Says AC buses offer a comfortable mode of travel

The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) is plying the low-floor, air-conditioned buses procured under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) for Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram as intercity services to make up the Rs. 1-crore loss incurred in operating the fleet only in the two cities and their suburbs, a high-ranking official of the corporation said here on Tuesday.

He was reacting to the objections raised by the City Corporations of Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram to the use of these buses for services outside their districts. The civic bodies have demanded a stake in operating the 280 air-conditioned and other buses being allotted for the two cities.

The KSRTC says it has a stake of Rs. 19.54 crore in the venture — Rs. 14.2 crore (20 per cent of the project cost) in the purchase of the buses for Kochi and Rs. 5.34 crore (10 per cent of the project cost) for Thiruvananthapuram.

“Neither of the civic bodies has spent money on the buses; nor are they paying for their upkeep and the salaries of crew and administrative staff,” an official said.

The eight buses that began intercity services from Monday are brand new and not diverted from the city services. “They cater to the demand from passengers for comfortable transport between major cities and towns. The buses link eight districts, beginning from Thiruvananthapuram,” Sharaf Mohammed, Chief Traffic Officer and Special Officer for Volvo buses, KSRTC, said.

He cited the collection of Rs. 75,797 from the three buses that plied on the Thiruvananthapuram- Ernakulam route and back on Monday as a tremendous response to the service.

“The services need Rs. 53 a km to break even. On the first day, it was Rs. 57 per km. The buses stop at places where superfast buses stop. They have been given a running time of five hours,” he said.

Fixed rate

The KSRTC has a fixed rate, unlike private long-haul buses that steeply hike their fare when demand is more.

For long, there has been a demand for air-conditioned bus services between districts so that people will not use personalised modes of transport for the journey.

Reacting to the demand from civic agencies for a stake in operating the buses, a high-ranking KSRTC official said that they would have to contribute an equal share of the utility’s Rs. 19.54 crore.

“They would also have to arrange parking, repair and other facilities that the KSRTC already has,” he said.

He said that if not for the JNNURM buses, the KSRTC would have had to spend Rs. 1 crore on purchase of each brand-new air-conditioned bus, which it could ill-afford to do now.

Mayor’s demand

Kochi Mayor Tony Chammany demanded that the services be operated within the city “as mandated by JNNURM norms”.

“The buses were bought mainly using Central funds for intra-city use,” he said.

Asked if the civic body was equipped to take over the services, he said the infrastructure required if a special purpose vehicle was formed could be worked out through discussions with the stakeholders.

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