The state government is considering a proposal to run buses owned by private operators on a contractual basis under which the owners could be paid a per km rate daily. The proposal was not initiated by the government but by some private bus operators who are finding running buses not very profitable, time consuming and energy sapping. Although the government will take time to consider all the aspects of the proposal and arrive at a decision, it has liked the idea for some reasons. First, it would increase the number and frequency of buses on hinterland routes where private operators run services only up to 6 pm. Under government lease, the private buses could run up to 9 pm or longer on these routes, thus facilitating commuting between home and workplace easier for people living in the hinterland. Secondly, the wild, life-threatening race of private buses competing for passengers during peak hours on major routes could end with buses coming under government control.
However, the government must weigh the option in a realistic and self-critical manner. First of all, the government taking over private buses for operations sounds out of date in this era of privatization. Governments have been giving up areas and powers for private businesses. One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s top mantras of progress is: “Government has no business to be in business.” It is the government which is outsourcing its operations and works to private parties, rather than the other way round. It could have not sounded surprising if the government were to consider a proposal for outsourcing the operations and services of its public transporter, Kadamba Transport Corporation (KTC). As a matter of fact, the KTC has made gains in terms of passengers and income by tying up with a private service provider for online ticketing. It sounds strange that it is some private bus operators who want to outsource their bus operations to the KTC. It has to be closely examined whether these operators are not dumping their loss-making operations on the KTC; or whether they are not hoping to earn much higher income sitting at home while the KTC grapples with all the hassles of operations and repairs and maintenance of the buses.
A question that also needs to be asked is how efficient and capable the KTC is to take on the additional burden of private buses. KTC is about 35 years’ old and still being bottle-fed by government. It has not grown up to stand on its feet. Its losses come to Rs 30 crore per year. It has never made profits. It survives on annual subsidy. It earns about Rs 40 per km and spends Rs 50 per km. It has 500 buses and has not been able to bring down staff cost and replacement and repairs cost, improve fuel efficiency and minimize leakage owing to corruption. What kind of management can be expected from an organization that has failed to manage its own operations? The KTC must set its own house in order before jumping to take over the responsibility of running private buses on hinterland routes and reducing their number during peak hours on major routes. The responsibility entails a great amount of financial and administrative risk which should better be avoided.