A fare hike is on the anvil for passenger ferries operated across the State by the State Water Transport Department (SWTD).
Ferry fares fixed in 2001 were not revised during the past 12 years. Commuters now travel up to 3 km by paying a minimum fare of Rs.2. The shortfall in income used to be compensated for by the State Government through supplementary demand of grant.
The National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC) is ready with a study on the viability of the 51 ferry services which operate mainly in Ernakulam, Alappuzha and Kollam. The agency will hand over a report on fare revision to the State government by this month-end.
The report will specify how to operate the services without incurring loss. The report is also expected to throw light on problems such as low fuel efficiency, slow speed of boats, and inherent weaknesses in the SWTD’s administration. This is the first time that such a scientific study is being done by NATPAC. The agency suggests fare revision for buses, autos and taxi cars.
“A fortnight ago, prior to fixing an index on the fare revision, officials of NATPAC discussed with us details like the operating cost of ferries and other expenses incurred by the department,” said Shaji B. Nair, the Director of SWTD.
During the last decade, the department had forwarded to the government three proposals for fare revision. The government decided to take a wait and watch approach, as the ferries catered to the needs of thousands of commuters who lived in islands and backward areas which did not have alternative modes of transport. In Ernakulam alone, 15,000 passengers use the ferry service daily.
Bulk diesel consumer
The demand for speeding up the fare revision process gained impetus after oil companies included the SWTD in the bulk consumer of diesel category.
Mr. Nair said the department’s monthly expenses increased by over Rs.20 lakh per month after it was recognised as a bulk consumer. The ferries need 1.8 lakh litres of diesel each month. The annual income from sale of tickets is approximately Rs.6 crore. The ‘bulk customer’ tag alone has increased the department’s annual fuel bill by Rs 2.40 crore. Till 2001, the fare hikes used to be nominal.
The gaping deficit between income and expenditure was one of the reasons cited by the SWTD for its inability to augment its fleet, despite massive demand.
Though estimates say that the operational cost is 10 times the revenue, a proportionate fare hike is unlikely, because of socio-economic factors.