The declining number of public-transport buses in Kerala over the past two decades has resulted in availability of buses nosediving to approximately 0.50 per 1,000 people, as compared to the national average of 1.33.

The steep fall in the number of buses in Kerala is in stark contrast to even Bangladesh which had 0.97 buses per 1,000 people, while developing countries such as Thailand had 8.42 buses, Malaysia 5.90 buses and Mexico 2.87 buses, as per data released by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

“The steep decline in the number of private stage-carrier buses in Kerala is evident from the fact that their number fell from approximately 35,000 in 2000 to 12,000. The fleet depletion of 20,000 buses over two decades is worrisome, especially in a small State like Kerala where public-transport buses provided cost-effective and low-carbon footprint travel,” said D. Dhanuraj, chairman of city-based think tank Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), which has done innumerable studies in the sector, based on which recommendations were forwarded to the government.

The number of private buses in operation has further fallen from 12,000 (in early 2020) to about 8,000 due to the pandemic situation.

“The fear is rife that all this will lead to commuters seeking refuge in private vehicles, increasing congestion and pollution. Contrary to government announcements and public expectation, the KSRTC [Kerala State Road Transport Corporation] has not increased their services either. Even the existing number of private buses will be taken off the road, since the State government notification of 2020 says only KSRTC buses can operate on routes that exceed 140 km.

“This is a dog-in-the-manger attitude, since the RTC which is neck-deep in debt is in no position to make alternative arrangements,” said Mr. Dhanuraj.

Regulatory body

He sought the formation of an independent regulatory body like in the power and telecom sectors, to usher in much-needed quality standards and technological improvements in the sector. “The current policies are focused on KSRTC, with the result that the service provider and the regulator are one and the same.”

A strong votary of public transport and Motor Vehicle Inspector of Idukki RTO Bijulal P. Ram said misleading data in the annual economic review released by the State Planning Board, wherein the number of stage-carriage buses in Kerala has been pegged at 48,000, was one of the reasons behind the hiccups in the sector. “A scientific mode must be adopted so that data reflects the truth, based on which proactive policies can be adopted,” he said.

Any further delay in helping the sector to get back on track would cause irreparable damage, especially so since the threat of the sector being taken over by bus-aggregator firms based in other States was looming large, said Mr. Ram.

Image Courtesy: The Hindu

This article was published in The Hindu.

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