Kerala government’s reluctance to bail out financially troubled Kerala State Transport Corporation (KSRTC) contrasts sharply with the government’s enthusiasm to support Kochi Metro Rail project, which raises the possibility of government building up substantial liabilities in the future.
The state government, which hesitated to approve a spending of Rs. 28 crore over two months for meeting KSRTC’s additional diesel bills, will initially dish out more than Rs. 2,000 crore for the Kochi Metro Rail project, which is estimated to cost a total of Rs. 5,100 crore.
KSRTC has a monthly liability of about Rs. 90 crore currently and an outstanding debt of Rs. 1,200 crore, payable to Kerala Transport Development Financial Corporation.
These figures pale in comparison with the State government’s projected financial liability in running the metro rail although property development along the Metro route and advertisement revenue will meet about 15 per cent of the operational expenses.
KSRTC Employees’ Association (CITU) general secretary Jose Jacob has attributed government’s apathy to KSRTC as presaging the slow death of the corporation and gradual domination of the road transport sector by private bus operators.
The government’s willingness to spend money on the metro system too does not rhyme with the number of people benefitted by the service.
For example, the proposed 25-km Kochi Metro Rail system between Aluva and Pettah near Thripunithura is projected to carry 4.68 lakh people daily in 2015. In contrast, the state road transport corporation, plying its buses in more than 5,000 schedules on an average of 15 lakh km a day, carries about 40 lakh people daily.
Consumer welfare activist Dejo Kappen of Centre for Consumer Education says that the government may be trying to go one up on the neighbouring states by showing that Kochi too has a metro. It may not solve the traffic problems in Kochi, he said as he felt that government should have shown the keenness in grabbing the Shabari rail project and in saving the transport corporation.
He warned if KSRTC shuts down totally, it will pave the way for the domination of the road transport sector by private players, who would dictate terms.
The spread of the metro rail system does not compare with KSRTC services network though it poses the possibility of rapid mass movement of people through savings in transit time. The metro system, according to studies, can carry as much as what is carried by five-lane traffic in a city. Reduced noise pollution and reducing travel time between 50 and 75 per cent are great advantages. The metro system can also take care of the travel demand in a city like Kochi for about 25 years, studies have pointed out.
Though the cost of travel may show a big gap between the metro system and KSRTC, the minimum fares compare well. Travelling a km by the metro system will cost Rs.10 for a distance up to two km whereas the cost of travelling in a KSRTC bus ranges between Rs. 0.60 and 0.68 a km depending upon the type of bus one travels in. The minimum fares for a bus travel now is Rs. 6 whereas in the metro system it will be at least Rs. 10.