The number of private buses has plummeted from 25,000 a decade ago to the present 14,500, and the government is doing little to break the fall.
Even worse, bus operators are introducing mini buses and those with lesser passenger capacity to reduce operational expenses, further defeating the cause of public transport. This is apart from abrupt trip cancellation to suit the convenience of owners and crew members.
On its part, the loss-making KSRTC has been unable to step in and do damage control. The agency is unable to augment its fleet in a major way, despite the oft-repeated promise that 1,000 new buses will be purchased each year.
Bus operators cite the steep increase in operational cost and paucity of good drivers as a reason for buses surrendering their permits. General secretary of Ernakulam District Private Bus Operators’ Association M.B. Satyan said the number of private buses was set to nosedive because of rigid and archaic government policies.
He spoke of how the on-road price of a new bus rose from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 23 lakh during the past decade. “The annual road tax works out to between Rs 1.20 lakh and Rs 1.50 lakh, depending on the number of seats. The State government is doing nothing, despite demand from various quarters to augment public transport in order to lessen congestion, pollution and accidents.”
The sector can be saved if the government extends a tax concession and formulates a Transport Policy. Regional Transport Authorities (RTAs) can take the lead to demarcate routes for KSRTC and private buses and rationalise their timings. This is important to prevent both the set of operators from losing revenue.
‘Tax cars more’
While demanding a hike on road tax of cars, transportation experts have for years been decrying the very high tax rate on buses. But the State government is dithering on this front.
Joint Transport Commissioner Alex Paul said the liberalisation of permits resulted in hundreds of people coming forward to operate private buses. “Many were unable to stay afloat because of mismanagement and stiff competition. The existing operators prefer to operate in cities and major towns, leaving the suburbs and hilly areas without adequate public transport.”
Referring to the reluctance of private bus operators to ply through sectors which do not have adequate public transport in fast-developing Kochi, the Ernakulam RTO, B.J. Antony, said most of the 700 buses with city permit, and even KSRTC buses, preferred to ply through the city hub, which was saturated.
“Private bus operators are also citing their inability to operate the first and last trip, because drivers do not work beyond a time span. The shortage of good drivers is prompting many owners to pay up to Rs 800 per day to retain drivers,” said Ernakulam Joint RTO Sadiq Ali.
Keywords: Kochi public transport