Bury the daily wrangle with bus conductors over change for bus fare with a smart card

Slowly, a smart card-based payment solution is gaining currency among private bus passengers in the district, and helping them avoid wrangle with bus conductors over change.

The smart card was brought in by Kochi-based Chillar Payment Solutions in November last year in collaboration with Private Bus Operators Association. However, its usage started only from mid-December and in less than three months, 6,600 cards have been distributed.

The card, rechargeable like a pre-paid cellphone, is swiped against an Internet-enabled machine aboard buses and the ticket fare gets deducted from the balance.

District general secretary of Private Bus Operators Association M.B. Satyan said the system had been adopted by 198 buses operating in the Tripunithura, Poothotta, Kakkanad and Aluva routes and even in the eastern suburbs of Kothamangalam and Muvattupuzha towns.

Executive director of Chillar Payment Solutions P.M. Shahas said passengers had taken a linking to the card. It would be gradually expanded to cover all buses affiliated to the association, he said.

“There have been many takers despite a service charge of 4 per cent for every recharge. The cards and recharge coupons have been made available only in buses that have adopted the system, he said.

It takes about 10-15 days to set up the machine in buses and train bus employees. The company does not collect initial deposit from bus operators but rent out the gadget.

The indefinite strike called by autorickshaw unions last month had bit the dust without pushing through their demands for fare hike and fixing city limits. However, flex boards that emotionally details how difficult it is for an auto driver to survive in the city without a fare hike have sprung up in parts of the city to tug at the hearts of passengers.

Autorickshaw operators and unions cite the gradual attrition in their ranks to highlight difficulty in eking out a living in this profession. “Over the last six months about 1,200 autorickshaw drivers left the job in Kochi, Palluruthy, Ernakulam, and Vyttilla regions after finding it hard to earn a decent livelihood. Many of them have taken up casual labour,” said V.V. Praveen, the State committee member of the CITU-affiliated Autorickshaw Drivers’ Association. The association is about to take out rally across the State on March 19 demanding a hike in minimum fare to Rs. 20 from the existing Rs. 15 fixed in 2012.

Aneesh, an autorickshaw driver in a city stand and member of BMS, said many youngsters, especially those who drive autos taken on rent, had left the job since that strike. They were left with precious little after paying daily rent of Rs. 250 and another Rs. 250 on diesel. They had to earn at least Rs. 1,000 to survive.

“It is impossible to operate on metre fare alone without collecting half the metre fare extra to compensate for the vacant return trip in the corporation area spread over 28 kilometres. That’s why we have been demanding that the city limit be fixed,” Mr. Aneesh said.

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