Improving Public Transport

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Govt must quickly address the issues to bring private buses back on roads

Private bus operators have taken their fleet off the roads since Thursday on the plea that business was not viable in view of the restrictions of social distancing imposed by the government. Their grievance is double standards of the government enforcement of the restriction of social distancing: they said their buses were targeted for carrying more than permissible number of passengers, but the buses of Kadamba Transport Corporation were allowed to violate the restrictions. The decision of the private bus operators has put thousands of commuters to hardship. The passengers who managed to reach their offices on Thursday morning using available mode of transport were stuck at the places where their offices are located as they could not find any mode of transport back home. The KTC buses which are running on the roads have been found to be too inadequate to cater to all the travellers, most of whom are either government employees or private sector employees. The situation continued through on Friday as the private operators preferred to keep their buses parked.

The private operators had expressed their opposition to the 50 percent carrying capacity restriction after government decided to allow intrastate bus services to resume about a fortnight ago. However, they relented after the government agreed to settle the issues, like releasing the pending dues on subsidies for fuel, insurance and replacement of old buses. Though there was no relaxation, some of the private operators were quick to take more than their permitted capacity, as was the case before the lockdown and upon receipt of complaint several of them were issued challans. Their grouse is also that while the bus crew would want to enforce social distancing, many passengers force their way into the buses to reach their destination and refuse to alight when told of the government directives on maintaining social distance. Whatever the case, the state government could not resolve the issues they raised. As a result the private buses are going to be off the roads till the demands of operators are met.

Though the government has allowed resumption of economic activities and ordered restart of bus services to help people to commute from their homes to workplaces and back, no one in the government appears to have realised that enforcing social distancing with limited number of buses on roads was not going to be easy. It was an error on the part of the government to believe that the bus operators, their drivers and conductors and the passengers, with few buses on the roads, would voluntarily stick to social distancing. The private operators, who suffered losses as they had to keep their buses off the roads for nearly six weeks during the continuing lockdown, could not have been expected to observe the restrictions. The government should have relied on enforcement, rather than voluntary adherence. Had strict enforcement by the police been done, neither the bus crew nor passengers would have broken the social distancing rule. And there would have been no ground for complaint of the private operators and KTC buses were not being penalized for violating social distancing norms. There has to be uniformity of law for KTC and private bus operators with regard to violations of social distancing norms.

The government must make immediate efforts to bring back private buses on the roads. The government should consider giving private bus operators some assistance to tide over the loss of income due to social distancing and be able to pay back loans, salaries of the staff and meet their own needs. The government has raised tax on diesel making it costly by Rs 2, which added to the woes of the private operators. The government could think of exempting private buses from the raise for the next three months. KTC buses cannot meet the public transport needs alone. With private buses off the roads, people will find it very troublesome to travel between home and workplace. The government has to quickly address the issues raised by the private bus operators. Otherwise, the few KTC buses would be more crowded than they were at certain hours and on certain routes. Adequate and efficient public transport is absolutely necessary for the economy to get back on rails.