One can now enjoy cashless bus journeys in Central Travancore, thanks to an initiative by an association of bus owners to introduce smart cards for passengers. The scheme will be inaugurated on Thursday.

My Bus is an association of bus owners which has a strength of 50 members and a fleet strength of 100 buses. They have near-total sway in the private sector, running more than 90 per cent of services on the Kottayam-Kumily, Kottayam-Kattappana, Changanassery-Kumily and Changanassery-Kattappana routes in Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts.

The system

“The association will issue smart cards upon request from passengers,” says Sony Kurien, coordinator of My Bus. The passenger has to fill an application form which can be had from the conductor of any of the member buses, and provide personal details. The initial fee for a smart card will be Rs.40. Then onwards, the card can be topped up in multiples of Rs.100. The smart card can be used in all buses under My Bus by the passenger. The card should be swiped on a machine in the bus.

Coalitions of private bus owners have been gaining in popularity in the area in the past two years. In fact, the first of its kind was formed in 2011 when 26 bus owners on the Kottayam-Kumarakom-Cherthala route and Kottayam-Kumarakom-Vaikom route came together under the name ‘Vembanad Transport.’ Together they have 34 buses and operate nearly 200 services a day.

K.S. Suresh, convenor of the association, says their focus is on improving service and thereby reducing the cost of operation. “The major benefit has been that we could do away with the competition among buses. This has resulted in reduced accident rate and maintenance cost.”

Profit sharing

These organisations function outside established systems of association, but have developed their own profit-sharing mechanisms. Vembanad Transport provides 50 per cent of the share as a fixed amount and the balance on the basis of running kilometre of the service. My Bus on the other hand follows a system where in a collection above a certain amount will be moved to a common pool to be distributed among the members.

Tharian George, Joint Director, Economic Research, Rubber Research Institute of India, said such coalitions are part of the survival strategies developed by small entrepreneurs in an era of uncertainties. “The small entrepreneurs have realised that unhealthy competition will take them nowhere. They have grouped together for survival. It is not unlikely that such new associations will come up in other sectors too,” he said.

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