Tax, fuel price hike put a spoke in Kochi buses’ wheel

*The news story published on The Hindu, quoting CPPR Chairman, Dr. D. Dhanuraj’s comment on challenging scenario of private bus operators in Kochi.

Over 800 private buses have disappeared from city roads in the past nine years

Is the number of private buses operating in the city declining steadily?

Kerala State Private Bus Operators Federation (KSPBOF) claims that to be the case and throws up figures to substantiate it whereas the data from Kochi metro’s live bus-tracking app, Chalo, paints an even dismal picture.

“As per a survey we conducted in March this year, the number of buses operating to the city stood at around 1,200. This was a decline of over 800 buses from nine years ago when 2,000-odd buses operated on the city roads,” said M.B. Sathyan, president of KSPBOF. However, the Chalo App pegs the number at 830.

With the fuel price getting revised multiple times since then, the federation admits that the number may have dropped even further in the past six months.

“We have asked details from our eight units in Kochi, Aluva, Angamaly, Paravur, Perumbavoor, Muvattupuzha, Kothamangalam, and Piravom to give the latest figure.

“It would not be surprising to see the number drop below 1,000 going by the feedback we receive from operators who are increasingly looking at ways to leave the field without lasting liabilities,” claimed Mr. Sathyan.

Operators’ demand

The government’s decision to shift from a tax regime based on number of seats to sq.ft. meant that the quarterly tax rose from the range of Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 30,000 to between Rs. 26,000 and Rs. 38,000.

Mr. Sathyan said that things have come to such a passé where it is no longer possible to sustain the industry through cosmetic fare hike.

“What we need is a comprehensive transport policy. The government should also think of subsidised fuel supply as it does in the case of boat services,” he said.

Giving credence to the federation’s claim that more buses are being taken off the road, 21 operators have filed G form with the Ernakulam Regional Transport Office requesting tax exemption on the ground of halting operations this month alone.

However, Regional Transport Officer Jojy P. Jose declined to view this as a trend saying the form can be withdrawn by operators at any time.

D. Dhanuraj, Chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Research, said that the number of private buses was indeed on the wane in the city, recollecting that as per a study the agency had conducted for Vytilla Mobility Hub, there were around 1,600 buses at one point.

Mr. Dhanuraj called for a change in the State government’s regulation regime of private buses whereby local and regional factors are considered in the fare fixation rather than following a universal method.

*This news story can be also read at The Hindu’s website.

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