As the district gears up to observe yet another edition of Bus Day on Thursday, debate is on as to how far these ritualistic observations go in promoting the public transport system and making it popular among the travelling public.

Experts feel that the need of the hour is a comprehensive and scientific overhauling of the public transport structure to decongest city roads that court thousands of new vehicles every day.

D. Dhanuraj, chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), says it is this realisation that prompted his agency, which originally mooted the idea of Bus Day, to back out of the project after being part of it in 2011-12.

Bus routes

“The bus routes in the district were fixed about two decades back, after which there has never been a comprehensive plan to rationalize the routes despite the city and its suburbs undergoing a sea change. There are places such as Panamppilly Nagar in the heart of the city, which have grown into major residential and business centres over the years but are still left untouched by buses,” he says.

Mr. Dhanuraj says the inability to map the mobility features of passengers remains the fundamental flaw in the city’s transport management plans. There is no database on key aspects such as the busiest route, the timing of passenger movement and the connectivity or the lack of it between the bus routes and destinations of passengers, which remains at the heart of restructuring the public transport system.

“Our buses are not that bad as they are made out to be. But they are simply proving unhelpful in taking passengers to their destinations. Public transport, after all, is all about ferrying people to destinations of their choice and when it fails to do so obviously they look for other options,” Mr. Dhanuraj says.

Motor Vehicles Act

A senior officer of the Motor Vehicles Department says the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, and a nationalisation scheme notified by the government in May 2006 effectively ruled out any rational restructuring of bus routes.

Before the advent of the Act, Road Transport Authorities (RTAs) had considerable power and they formulated the routes that often reflected the public demand. Bus operators were given permits based on merit to operate in those routes.

“The Act heralded what was regarded a liberalised scheme whereby the RTAs were cut to size and obliged to issue permit in whichever route the operator applied for as long as it was not in conflict with the nationalised routes. This effectively threw passenger necessity out of the window while reducing the public transport system to pockets which the operators found most lucrative,” he says.

The nationalisation scheme notified in 2006, on the other hand, made issue of new permits almost impossible. For instance, if an operator applies for a permit in the Aluva-Panamppilly Nagar route today, it will be denied as only the KSRTC is allowed to operate such a service.

Dejo Kappen of the Centre for Consumer Education says cosmetic measures such as the observation of Bus Day will not promote public transport system unless the necessary infrastructure is strengthened. “Even the buses rolled out by the Union government as part of decongesting the roads in metropolitan cities are being deployed by the KSRTC for long-distance services. This defeated the very purpose of their allocation, which was to transport people en bloc working under the same roof such as IT Parks thus discouraging them from using their own vehicles,” he says.

Private vehicles

Mr. Kappen says seven out of ten private vehicles they observed at Vyttila as part of a study a few years ago had single passengers. While two SUVs take up the space of a bus, they more often that not carry just two passengers as against an average of 30 passengers a bus transports.

He also recommends an entry tax for private vehicles entering the city akin to what is being practiced in Coimbatore city. This will definitely be a positive incentive for choosing public transport over private vehicles, Mr. Kappen says.

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