Deepa Soman| The Times of India | Feb 2, 2018

Multi-coloured with artistic and often quirky designs on their bodies, with catchy names ranging from that of Gods and Goddesses to pop stars; private buses in Kerala have been style statements, unlike in other Indian states. But soon, all that might become a thing of the past, as private bus operators will have to follow the new colour coding system implemented by the government.

Previously, only city buses were given colour coding — while Kozhikode buses were green in colour, Thiruvananthapuram had blue ones. Buses in Ernakulam were red earlier, but the colour was changed to blue after they started being referred to as ‘red killers’ in the media. As per the new rule, from February 1 onwards, every newly registered bus and the ones seeking fitness certificates in the State should have the right colours.

City buses across the State will be painted green now, while those plying in the outskirts will be blue. The limited stop ‘ordinaries’, on the other hand, will be maroon, and all of them will have three white lines running along the sides, at the bottom. We give you a lowdown on why the officials and bus owners have decided to take the ‘not-so-colourful’ path.

Why the change?

Interestingly, it is the bus owners themselves who requested the change, says Joint Transport Commissioner and Secretary Rajeev Puthalath. “Many of the bus owners paint their vehicles in a variety of colours and even use different kinds of graphics to augment the look. There are some who spent more than `2 lakh for it. When such a bus runs in the same route as those owned by operators who aren’t that financially well-off, it creates an unhealthy competition. The ones with the colourful bus and their workers would feel superior, tend to overtake the others, and sometimes talk down to them. This can be a threat to road safety and put unnecessary financial burden on operators to attract people with artwork.” He also says that some of the bus operators have also tried to fool passengers into believing that they are limited stop buses, by writing ‘limited speed’ on them. “They are actually ordinary buses. But once there is a colour coding, such malpractices won’t be possible. Also, it will be helpful for the many non-Malayali people in the State to easily spot the category of the buses.”

N P Sathyan, State president of private bus operators association, says that some of the passengers too have been led to think that a graphics-laden bus will have better facilities inside as well. “Many a time, the artwork looks vulgar. Some of the buses have paintings of film stars, animals etc. done in a tasteless manner. This is because there are no strict regulations about them.”

The evolution of bus colours

Did you know that private buses have been a part of Kerala for more than a century? Santhosh Kumar, owner of RKV Motors, Thiruvananthapuram, says, “Our company was founded in 1933. But I am told that there were private buses even in 1901, in Kerala. They were the English model buses. They were open, with only railings on the sides with a few seats within, so they couldn’t have colours.”

Santhosh says that buses which had a covered body came later, with a bonnet-like projection in the front, like in cars. “They were imported and were often termed mookku chappiya (flattened nose)bus. Our company had them till around 1975. Around 1955, a company named Fargo introduced the full forward buses, the type we see now, which had their engines inside. After that, Ashok Leyland and Tata also brought out similar buses. We were the first to buy a full forward bus in Kerala, in 1956.”

According to Santhosh, the buses in those days had an aluminium body, without any colours. “Glazing aluminium used to be the body of even KSRTC buses, from 1965 onwards. It was in the late 60s that operators tried colours for the first time. It started off with coloured lines. In 1970, we first introduced double-colouring on buses – one colour on the top half and another on the bottom. In the 80s, single colours were used for the entire bus and in the 90s, colours with lines came into existence.”
Rajeev says, “It’s only in the past five or six years that heavy-duty graphics started getting used in buses. Till then, the colours and the designs were simple.”
The other side
According to Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) Chairman D Dhanuraj, what needs to be changed is the branding and marketing of private buses, not colours. “Auto rickshaws and taxis have a colour coding system. A problem with that is that in the event of a crime or harassment inside one, it won’t be easy to identify it, as all of them look the same. However, if it’s an online taxi service, for instance, the whole company will be held responsible for the same. I am of the opinion that our focus should not be on ancillary things like colours, but a way to track the buses and store their operational data online, which would make the services accountable.”
This news was published in The Times of India on February 2, 2018; Click here to read: From superstars and tigers to red, blue and green 

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