Public road transport system on verge of breakdown in Kerala
More people switch to private vehicles | Fall in passenger demand and spiralling cost of maintenance threat to sector | Students, regular commuters worst hit
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Buses are fast disappearing from Kerala roads with more people switching to private vehicles. Coupled with the fall in passenger demand thus caused, the spiralling cost of maintenance is threatening to break the public road transport system in the state.
This has left those who still depend on the public road transport system in the lurch. They find it difficult to find cheaper modes of transport in the void created by the cancellation of buses plying on their route. Students are the worst hit.
According to a report by the Motor Vehicle Department (MVD), 68 lakh passengers have stopped using buses in the last decade. The number of bus passengers has decreased from 1.32 crore to 66 lakh during this period.
It’s no surprise where these passengers have gone. During this period, the number of motorcycles registered in the state has doubled to cross the one-crore mark. The number of cars too has increased more than double (140%).
Transport Minister Antony Raju said that KSRTC lost almost half its passengers after the Covid lockdown. Yet there is huge demand from passengers to restore the services curtailed during the pandemic. An MVD report found that at least 550 people get affected when a bus on a route is cancelled. The road transport sector enjoyed the maximum public patronage at the beginning of the 21st century when there were over 30,000 buses on roads. At least 30-40 companies had a fleet of over ten buses. Now, the number has been reduced to a single digit.
“People started leaving stage carriers when travelling in private vehicles became a status symbol. The labour issues and the rising input cost hastened the industry’s decline. Instead of supporting the industry, the government created unnecessary competition using KSRTC. The net result is a huge crisis for both,” said T Gopinathan, general secretary of the All Kerala Bus Operators Organisation (AKBOO).
The fleet of over 30,000 buses using 70 litres of diesel per bus daily used to be a huge revenue earner for the government. While the KSRTC is pinning hope on government support and other modes of revenue, the private bus industry has declined from 27,500 in 2005 to just 7,300 in 2023. The bus industry is pinning hope on increasing the student travel concession for revival. KSRTC has already announced its plan for limiting the concession. The private bus operators, which carry 80% of the students, are waiting for government approval for the same.
Justice M Ramachandran Commission, tasked to find ways to address the problems in the sector, has also recommended the concession rate to be fixed at Rs 5. However, the government decided to postpone the decision. The private bus operators wanted the student concession rates to be increased because they deemed that raising the general bus fare beyond a limit would only alienate the passengers.
“There are no questions asked when the price of electricity, milk, water and rice are increased. These are essential for students as well. But when it comes to student concessions, there is always some excuse,” Gopinathan said.