Andhra Pradesh

On a bumpy ride

After weeks of surging COVID-19 numbers, the health officials have some positive news that the virus infections are trending down. But the temporary reprieve seems to be the time given to gear up for the impending challenge, the possible third wave of the pandemic.

Large parts of the population were affected by coronavirus in the first and second waves leaving a debilitating cascading impact on almost every sector. The transport sector has been among the worst hit in economic terms. Travel restrictions put in place to minimise the spread of the virus have made a severe dent in the revenues of both public and private transport operators. Many workers have been laid off while others have taken pay cuts and a few transport companies closed due to bankruptcy.

The Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) bore the pandemic brunt during both the waves. After a gap of 45 days, the public transport giant has relaunched long distance bus services as the government relaxed the curfew hours. However, it operated only short distance services of less than 100 km during the curfew relaxation hours till last week.

But the doom and gloom seem to be far from over with the third wave looming large. Out of the total 10,612 buses in the RTC fleet, the organisation is currently operating only 6,130 due to low travel demand. “Around 2,200 of our buses are confined to depots besides 2,300 hired buses that are lying idle. Operation of buses at night time has been suspended because of the curfew,” says K. Brahmananda Reddy, Executive Director (Operations).

Huge loss

The average daily revenue of ₹14 crore has dipped to ₹7 crore pushing it into a deep financial crisis. Mr. Reddy informs that bus operations to Tamil Naidu have not yet been restored, and nor have the RTC buses been plying on the Tirumala ghat road, a major source of revenue. In the pre-COVID times, the State transport buses carried nearly 84,000 pilgrims a day atop the hill on the ghat road in 17,011 trips. The number of pilgrims has now dwindled to 8,000-9,000 needing only 350-400 trips.

After incurring a revenue loss of a whopping ₹2,603 crore due to COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, the corporation continues to stare at a bleak scenario in the wake of the third wave threat. To stay afloat in these difficult times, the organisation has turned to its logistics services which have never disappointed the officials. Encouraged by the good public response to its cargo sector, the RTC has chosen to expand its services and even got some of its old buses remodelled for the purpose.

On the other hand, a contention that private bus operators made the best when the RTC vehicles were off roads is disputed by the former. “COVID-19 coupled with diesel price hike has come as a double whammy for us. We are not allowed to increase ticket fares and letting in a reduced number of passengers in the vehicle to maintain social distancing has had a crippling effect on the business,” says M. Sambi Reddy, president of the AP Private Bus Operators’ Association.

He says of the 1,200 private bus operators, only 150 are plying their vehicles while 15-20 of them, unable to bear the losses, have wound up the business. “Not everybody can bear a monthly loss of ₹3 lakh,” says Mr. Reddy, and adds, “The worst part is that there is no hope as the third wave is yet to unfold its destructive spree.”

Truckers’ woes

Transporters and truck owners are in the same boat. A recurrent hike in fuel price, high maintenance cost and increase in cost of operation by almost 25% and pending taxes have left them high and dry. Counting their losses, they wait with a bated breath for the pandemic to subside.

The lorry owners in the State have been urging the government to provide them succour but there has been no response so far.

Train services

The South Central Railway, meanwhile, in line with the gradual and phased resumption of train services, has started its unreserved train services, especially for the benefit of intra-State passengers. These trains operate on a par with express trains to benefit passengers in terms of reduced travel time.

SCR authorities say a total of 82 train services, spread over the entire network of the South Central Railway, will resume operations as part of this.


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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 10:22:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/on-a-bumpy-ride/article35548783.ece

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