Free bus service rolled out

Thousands travel on 5,600 buses across Tamil Nadu

May 08, 2021 11:52 pm | Updated 11:52 pm IST - CHENNAI

Positive response:  Passengers welcomed the measure, but urged the government to run more ordinary buses.

Positive response: Passengers welcomed the measure, but urged the government to run more ordinary buses.

On the first day of free bus travel for women, thousands of passengers travelled on about 5,600 ordinary fare buses across Tamil Nadu and on 1,700 buses in Chennai on Saturday. The passengers welcomed the measure, but urged the government to run more ordinary buses.

The Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers wanted the ruling DMK to keep its election promise to provide free bus transport to all persons with disabilities.

After taking over as Chief Minister, M.K. Stalin announced free travel for women on government buses charging ordinary fare. Since transport corporations will stand to lose ₹1,200 crore in revenue a year, the government sanctioned the sum as a subsidy.

On Saturday, Mr. Stalin said his government would consider extending the scheme to transpersons. Responding to a tweet by a journalist, he said a decision would be taken at the earliest.

“There are over 9,000 buses across the State and of these, 5,600 are ordinary services. Besides, there are express, deluxe and air-conditioned buses. The main difference is the fare and the number of stops. An ordinary fare bus will halt at all stops, and it will be helpful to women,” said a senior official of the Transport Department.

All ordinary fare buses have been pasted with stickers that say ‘free travel for women’. “Women are very happy. Working women say they will be able to save ₹1,000 a month,” said a conductor of an MTC bus.

According to S. Selvi, a passenger, the scheme will benefit working women and students who have to change buses to reach their destinations . “On many routes, only deluxe buses are operated. It will be helpful if the number of ordinary fare buses is increased,” she said.

A senior official said MTC buses operated on 700 routes. “But ordinary buses do not operate on some routes. We are taking steps to identify them for rolling out this service,” he said.

More buses sought

In Vellore, a few passengers said the frequency of services should be increased. “Sometimes, we wait for buses for long. Now the number of bus services has been reduced owing to COVID-19,” said Mutharasi, 50, waiting at Old Bus Stop.

In Tiruchi, working women said they would save money. “The regular fare to Gandhi Market, where I purchase flowers, costs ₹1,000 a month... I am happy the government cancelled the fare for us as we would be able to use the money for household expenses. I hope the government will also cancel the fare on trains,” said R. Dheivanai, a flower seller.

In the Coimbatore division, the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) did not paste the stickers on the buses. “Many women were unaware that the scheme was starting [on Saturday],” said G.S. Lalitha, secretary of the women’s wing of the Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam. The TPDK women’s wing issued pamphlets and chocolates to women at Gandhipuram Town Bus Terminus announcing the scheme. They then travelled free from Gandhipuram to Pappanaickenpalayam.

Ms. Lalitha said two young women boarded the bus at Pappanaickenpalayam and asked the conductor for tickets. “We gave them chocolates and they asked why after which we told them about the scheme and they were surprised,” she said.

A TNSTC official said women were allowed to travel free on 447 city buses. The scheme was not applicable to the 180 deluxe ‘red buses’. The production of stickers was delayed, and they would be ready in a few days, he said. “After the two-week lockdown, we will ensure that all eligible buses have these stickers,” he said.

In Madurai, M. Lakshmi, a garment factory worker who travels to Vadipatti every day, said the scheme would help working women. “Women farmers and those who work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme can save on the money they spend on bus travel,” she said. The scheme must be extended to deluxe buses too, said AIDWA district secretary R. Sasikala. “A very limited number of buses that charge the ordinary fare are operated in the district. The scheme will be fully beneficial only if women are allowed to travel free on all city and town buses,” she said.

A senior official of TNSTC said nearly 54% of the city and town buses in the district charged the ordinary fare. “Arrangements are made to ensure that at least one bus that charges the ordinary fare is operated to major areas and villages,” he said.

S. Namburajan, general secretary, TARATDAC, said that now only the visually challenged could travel free for 100 km in a district. “We will be happy if the benefit is extended to all the differently abled and their escorts.”

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