 for foreigners.
“We are not funded by the government. We depend on the money that we generate from tourists. CNG buses are very costly and so is their maintenance. We bought 14 buses to start the service. But we need tourists to run them. We can’t keep buses unused,” Dey said.
That HoHo is incurring losses has been discussed in government meetings including the 200th meeting of DTTDC board of directors held recently under the chairmanship of Manish Sisodia, Delhi tourism minister.
“The contract clearly says we will provide just the license to the operator for the service. How can we give him money to make it more attractive?” said a DTTDC official who did not wish to be named.
There were experiments to give fresh lease of life to the service. In 2014, the operator introduced hosting birthday parties on board the bus as it traversed the circuit for ₹15,000. It was abandoned after incidents of people drinking on board were reported. The operator also introduced short trips instead of 12-hour trips. But that didn’t help either.
“We cannot have policemen in the bus all the time,” said a trip advisor of the company that operates the popular double decker sightseeing bus service in Goa, apart from Delhi’s HOHO. Security issues apart, people who used the service said it suffered with other peculiar issues too.
“In the west, sightseeing buses have open-decks which makes them attractive. Then, in Delhi you get stuck in traffic and have to halt your journey during VIP movements. Domestic tourists may be familiar with this, but it is a big put-off for foreigners,” said Vandana Singh, who once hopped on a HOHO bus with a foreign friend.
Delhi tourism officials said last year that the government considered replacing the present fleet with open-deck electric buses for which they were in touch with NTPC.
This too is yet to take off.