The Motor Vehicles Department (MVD) has been left helpless as private inter-State bus services are being operated with impunity exploiting the thin line differentiating contract carriage from stage carriage services.
These services operated to multiple destinations are being treated as contract carriages when in effect they are being operated like stage carriages. Back in 1990s an attempt was made to put an end to this practice but the operators approached the court and secured a favourable verdict.
By definition contract carriage is the vehicle engaged for the whole journey between two points for carriage of persons hiring it but it has no right to take other passengers on the way. The stage carrier is a vehicle, which runs between two points irrespective of any prior contract and passengers board the vehicle along the route who pay the fare for the distance they travel. Tickets cannot be issued aboard the contract carriage.
For instance, a contract carriage bound for Bangalore from Kochi is supposed to transport passengers only to that destination with no stopovers for boarding and disembarkation of passengers in between.
The operators found an effective way to circumvent this condition by entrusting agencies with issuing tickets from a designated point. So, while a Kochi-Bangalore or similar other private inter-State bus services remain a contract carriage on paper, passengers are picked up and dropped at various destinations for different fares just like stage carriage services.
With action against these services rendered impossible by the court verdict, the government jacked up the tax for these carriages by more than 50 per cent. They pay taxes at border check posts and operate services to the State. One of the operators said the relatively high fare charged by them is meant to compensate this huge tax rate.
Kochi is one of the favourite destinations for such private operators. For instance, a major private operator has about 19 daily services from the city.
“Only less than ten per cent of such inter-State private buses are registered here. There is no provision in the Kerala State Motor Vehicles Rules 1989 for the registration of Volvo and similar other luxury vehicles used for these services. Even the low-floor buses operated by KSRTC are being registered on the strength of special orders issued by the government,” said P.J. Antony, Ernakulam RTO.
One of the rare areas of jurisdiction for the MVD over these services is to penalise them for carrying cargo in addition to the baggage of passengers. Mr. Antony said many operators try to make some additional cash by transporting extra cargo. MVD officials often scan buses for such unauthorised cargo at Vytilla, a major point for disembarkation in the city.