KOCHI: Into its third week now, the unprecedented lockdown has dealt private bus operators another bumpy ride. Having weathered several storms in the past, including spiraling operating costs and travel concessions, private bus operators' representatives feel running services profitably will be difficult once normalcy is restored.
The Kerala Private Bus Operators’ Federation (KPBOF) is apprehensive of some operators being forced to shut down.
"There are nearly 12,600 buses operating services under KPBOF,” M B Sathyan, president of the federation, told New Indian Express.
"More than one lakh people are engaged as daily-wage workers in these buses. The Covid-19 situation has affected their lives adversely. Many operators may find it difficult to conduct services even if the lockdown is lifted fully as the financial burden due to the current crisis is huge.”
While the state government has already given them tax exemption for April, the operators have requested for more such concession.
"We understand the limitations of the state government which is going through a tough phase after the Covid-19 outbreak. But we have little idea when things will be back to normal," Sathyan said.
The state government-appointed expert committee on easing lockdown restrictions has suggested conducting bus services with only one passenger per seat, in contrast to two persons allowed normally. The KPBOF president said many operators will find it difficult to conduct services in such a manner.
“That means buses will have to conduct services with 10 or 20 passengers, which is not financially viable,” he said.
The Kerala Bus Operators’ Forum general secretary Johnson Payyappilly echoed similar sentiments.
“If we conduct services on a one-seat-one-passenger basis, we won’t be able to meet the expenses for fuel and to pay wages. The only solution then will be the government taking over services until normalcy returns,” Johnson said.
Bus operators also think that people will not depend on buses and other public transport systems immediately after lockdown restrictions are lifted.
“We are optimistic of chalking out a proper plan to overcome the crisis by the time things settle down,” Sathyan said.