The approximately 3% fall in the number of commuters using public transport each year in the State is an alarming trend and a wake-up call for stakeholders, Minister for Transport A.K. Saseendran has said.
Commuters shifting to private vehicles is increasing congestion, accidents, and pollution, with two-wheelers being involved in 70% of accidents, he said here on Friday, after launching Chalo, a free mobile app that enables live tracking of 850 private buses and a dozen SWTD ferries operated in Kochi and to suburban towns. The app can be downloaded from Google Play Store.
It will shortly become a multi-modal journey planner app once 15,000 autorickshaws are brought under its ambit. “Commuters can plan their trips by relying on the app, considerably saving on time. The app will feature (over 400) KSRTC buses operated in the Greater Kochi area once their routes and timings are rationalised,” Mr. Saseendran said.
The app is the joint initiative of Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) and the New Delhi-based Urban Mass Transit Company Limited (UMTC). On the inordinate delay in the Legislative Assembly passing the Unified Metropolitan Transportation Authority (UMTA-Kochi) Act, the Minister said the coming Assembly session (in October) would accord top priority to it.
Interacting with media persons later, he said the interests of all stakeholders, including those of commuters, were being taken into account while ushering in reforms in the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC). On commuters being stranded because of the KSRTC not operating services linking important hubs after 8 p.m., he said the matter would be looked into.
It is alarming that the number of private buses in the State has fallen from 35,000 to 12,000 in a decade, said K.B. Suneer, convenor of Kochi Private Bus Operating Companies, an umbrella body of six bus companies. He also sought an extension of the age limit of buses from 15 to 20 years, which Mr. Saseendran agreed to consider.
In his address, KSRTC Managing Director Tomin J. Thachankary said a ₹60-crore project was under way to introduce an automated traffic-information system in the agency. “The system, including installation of GPS, will help keep track of all 6,400 buses real time, preventing convoy [bunching of] services. The system will first be installed in 219 air-conditioned buses, followed by superfast, fast passenger, and ordinary services. It will ensure optimal utility of the fleet, thereby enhancing revenue,” he said.
Mr. Thachankary lamented that the public was now forced to unwittingly pay ₹1,500 crore (the quantum of loss) a year to prevent the KSRTC from sinking. Wet lease of buses is a step to lessen operational loss.
An efficient public transport system and well-maintained public spaces are signs of development, he reminded.
He also sought KMRL funding to procure electric buses and to set up smart bus stations. “The initial lot of 10 electric buses will be operated to Munnar this month, coinciding with the blooming of Neelakurinji. They have been planned on the Sabarimala route too,” he said.
Meanwhile, KMRL managing director A.P.M. Mohammed Hanish said autorickshaws would be available shortly ‘on call’ and as share autos, thanks to Chalo app. “A total of 100 electric autos driven by women will be launched in Kochi this month,” he informed.
The others who spoke included Kishor Nathani, senior advisor to UMTC; Hibi Eden, MLA, and Transport Commissioner K. Padmakumar.
Public Transport Day
Transport Minister A.K. Saseendran, accompanied by Hibi Eden, MLA, and Transport Commissioner K. Padmakumar, took a ride in the Kochi metro from Edappally to Maharaja’s College station on Friday, as part of the Kochi Public Transport Day observance organised by city-based think tank Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR).
Extending support to the observance, Mr. Eden said collaborative efforts would develop a new positive culture among Kochiites and visitors to the city to utilise public transport.
Mr. Padmakumar remarked that awareness among commoners about sustainable public transport systems would be crucial for ringing in change.
CPPR chairman D. Dhanuraj, Ernakulam Regional Transport Officer Jojy P. Jose, and KMRL managing director A.P.M. Mohammed Hanish too travelled by the metro.