shelters in India are being transformed from poorly maintained, ordinary structures to modern waiting stops with better seating and backlit advertising opportunities, not far away from home, in Dubai, air conditioned (AC) bus shelters are the new talking point.
Right Angle Media, part of the Indian Laqshya Group, unveiled what they call "the world's first ever public AC bus shelters". The project was inaugurated by the Public Transport Agency of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) of Dubai.
The AC bus shelters are shaped like crescents and each shelter can accommodate up to 14 people. They are equipped with advertising and information spaces, snack and soft drink vending machines, ATMs, and an integrated set of public services and facilities such as recycling garbage containers. The temperature inside the bus shelter will be maintained at 22-23 degrees Celsius; outside temperatures in Dubai reach 50-55 degrees Celsius. The shelter will provide the locals cool respite against the sweltering heat of the Gulf summers.
Right Angle Media's commitment to the project is valued at about AED 750 million (Rs 825 crore); the contract is a 10 year one and entails the construction of about 1,000 AC bus shelters across Dubai.
Raman Multani says, "The project represents an important part of a broad strategy executed by the RTA based on longterm plans to alleviate the traffic congestion on the roads and streets of Dubai."
Multani says that when they set up their headquarters in Dubai, they did not want to be just a billboard company, so they studied the market. "We found that though Dubai had a public transport system, it was inadequate because there were only 200 bus shelters as compared to the more than 300 scheduled bus stops. That plus the intense heat during the summer months gave us the radical idea of installing AC bus shelters throughout the city. We then got to designing the shelters and made a concept pitch to the government. After a due diligence tender process, Right Angle was awarded the DBOT project in January 2006."
The first lot of 49 AC bus shelters were dedicated to the people of Dubai on April 14. Apart from the 49 shelters commissioned on the Jumeirah Beach Road between Madinat Jumeriah and Union House, more than 365 bus shelters have been installed till now at the rate of four per day. The commissioning of the shelters is dependent on the local authority, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA). A total of 1,000 shelters will be installed in the current phase and they will cover most parts of the city.
Discussing the advertising opportunities on the bus shelters, Multani says, "Advertising on bus shelters is globally well known, but what is special about advertising on these AC bus shelters are their distinctive locations, the facades' background lighting and their prominent crescent design, which makes them striking ad spots that capture the attention of both bus commuters and passers by."
Each bus shelter is sold as a location. Each location comprises the top panel of the actual bus shelter (1.2 metres x 6m) and a double sided free standing unit that has two faces (1.2m x 1.8m each). Currently, the bus shelters carry displays from a shoe brand, a mutual fund (UTI), a bank, a mall and some airline brands.
Will these bus shelters be replicated in other parts of the UAE or anywhere else in the world? Multani says, "The Dubai design will never be replicated anywhere else. All our offerings will be unique to the location. However, we do have a proposal pending with the Department of Transport in Abu Dhabi and with the Sharjah Public Transport Corporation. The concept will remain the same, but the design will be unique to each city and its aesthetics."
Multani confirms that Right Angle Media has been approached by several municipalities outside the UAE, which are interested in developing similar partnership based solutions. "This project signals the coming of an era where government, private players and the public will work together to create utilities of exceptional operational efficiency and superiority in design," he says.
Would something like this work in India? Multani feels that while India can certainly do with AC bus shelters, the challenges India offers are also unique. Availability of electricity and safety against vandalism and misuse are issues that will need to be addressed.
Soumitra Bhattacharyya, CEO, Laqshya Group, says, "We at Laqshya strongly believe that it is only when the interests of the government and the public merge that actual value can be created. If Indian cities are to take on any of the world cities, then it is time that companies like ours take it upon ourselves to do more such PPP (public-private partnership) projects."
Recently, Laqshya won the rights to construct and maintain 25 modern public toilets in Indore in return for revenues through the advertising space around the toilets. It is also constructing pedestrian over-bridges with escalators in the city of Indore.
Comparing Dubai's OOH scenario to India's, Multani says that OOH is still in its early stage of development in Dubai. "Dubai certainly has much better quality of structures and the locations are approved by the local authority in a much more planned manner. The scope of growth in Dubai is very high as compared to India."
He adds that Dubai is expanding at breakneck pace and the local authorities are focusing on public transport and roads. All of this will lead to more and more possibilities of installation, which will ultimately grow the market in volume.
"However, the research and methodology used in selling OOH is very poor and very little. The media owners are totally dependent on agencies for business. The agencies plan campaigns based on relationships. Well-researched outdoor with professional analysis of efficacy will grow the market," he says.