How free bus passes are being misused

There is a need for an open debate on the costs and benefits of unlimited free public transit passes for students, say experts. Photo: M.Karunakaran  

On a cloudy evening last Thursday, a group of school students are busy creating a ruckus inside a Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) bus bound for Besant Nagar. After rhythmically banging the windows of the bus for a while, Vijay (name changed), a Class VIII student, asks his friends: “So where do we go next?” The time is well past 5 p.m. They would have left school around 2.30 p.m.

Students are increasingly misusing free travel bus passes to take unlimited pleasure trips, says N.Raju, an MTC conductor for 30 years. “They also disturb other passengers in the name of fun. Most bus crew are forced to deal with at least one unruly incident every day.”

The 3.57 lakh travel pass-holding school and college students do suffer from lack of adequate services and sometimes struggle for space inside crammed MTC buses. But it turns out the students also cause a lot of inconvenience to other public transit users. “The vanishing playgrounds might have something to do with it, but on some days uniform-wearing students are inside buses even past 6 p.m. There should be some limit on the number of free trips they can take in a bus,” says Mr.Raju.

There was such a ‘token' system back in the 1980s. Students could travel for free from their home to the school and back. Additional tokens were also provided for going to the library or to take part in a sport. “The tokens were exchanged for a ticket with no denomination to ensure there was some account of the number of trips,” S. A. Vijayakumar, former head of various State-run bus corporations. Each MTC bus crew receives a ‘collection incentive' at the end of the day based on the number of passengers. During the days of the token system, the zero denomination tickets got added to the daily usage. Under the current unlimited travel pass scheme, student trips are not counted and some buses just do not pick up students.

“The majority of complaints about a bus not halting at the stop are from students. They take the place of other passengers, upon whom the daily incentive is based. Even if students are to be giving free transport, there has to be some account of the work done. Besides, anything that is free and unlimited always results in misuse. Much of the student misbehaviour and frequent clashes inside buses can be attributed to this,” Mr.Vijayakumar adds.

Saraswathi Bhaskar, a child psychologist, says that grouping children in crammed environments leads to an adventure seeking behaviour. There is a need for a closer look at what the city's harsh travel environments is doing to the children, she says.

R. Balasubramanian, a former Managing Director of MTC, says: “Electronic ticketing and smartcards could solve much of the problem as MTC moved away from the token system to avoid printing costs. Public transport must also be made free for everyone and it must be subsidised through a combination of Central and State government assistance. In most U.S. cities, 65 per cent of the public transit expenditure is federally funded. Schemes such as JNNURM must be a continuous process, instead of a one-time grant.”

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 1:12:28 PM |

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