Omni bus operators jack up fares ahead of lockdown

Passengers wait at Tiruchi Central bus stand to reach their destinations before the total lockdown begins.   | Photo Credit: SRINATH M

Much to the chagrin of passengers, omni bus operators in the State had jacked up fares for long-distance travel on the days preceding the two-week complete lockdown announced by the government to prevent the spread of COVID.

While passengers complained that they had to spend through their nose, the refrain of the operators was that they, too, will be out of business for the duration of complete lockdown.

Though the State Transport department operated more than 4,800 buses to various parts of the State for two days from May 8 to 9 to ensure people return home safe, a large number of commuters who were unable to get tickets were forced to opt for costlier, private omni buses.

T. Balasubramanian, a native of Madurai, complained that normally the bus fare from Chennai would be around ₹ 900 but the announcement of the lockdown at short notice resulted in the escalation of fares to the extent of ₹1,700

Passengers complained the exorbitant ticket fares were mostly charged only by those who do not operate regularly on these routes.

Transport Minister R. S. Raja Kannappan who had inspected the Dr. MGR bus terminus at Koyambedu on Saturday had warned that severe action would be taken against those omni bus operators who charge exorbitant fares from the commuters.

The Transport Department seized 10 omni buses in Coimbatore district in the last few days after their operators flouted COVID-19 safety norms and motor vehicle rules while transporting guest workers.

J. K. Baskaran, Regional Transport Officer, Coimbatore Central, said that the majority of the buses seized were found transporting more than 100 passengers whereas a maximum of 40 persons was allowed to travel per bus.

“We also found that the bus operators charged ₹ 5,000 to ₹ 6,000 from a passenger for trips to States like Bihar and Odisha. The fare used to be ₹ 2,000 to ₹ 3,000 before,” he said.

Despite the permission to operate omni buses, only 20% of the total omni buses were operated from Madurai on Sunday.

Many passengers travelled from Madurai to the southern districts. Similarly, many passengers travelled from Chennai to Madurai in the past two days. “The ticket fare for travelling in buses from Chennai to Madurai nearly doubled. But, only normal ticket fare was collected for travelling in omni buses from Madurai to Chennai,” said Surendar, a bus operator.

In Tiruchi, a group of travellers was forced to stay the night at a hotel as they were unable to get a bus to Bengaluru on Saturday night. They were travelling from Tiruvarur to Bengaluru to report for a job interview, they said. “We stayed the night hoping there would be a bus. Even at noon, there was none,” they lamented.

Speaking to The Hindu, a functionary of Tiruchi Omni Bus Operators Association said that their business has taken a severe beating over the last year.

They had made some earnings between December to February, but that too was short-lived.

The bus operators have been demanding waivers in road tax and loan repayments. “Despite not being able to ply, we continue to pay off the loans and have run into huge debt; nobody pays heed to our demands,” an operator complained.

(With inputs from P. A. Narayani from Madurai, Wilson Thomas from Coimbatore, R. Srikanth from Chennai)

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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 7:28:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Tiruchirapalli/omni-bus-operators-jack-up-fares-ahead-of-lockdown/article34523292.ece

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