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Updated: May 1, 2014 02:06 IST

Rough road ahead

    V.S. Palaniappan
    B. Aravind Kumar
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Omnibus operators hike fares substatially.

As the summer vacation rush peaks, long-distance travelers on omnibuses will have to pay more.

On Wednesday, omnibus operators announced a 20 to 30 per cent hike in bus fare citing low occupancy ratio and an “ever increasing” operational cost.

From Thursday, one-way trip from Chennai to Madurai or Coimbatore could cost more by Rs. 150 in a normal bus, Rs. 200 in a semi-sleeper, Rs. 250 for sleepers with berth facility and much more for air-conditioned comfort.

“Over the past 15 months, the price of diesel has gone up by nine rupees, salaries are up by 20 per cent and toll by another 20 per cent,” says Afzal, president, Tamil Nadu Omni Bus Owners Association. Besides, insurance premium has shot up by 20 per cent. “Even if you leave alone the cost of spares such as tyres and batteries, a hike is inevitable,” he reasons.

According to private bus operators, occupancy ratio in services, of late, is proving to be a cause for concern. Patronage and break-even are increasingly becoming seasonal. For breaking even, every bus should have 78 per cent occupancy which is only 45 to 55 per cent for most of the year. “Only during summer and festive seasons the buses are full,” Mr. Afzal says.

Fewer summer trains

The fare hike has come at a time when the Southern Railway is finding it to difficult operate adequate number of summer special trains. After the introduction of many new trains this year, coaches are scarce to find and summer specials are fewer this year.

As seat availability on trains is limited, passengers without confirmed train tickets and those who have a problem traveling in government buses would definitely take omnibuses, said an operator.

“The fares are driven by market conditions. During non-season, the operators automatically bring down the fare to increase occupancy and thereby break-even,” says R. Baskar, president of Coimbatore Omni Bus Owners Association, indicating that the hike was only temporary.

While regular commuters are irked over the increase in fares, consumer activists continue to press for a regulatory mechanism. "Sometimes the air-conditioning is poor and the push-back seats do not function properly. In most buses, the comfort level is similar to that of deluxe buses run by the government. They have to make the necessary improvements first before increasing the fares,” said P. N. Varun Narayanan, an executive who travels to Dindigul twice a month.

Meanwhile, the transport department, as usual, has asked officials to check if the omnibuses are overcharging.

(With inputs from Vivek Narayanan)

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