KASARGOD: The CPI -- a constituent party of the ruling LDF -- has urged the state government to urgently resolve the travel woes in Kasaragod district.
Despite daily covid cases hovering around 100, passengers buses -- private and KSRTC -- have not resumed services on all routes, said the party district council in a resolution seeking the government's intervention.
On top of it, the District Administration of Dakshina Kannada said it would not allow Kerala SRTC to resume the Kasaragod-Mangaluru service till the test positivity rate in Kasaragod dips below 3 per cent. "As of now, it is above 10 per cent," said Dakshina Kannada deputy commissioner K V Rajendra.
The decision has inconvenienced students, office-goers studying and working in Dakshina Kannada.
As there are no direct buses to Mangaluru, daily commuters have to depend on ordinary buses which have many stops to reach the border stop of Thalapady. From there, they have to board another bus to Mangaluru, taking more than two hours to reach their destination.
The CPI said KSRTC and private bus operators have not resumed the schedules suspended during the covid outbreak despite almost all sectors returning to normality. "The travel woes are increasing as schools and colleges have reopened," the party said after a meeting presided over by K V Krishnan, a member of CPI's district executive council.
As Kannur-Kasaragod National Highway is a notified route, very few private buses ply on the Kanhangad-Kasaragod NH route. However, most of the KSRTC buses on the Kanhangad-Kasaragod NH route are town-to-town services. "That leaves many short-distance passengers waiting for a long time for ordinary or limited-stop buses," it said.
The situation is worse in villages away from the national highway where residents depend more on private buses.
Pre-covid, the district was serviced by 450 private passenger buses. Now only 250 private buses ply on the road, said Girish K, district president of Kerala Bus Operators Association.
Private bus operators said they were not running all their buses for various reasons.
One, most of the passengers now are office-goers and students, who travel in the morning and evening. "Earlier, there were passengers out to attend social engagements such as weddings and temple festivals or to watch movies in theatres," he said. "Now we hardly get passengers between the morning and evening rush," he said.
As the number of passengers fell, the income of bus employees halved to Rs 500 from Rs 1,000 per day.
The second reason is the rise in diesel prices. In March 2020, when the covid cases were rising, diesel was priced at Rs 66 per litre. "Last week, we bought diesel at Rs 105. Now they reduced Rs 12," he said.
Girish said he had 18 buses before covid. Now he has just three buses, all of them are on credit. He had taken a loan of Rs 18.4 lakh to buy a bus in 2016. He brought down the loan amount to Rs 8.75 by March 2020. "After that, I have not paid the EMI. There are around 300 bus owners in the district and all of them are under mounting debt," he said.
The buses which were left idle during the lockdown were hit by rust and fungus, and the batteries have died.
The association's Kasaragod taluk president M A Abdulla has only one bus running between Kasaragod and Bandaduka. But he would need at least Rs 2 lakh to get the bus back on the road. The bus operators demanded an interest-free loan to get the buses back on the road.
But passengers in remote villages have to wait for 15 to 30 minutes and sometimes for an hour to get a bus. "Before there was a bus every 10 minutes for sure," said Girish.