Qualitative improvement in comfort and safety levels must go hand in hand with awareness programmes to popularise bus services in the State, experts have said. With approximately three buses withdrawing service each day, such a move alone will help bus services regain the ground they have lost to private vehicles, they feel.
The demand for improvement in safety and comfort levels is gathering momentum, with stakeholders observing the first Friday of every month as Public Transport Day in Kochi. “A major reason for passengers to shun commute by buses is the extremely low-shoulder seats and leg room for passengers.
The hard suspension of most buses, rash driving, and rude behaviour by the unscrupulous crew have further eroded commuter patronage, as can be seen from the declining popularity of buses,” said M.N. Prabhakaran, former Deputy Transport Commissioner, who is now joint director of the Institute of Driver Training and Research, Edappal, Malappuram.
“According to rules, each seat in private and KSRTC buses must be 38 cm wide. This much shoulder room is insufficient since people are putting on weight as years pass by. Even worse, some bus operators lessen the width of each seat to 33 cm, to hew out space to accommodate more standing passengers than is permitted. This results in the shoulder of the person sitting on the aisle seat being rammed by the conductor who criss-crosses, or standing passengers. The window seat passenger too is crammed between the co-passenger and the bus body,” he said.
Moreover, little care is given to ergonomics of seats, further inconveniencing commuters. “Another critical issue is that most buses in the State rely on leaf-spring suspension. This is much harder than air suspension which has a cushioning effect. It is not much costlier than leaf springs. Some bus operators add more leaf springs than permitted to carry more passengers than is permitted. Apart from providing a bumpy ride, this causes discomfort to passengers whenever the driver applies brake,” Mr. Prabhakaran observed.
The practice among drivers to swerve steeply and unnecessarily apply brake are other issues affecting passenger comfort. Drivers of low-floor buses too have this tendency, leaving commuters baffled. Such drivers must be taught “defensive driving” skills. All this contribute to people opting for private vehicles. On their part, KSRTC and private bus owners have to spend more on fuel and wear and tear.
The new Bus Body Code – AIS 052, adopting which new buses have to be built, takes care of most of these issues. But the code insists on glass windows even for city buses. This is not suited for Kerala’s warm and humid climate, he said.
Mr. Prabhakaran called for demarcating space for women in city buses by fixing a partition, so that they are less vulnerable to harassment.
Meanwhile, D. Dhanuraj, chairman of the city-based Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), which is a co-organiser of the monthly Bus Day, said the NGO had roped in urban and traffic planners to help streamline public transport. “Bus operators are open to spare their crew to undergo soft-skills training, so that they behave amiably with commuters,” he said.
“We are focused on qualitative, tangible deliverables, for which we are getting positive support from stakeholders, including government departments and residents’ associations,” he added.
This report was first published by The Hindu on May 14, 2018. Click here to read: Qualitative improvement sought in public transport