Many middle-aged persons carrying bags huge and small, senior citizens taking measured steps to reach their bus, children battling their parents' gripping hold and some children wailing in the heat…
The sight at the Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT) in Koyambedu, brimming with passengers, was proof enough that summer vacation has, indeed, begun in full swing.
While many families were taking buses to other towns, many from the smaller towns were arriving at the bus stop to spend their vacation in the city. One common complaint that many of them had was that the bus stop was not maintained well.
Several bays in the area where the State Transport Corporation buses were parked had garbage strewn all over. The drinking water facility in the interior end of the bus terminus was not working. Passengers complained that toilets were not clean. Pricing at the stalls inside the terminus was higher, said passengers. “The same pack of biscuits or chips cost Rs. 5 extra inside,” said R. Rajesh, who was waiting for his bus.
Enquiries with some of the stall owners revealed that it was a conscious decision to increase the prices, as many of them found the rent charged for the stalls was high.
Though cleaners were seen sweeping some parts of the terminus, plastic waste, left over food and water was seen at several spots on the ground.
On whether there was enough staff engaged in maintenance of the bus terminus, V. Paulraj, Managing Director, State Express Transport Corporation (SETC), said cleanliness and maintenance of the CMBT came under the purview of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA).
“On our part, we have put up extra reservation counters and also posted more of our staff to deal with the rush and help passengers. The SETC are also running about 50 special buses additionally,” he said.
Sources in the CMDA said personnel engaged in cleaning work were outsourced through a contractor. “We make the best of efforts to ensure that the bays are clean. But, sometimes, given the kind of rush there is, it might be challenging even for the cleaning staff. We will certainly make sure the bays are cleaned well,” said an official.
As of now, there was no problem with regard to the supply of water and the toilets were also being cleaned regularly, he said.
Kulandaichi, engaged to clean a particular stretch, said she was paid about Rs.60 for a shift. “Depending on how much extra work we put in, we might get paid more,” she said. She reported to a private agency to which the contract for cleaning had been awarded.
Pointing to certain passengers' irresponsibility, she said they used the waiting area as dining hall. “An entire family stood here and ate. So much food was spilt and they threw their plates right there. When I asked them why they dirtied the area, they said ‘You are here to sweep, right? Do that.'”
If the government bus terminus is marked by lack of certain basic facilities, the private bus terminus has a different problem - that of brokers. A passenger, who decides to go to the terminus and buy a ticket at one of the private travel agencies there, would have considerable difficulty getting past them.
The moment anyone carrying a bag arrives, one of the brokers goes up to them with a set of questions .
“Oh, they [brokers] are such a menace. Some travel agencies pay them extra to get passengers to their office and they spoil everyone else's business. There is no one to question them,” said the manager of one of the private travel agencies at Koyambedu.
SETC officials said the problem had to be addressed by the Transport and Police Departments.
Passengers, on the other hand, said the rates offered by some agencies were arbitrary. “They know this is vacation time and that there will be many takers for every single ticket. I was told a ticket to Bangalore costs Rs. 600. After I said it was too high and walked out, they gave it for Rs. 500,” said S. Anand, outside one of the stalls.
K. Anand, a franchisee of KPN Travels, said the agency made all rates available online and no one could charge more or pay lesser. “There is so much rush that our tickets for a bus are sold out one week ahead of the journey,” he said.