The inadequate number of passenger boats, curbs imposed on the number of passengers in ferries following the Thekkady boat tragedy and the bad condition of boat jetties in the district have made the otherwise-relaxing boat journey a nightmare for many boat commuters.

Among the worst affected because of inadequate boat services are thousands of passengers from West Kochi to the city and back.

Apart from the cost advantage (Rs 2.50 instead of the Rs 8.50 charged in buses), boats take less than 20 minutes to cover the distance that buses cover in over an hour. Nowadays, tourists and even city residents on an outing prefer to travel in boats, rather than in congested buses that pass through polluted stretches.

Frequent trip cancellations after boats are taken for repairs makes matters worse, said the secretary of the West Kochi Passengers' Association S. Padmanabha Mallya. “The worst hit are regular passengers who are dependant on the boat services to commute. There used to be ferries at an average of every 15 minutes during peak hours, which is not the case now. Often, there is a delay of over 30 minutes and by this time, there would be a huge mass of people awaiting the ferry. People left back because of the curbs on number of passengers have to wait even further.”

The State Water Transport Department (SWTD) must introduce season tickets for regular passengers, so that they need not wait each day in the long queue to get the ticket.

Most passengers do not mind a nominal fare hike, since boat fares have not been hiked for many years. But the department must ensure better service, he said.

More boats

Ten more steel boats built by the Steel Industries Limited-Kerala would join the SWTD fleet in a month, said Shaji B. Nair, the Director of the department. Reacting to passengers' demand for season tickets, he said that the National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC) would soon come out with a list of recommendations to streamline bus and boat transport in the State.

Though there were reports that the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission had earmarked funds to purchase 40 passenger boats in the State, officials in the Corporation of Kochi said that they have not got details of the proposal.

The Cities Development Initiative for Asia's integrated transportation plan for Kochi has given the pride of place to water transport since city roads cannot take any more private vehicles. Mayor Mercy Williams said that the agency has mooted both regular and luxury ferries linking different places in Kochi, to decongest the roads.

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