No roads lead to Vypeen in Kochi

Despite the rapid development in the city, the Goshree Islands still remain ‘disconnected’ without a seamless public transport network.
Students and daily commuters
wait for buses at High Court Jn
to return to Vypeen
Students and daily commuters wait for buses at High Court Jn to return to Vypeen Photo | T P Sooraj

KOCHI: In 2004, when new bridges connected the Kochi mainland with the Goshree Islands, including the densely-populated Vypeen, it gave birth to a hope that with increased frequency of public transport, the people here, a majority of who hail from working-class backgrounds, could finally ‘belong’ and attach their aspirations with that of a city yearning to become a metropolis.

Alas, even 20 years later, Vypeen and a majority of the Goshree Islands remain as ‘disconnected’ as ever as private buses plying from these regions are yet to get permits to operate in city limits and beyond. Even today, these buses halt at the High Court Junction forcing commuters to board other city buses to continue to their destinations.

“When the bridges came up, it was decided that private buses from Vypeen and other regions in Goshree would halt at High Court Junction so as to prevent traffic snarl-ups in the city. The concern was genuine then as there were already 2,000 buses plying within city limits at the time,” says Ebenser Chullikkatt, an activist of the Greater Cochin Development Watch, an organisation working for the betterment of Kochi.

“However, today, the number of city buses is one-fourth of what it was two decades ago — about 600,” points out Ebenser, arguing for the case that it is high time authorities allowed seamless public transportation to city destinations.

The neglected many

The absence of this network means that the bridges are thronged by private vehicles during rush hours, creating snarl-ups and a lot of inconvenience. As per studies conducted by various agencies, including the Motor Vehicles Department, each bus plying on the city route is expected to bring down the number of two-wheelers by over 35.

According to a report by the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), over 55,000 people travel from Vypeen to Kochi city every morning. Ebenser points out that a major section of commuters from Vypeen are women working in unorganised sectors like retail shops or as domestic help.

A sea of commuters inch their way 
acrosss the Goshree Bridge
A sea of commuters inch their way acrosss the Goshree Bridge Photo | T P SOoraj

Ajitha K S is one of those women — an employee at a textile shop on MG Road. To reach her workplace, she has to alight at the High Court Junction and walk a couple of minutes to board a bus heading to her destination. “Along with the inconvenience, I also need to shell out Rs 10-15 extra every day for commute,” she says.

Though spending an extra Rs 10 may not be a big deal for the city elites, it matters greatly to these sections of the people, argues Ebenser. Having uninterrupted services also mean that the people of Vypeen can cut down on transport expenses.

A lagoon of excuses

Authorities cite the heavy traffic within city limits as the reason for not granting city permits to Vypeen’s mofussil buses, i.e. buses plying on routes that originate outside the urban centre. However, Ebenser counters this argument by citing how the number of private buses plying within the city has drastically reduced with the advent of metro rail services.

In 2021, a survey conducted by the National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC), in fact, advocates extending the services of private buses from Goshree Islands to Kaloor, Vyttila and Edappally. It notes that allowing uninterrupted transportation can lead to fewer private vehicles entering the city and, in turn, reduce travel costs and fuel consumption.

In 2010, the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) introduced 50 Thirukochi and 20 mofussil services in the region. But these were soon discontinued. The NATPAC survey identified unreliable scheduling techniques with no regard for commuter requirements as one of the major reasons for it. “Also, KSRTC operated services in the opposite direction, i.e. away from the city, rendering these services unprofitable,” the survey adds.

Wayward proposals

Even as the thorns of this fruitless endeavour remain, the Kerala government had last year introduced a new and equally perplexing Draft Route Nationalisation scheme, which sought to turn a 36-kilometre stretch between the Paravoor bus stand and the Vytilla mobility hub into a nationalised route. According to the plan, it linked Cherai, Bolgatty Junction, High Court Junction, Jetty bus stand and Kadavanthra.

“This, while granting KSRTC monopoly to run services, will force private buses onto minor roads. Also, the new scheme’s route distance cap of 25 kilometres on private buses will render them unable to even reach the High Court Junction,” says CPPR founder-chairman D Dhanuraj. This is to mention nothing of the drastic fall in revenue that it may pave the way to.

To date, there is no update regarding this nationalisation scheme on the part of the government. Given how KSRTC is already running on losses, it is unlikely that such a move would ever actually be implemented.

The only recourse

CPPR studies also point out that there is an increased demand for a new bridge parallel to the existing Goshree bridge to accommodate the surge in traffic from the islands. “This situation can be completely avoided if more buses (private or otherwise) can ply this route. It will greatly reduce the residents’ dependency on private vehicles to reach city destinations,” adds Dhanuraj.

Though Vypeen is connected by frequent boat services, a majority of the commuters hailing from the islands are headed to regions not immediately serviced by them, highlights Majnu Komath, the convenor of the Action Council for Ernakulam-Vypeen Bridges. The organisation has been demanding seamless public transport from the islands to the city for over three decades.

He also points out that it is only Kochi Water Metro that operates boat services from Vypeen to High Court. “This costs Rs 30 per trip. Can everyone afford such rates for daily commute? Even if they can, the problems continue. From High Court Junction, they have to board a bus to reach their destinations,” he says, adding, “Allowing private buses entry to city limits and facilitating seamless public transport is the best and perhaps the only recourse here.”

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