COVID-19 scare takes its toll on public transport network

Occupancy in private buses down by 40%; KSRTC curtails services; autorickshaw operators hit hard; Kochi metro retains average ridership

March 12, 2020 01:39 am | Updated 01:39 am IST - KOCHI

When fear grips:  The KSRTC bus bound for Konni from Kochi on Wednesday was empty but for a single passenger around 1 p.m. owing to the threat of COVID-19 spread.

When fear grips: The KSRTC bus bound for Konni from Kochi on Wednesday was empty but for a single passenger around 1 p.m. owing to the threat of COVID-19 spread.

The spurt in COVID-19 cases and the State government’s decision to declare partial lockdown seem to have taken its toll on public transport network in the city, except perhaps for the Kochi metro, which claims to retain its ridership.

Private bus operators claimed that occupancy had fallen by nearly 40% on Tuesday evening, shortly after the Chief Minister declared partial lockdown. As many as 530 private buses operate within the city limits, a number that rises to around 1,047 if mofussil services were to be counted.

“There were just enough passengers to occupy seats during peak hours on Wednesday morning unlike during similar hours on normal days when buses are usually crowded. Revenues have dropped considerably and are likely to turn worse if the situation was to extend beyond this month,” said M.B. Sathyan, president, Kerala State Private Bus Operators’ Federation.

He, however, said curtailment of trips was not an option. “Thankfully, bus workers are still turning up for duty without fail,” he added.

Things were not much different in the case of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), with inter-State services to destinations like Bengaluru and Coimbatore witnessing drastic drop in occupancy, forcing the authorities to either rearrange or even suspend services. “Similarly, there were far too few passengers on routes like Kottayam, Pathanamthitta, and Ranni. Since cancelling services is not an option, we are rearranging and even clubbing services together depending on the number of passengers,” said V.M. Thajudheen, city transport officer. The KSRTC operates up to 85 services a day from its Ernakulam depot and around 50 from Thevara.

Shortage of masks

Meanwhile, KSRTC staff are experiencing shortage of masks and protective gear like gloves and have blamed the Health Department for not responding to the communication drawing attention to the matter.

Autorickshaw operators are also feeling the pinch of drop in revenues. “With tourist centres no longer drawing visitors, families staying away from outings, and the drop in the number of passengers at railway and bus stations, auto drivers are not getting regular trips, which have almost halved,” said V.V. Praveen, district vice president, Autorickshaw Drivers’ Union (CITU). The association claimed that out of the 6,000-odd autorickshaw operators within the corporation limits, around 4,300 were its members.

The situation is no different for the 3,000-odd online cab operators in the city. “There has been considerable drop in trips, resulting in a corresponding fall in revenue,” said T.R.S. Kumar, president, Online Taxi Drivers’ Union.

The Kochi metro, however, claimed to have retained its average daily ridership of around 55,000 despite the COVID-19 scare and attributed it to the sanitised travelling environment.

The epidemic scare has proved a blow to the State Water Transport Department (SWTD), which operates nearly 65 trips a day on the Fort Kochi, Mattancherry and Vypeen routes. “Usually, we experience increased passenger flow during vacations, which is not the case now. Occupancy has fallen even during peak hours, though cancellation of services is not an option for us,” said M. Sujith, traffic superintendent, SWTD, Ernakulam Region.

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