Inadequate passenger patronage and the escalating dissonance between the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) and the civic agencies in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram have resulted in the 15 Volvo buses operating in the two cities incurring losses.
The buses with automatic transmission, each of which costs Rs. 80 lakh, need an income of Rs.50 per km to operate on a no-profit no-loss basis.
The average income in Kochi is Rs.36 per km, while that in Thiruvananthapuram is Rs.28 per km. In January first week, the seven buses plying in Kochi earned an average of Rs.40 per km, while those in the State capital got Rs.35 per km.
At present, the four buses on the Aroor-Angamaly route fetch Rs.38 per km, while the two on the Fort Kochi-International Airport route earn Rs.35 per km.
The total earnings from the six buses fell from Rs.81,930 on January 2 to Rs.78,090 on Thursday.
Each 40-seater bus runs an average of 330 km a day and records an average occupancy of 55 per cent, down from 60 per cent a fortnight ago.
The earning is down to Rs.11,880 a bus, down from Rs.13,000 a fortnight ago. The cost of operating a km in Kochi is lower than in Thiruvananthapuram because many roads in the capital have been dug up for laying water pipelines. The buses plying in Kochi have a mileage of 2.50 km per litre of diesel, while it is 2.25 kmpl in the capital city.
KSRTC MD T.P. Senkumar said that passenger patronage would increase only if the Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram Corporations readied pay-and-park facilities for cars and two-wheelers near bus stops, and provided better shelters for commuters awaiting the buses. Referring to the two Corporations demanding a stake in running the Volvo-bus fleet, he said that the respective RTC’s in other States own and operate premium buses purchased under the JNNURM scheme. “It is only in Kerala that civic agencies are demanding a stake in the services. Too many players would ruin the project.”
In the case of Kochi, KSRTC will spend Rs.72 crore on the total of 50 Volvo, 120 non-AC low-floor and 30 mini buses under the scheme. The Kochi Corporation has not committed any of its funds for the project. “If the civic agencies cannot provide better amenities to commuters, let them run the services using their workers,” Mr. Senkumar said.
The schedules in the capital will be modified in a week, to attract more passengers. In Kochi, the KSRTC plans to market the premium buses by installing boards that mention the stops and timings of the buses, at prominent locales. It might also increase the number of stops.
Three weeks since it began operating in Kochi, many people do not know that they can travel in air-conditioned comfort up to 5 km, by paying the minimum fare of Rs.10.
“Earmarking pay-and-park centres will take time. Since the buses ply mostly along the highway (except in West Kochi), the KSRTC must take up the issue of bus shelters with the PWD and the NHAI,” said Mayor Mercy Williams. She added that the RTC must give publicity to its bus stops and timings and reassure people about the promptness of the services, to make the services more effective.