The newly-launched ferry service from Vytilla to Kakkanad has few takers and several teething troubles. But the service is a convenient alternative of picturesque travel
It is 10 minutes past 10 in the morning. The pier at the Vytilla Mobility Hub is empty. Some motorcycles are parked in one corner of the waiting shed. A couple of youngsters, their bags slung over their backs, sit on the railing chatting, laughing, pulling out their mobile phones and taking turns to pose for photographs. We wait for the ferry. A board hung there gives you the timings of the ferry service from Vytilla to Kakkanad. That’s all you get for information. Just when you think that possibly the ferry must have skipped this trip you see it turn a bend, surprisingly fast, the blaring horn announcing its arrival.
Built by the Steel Industries Limited-Kerala, the boat can carry 45 passengers and 10 two-wheelers. A handful of passengers alight from the boat and quickly make their way to the waiting buses at the Mobility Hub. The driver and conductor, along with three other crew members, stroll around and stretch themselves, ready for their return journey.
“It’s been like this on weekdays; we have had very few passengers. On Sundays we have a good crowd, mostly tourists. Perhaps, the timings suit them,” says Peter, the conductor, as he hands us the tickets that are priced at Rs. 8. “The charge to ferry two-wheelers is Rs. 25 and it takes around 20 minutes to reach Chittethukara, (the terminal at Kakkanad),” Peter adds.
The five-kilometre waterway from Vytilla to Kakkanad is enough to turn one into a ferry aficionado. No traffic, no snarling jams, no endless waiting at the signals. This is the best way to bypass all this — an ideal tonic for the toxicity of life in this haphazard city.
The ferry had just left the pier when two men shouted and waved, forcing the driver to turn back and pick them up. “This is a lovely trip. We only hope that more and more people come to know of this and travel,” says Shanmukhan, the driver, who has 10 years of experience. “All five of us work on alternate days on this boat. We are assigned by the station master at the Ernakulam boat jetty. If we are here on one day, we are on the Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, Vypeen schedules on the other days…” Shanmukhan breaks off as he slows down and sounds the horn, allowing a huge barge to pass by.
There’s no one to alight at the Eroor jetty, the other ‘stop’ on the journey. Like any ferry ride this one is a kind of ‘timeout’. There’s nothing you can do until you get to the other side, except relax and watch the world go by quietly on the two banks of the Kadambrayar river. Water birds fly and dive into the water; the only noise you hear is the chugging of the ferry, the banter of the youngsters inside the boat, and the rumble of the traffic on one of the bridges we have just crossed.
The ferry stops at the Kakkanad boat terminal. There is a lone autorickshaw and two passengers waiting to board the ferry. There’s no waiting shed; not even a shelter. A board with the ferry timings hangs obscurely on a post.
“You have to walk almost a kilometre to get to the main road. We don’t have many autorickshaws here as only a few passengers take this ferry. During weekends a lot of students take it to Vytilla; otherwise I think hardly anyone knows about this service here,” says autorickshaw driver Ajay Ghosh.
District Collector P.I. Sheikh Pareeth sees reason here. “It’s just a couple of weeks since the ferry was launched. There are a few things to be done immediately. We will put up a signboard at the road leading to the jetty at Kakkanad with the timings. We’ll also think of having Kudumbasree autorickshaws here. They will be given a retainer fee irrespective of whether they get a trip or not. People need to be informed about this service which can serve hundreds of daily commuters,” the Collector promises.
Apart from providing commuters with a speedy, eco-friendly and economical mode of transport, this ferry also aims to provide commuters an alternative mode of transport when traffic is diverted for metro rail constructions.
But both the passengers and the boat crew strongly think that there is need to include the peak hours of the day in the service schedules. “At present, there are no services in the early mornings or in the evenings — the timings that are convenient for workers or those employed at the Infopark. Also, it would be good if the service is extended upto Infopark,” feels Rameshan, a passenger.
“This is under consideration. It involves a lot of technical readjustments. For instance, it calls for extra staff to man the ferry and extra hours of work. The State Water Transport Department (SWTD) is open to extend it upto the Infopark. We are also open to plying at night, depending on the passenger response,” informs Shaji V. Nair, Director, SWTD.