Passengers from the city to West Kochi, Willingdon Island and Vypeen can now look forward to more frequent boat services.
The State Water Transport Department (SWTD) has mooted circular services connecting the three places and a government order in this regard is ready.
The services will have Rs. 4 as the unified fare, in the place of Rs. 2 to and Rs. 2.50 that passengers pay to different destinations.
The agency’s director Shaji B Nair said the circular services would help increase the efficiency of ferries. “The services will become more frequent and boats can be pulled out for repair without affecting their regular service.”
Most of the boats now operate point-to-point services, affecting optimal fleet utility. The fare revision will nominally reduce the heavy government subsidy for operating the ferry services.
“Once the circular services begin, boats will be available every five to 10 minutes from busy terminals like the Ernakulam Boat Jetty and Fort Kochi during peak times,” said Joseph Xavier, Ernakulam traffic superintendent of the agency.
The agency was so far unable to cater to the whopping demand for more services from the city to Fort Kochi and Mattancherry and the circular service is likely to address the shortfall.
The fare will be restructured again on the basis of a study report expected to be submitted later this month by National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC).
“By charging nominally higher fare, we want to recoup at least the expenses on fuel. The SWTD pays over Rs. 11 extra per litre of diesel than the retail rate, after it was tagged as a bulk fuel customer,” Mr. Xavier said.
The other expenses include the cost of boats (approximately Rs. 42 lakh a piece), their upkeep and the expenses on manpower.
To a question on why the SWTD was not operating services up to Kamalakadavu – Fort Kochi’s transportation hub — Mr. Nair said a new boat jetty could be built there for the agencies’ ferries.
The agency has not sent any proposal in this regard, despite demand from commuters who now disembark at the Customs Jetty located about a kilometre away.
“Though there is a tourist boat jetty there, our boats will have to maintain the mandatory 50 metre distance from it. Still, one of the circular trips could call at Kamalakadavu,” he said.
On the sad plight of the Customs Jetty in Fort Kochi, he said the SWTD had handed over Rs. 6 lakh to the Irrigation Department to renovate it, though it was the department’s duty to maintain it. We will give an additional Rs. 6 lakh for installing barricades and streamlining the movement of commuters, Mr. Nair said.
Though the SWTD sought vacant land lying idle near the jetty to create parking space for vehicles, the police are reluctant to hand it over. Civic agencies must take some initiative in this regard, he said.
Meanwhile, the West Kochi Passengers Association has said the circular services might reduce the number of SWTD boats operating from the city to the islands in the vicinity from eight to six. The association demanded speedy repairs to the steel boat bearing the number S-7, that is now idling at the Ernakulam Boat Jetty.