When omni buses loom ominously

Festival travellers fear surge pricing as they make their way to their far away homes and other places

Festival travellers bound for Chennai, Bengaluru and other destinations from central districts apprehend surge pricing by omni bus operators before and after Deepavali.

Since all seats in trains are filled up on festival days, and buses operated by State Express Transport Corporation are limited in number, the only other option for them is omni buses.

The Transport department has taken cognisance of the apprehension of the travelling public. “We will carry out checks in case of complaints,” K. Uma Sakthi, Deputy Transport Commissioner, Tiruchi zone, said.

There have been instances in the past when surge pricing of omni buses at times of festivals got reflected in online tickets, he added.

Operators say though the recent increase effected in quarterly tax by the government through an amendment to the TN Motor Vehicles Taxation Act 1974 to levy taxes on omni buses with sleeper berths has hit them hard, the apprehension of surge pricing is misplaced.

After the Tamil Nadu Motor Vehicles Taxation (Amendment) Act, 2019, took effect in August, ₹4,000 per sleeper berth is levied as quarterly road tax and ₹3,000 is collected per seat if the bus offers seat too. The operators have hitherto been paying tax of ₹3,000 per seat for 36 seats irrespective of the seating capacity of the vehicles.

“Air-conditioned omni buses operated between Tiruchi and Chennai charge fares ranging from ₹900 to ₹1,100 for sleeper berth, and about ₹800 for semi-sleeper seat. Though we struggle for margins on normal days due to increased taxation and the high cost of diesel, we have no scope to tweak the bus fares at the time of festivals,” Balu, president of Tiruchi Omni Bus Operators, said.

The State government, according to bus operators, has limited flexibility in enforcing tight regulation of omni bus fares since the vehicles are categorised as contract carriers, as per the Tamil Nadu Motor Vehicle Taxation Act.

Though the State government issues permit, the Act allows operators of contract carriage to charge fixed or agreed amount as fare.

“The loophole in the TNMVT Act must be fixed. Omni buses, in most cases, are operated at fixed timings and, hence, cannot be categorised as contract carriers,” Satish Kumar, a regular traveller between Tiruchi and Chennai, said.

The fares of State Express Transport Corporation that operates the same kind of buses with similar seating capacities and comfort level are much lower. The air-conditioned buses charge ₹705 for a sleeper berth, and ₹460 for a semi-sleeper seat.

But then, these vehicles are less in number when compared to omni buses. The question of surge pricing during festival time does not arise at all for SETC buses, a senior official said.

Nevertheless, patronage for SETC is high enough to operate special services during festivals, the official said.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 8:08:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Tiruchirapalli/when-omni-buses-loom-ominously/article29772752.ece

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