TN Transport Department: Hitting the ground running

While the free bus travel scheme has gained nationwide attention, efforts are on to make journeys more safe & affordable

Published: 12th May 2022 05:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th May 2022 05:05 AM   |  A+A-

The transport department hasn’t hiked ticket costs so far

By Express News Service

CHENNAI: The ordinary buses in Tamil Nadu that normally receive 15 to 20 commuters per trip during non-peak hours, now carry twice the number of passengers, thanks to the Transport Department’s free ridership scheme for women, transpersons and persons with disabilities (PwD).

Within two months after assuming power, the DMK State government introduced the scheme on July 12 last year. Initially, the government sanctioned Rs 680 crore for the scheme and promised to provide another Rs 700 crore after studying the patronage. Accordingly, Rs 1,520 crore compensation was earmarked for transport corporations in the annual budget 2022-23.

Over 7,312 buses – which are 37% of the fleet capacity of seven transport corporations — allow women to travel without paying ticket fare. Since the implementation of the scheme, women patronage has increased from 40% to 61.78% in ordinary government buses. The buses carry about 36 lakh women a day. 

According to KR Shanmugam, Director, Madras School of Economics, there is a huge gender gap in rural parts of the State and the scheme will benefit women immensely. “It may be a political decision,  but Rs 1,500 crore a year may not increase the government’s debts significantly. The funds may be sourced from other schemes.”

Official sources said the scheme’s implementation has affected private buses as well as mofussil express buses. “The number of passengers carried by a mofussil bus per day in Kumbakonam, Tiruvannamalai and Vellore region, which stood at 800 to 850 a day, has come down to 650. This is mainly because of migration of a section of rural travellers to ordinary buses,” said an operational manager of TNSTC.

While the scheme has benefitted women of rural pockets who are employed in textile shops, vessel shops, grocery showrooms and other commercial establishments, bus conductors and private bus operators say their earnings have been affected.

D R Dharmaraj, Secretary, Federation of Bus Operators Associations of Tamil Nadu, said the scheme has affected the earnings of private buses in rural pockets. “In cities like Tiruchy, Madurai and Coimbatore, women travellers don’t hesitate to spend money for private buses or autos. But villagers are willing to wait up to 30 minutes to board ordinary buses. Thus, a private bus which usually carried around 1,000 commuters a day, now gets 800,” he said.

Outside city areas, ordinary buses are operated for more than 30 km. “Women who have the time can travel from Tiruchy to Villupuram free of cost by changing five buses,” said Dharmaraj, asserting that the association is not against the scheme.

Among other initiatives, the transport department has fit boards displaying ‘Thirukkural’ couplets along with explanations and portrait of poet Thiruvalluvar in all government buses, with an aim to infuse Tamil identity among the population.

Similarly, in spite of soaring fuel prices and increasing debts, the department has not increased ticket fare and has made bus travel in the State relatively cheap when compared to States such as Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. 

Responding to repeated complaints from travellers about overpricing and sale of unhygienic food at motels, the transport department cancelled the permit of errant motels and invited bids to open new motels. Similarly, the government also earmarked two single berths in sleeper buses of SETC for women who travel without companions.

Story so far...

  • No hike in ticket fare despite increasing fuel prices
  • Increasing the age of children eligible for free travel from three to five years
  • Launch of ‘Chennai Bus’ mobile app which allows commuters to know the location of buses on real-time basis
  • Regularisation of motels across the State; motels selling unhygienic food sealed
  • Earmarking two single berths for women travelling alone in SETC sleeper buses
  • Providing transport services — learner’s licence (LLR), renewal of driving licence and change of address in driving licence — online without visiting RTOs
  • Boards displaying ‘Thirukkural’ couplets and their explanation, and portrait of poet Thiruvalluvar fitted in all government buses

Free travel for women

  • Ordinary buses: 7,312
  • Per day women patronage: 36 lakh a day
  • Experts say the scheme will benefit women immensely in the long run

TAGS
Tamil Nadu

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