The bus is the flavour of this travel season. Consider this: A Mumbai-Goa one-way fare for December 30 by a low-cost carrier is over Rs 7,500. Take an AC Volvo bus, and you pay just Rs 1,500 or less, depending on the offers.

While the airline sector struggles through an unsteady phase with fares going up 30 per cent this year, bus operators are rejoicing silently and are set to close a profitable year as travellers move to the bus segment.

Cheaper fares, high comfort levels and good roads have revved up the bus segment. Also, with many airports like in Hyderabad and Bangalore located far from the city, buses provide easier access to the city centre. Online travel portals are particularly buoyant about the growth in the bus travel segment and are expanding the offerings.

The overall bus market is estimated to be growing at 10-15 per cent year-on-year. The government market is pegged at about Rs 20,000 crore, while the private segment is around Rs 10,000 crore.

“The online sales in the bus segment are doubling every year,” said Partha Sinha, co-founder Travelyaari, a bus travel portal. Travelyaari has around 650 private operators of the total 2,000 in India besides three State government operators that use their backend services.

According to industry estimates, in the past five years, the online bus sales market has grown to Rs 1,000 crore. Travelyaari did about Rs 50 crore of online sales last year. This year, the company’s online sales revenue is expected to touch Rs 150 crore.

“Our sales target for next year is Rs 500 crore,” Sinha said. Travelyaari plans to expand its network in West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the coming year and tie up with Gujarat, Karnataka and Rajasthan State government operators.

The biggest bus markets are the metros — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Ahmedabad.

Interestingly, contrary to popular perception, it is not the shorter routes that are driving the growth. “The shorter route is just about 2-3 per cent of the total private bus business,” Sinha added. Ahmedabad-Bangalore, Mumbai-Chennai, Bangalore-Hyderabad are the top popular routes that have seen impressive growth in the past two years.

Online travel portal MakeMyTrip recently launched its bus services for customers. It offers over 12,000 bus routes across India from over 800 bus operators for online bus booking.

For online travel portal Ezeego1, bus travel accounts for 30 per cent of its total online bookings.

nivedita.ganguly@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 17, 2012)
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