(G.N.S) Dt. 22
People take to the streets in many cities; any comparison with other States unfair given the poor condition of the buses, say commuters
The bus fare hike announced by the Transport Department on Friday night seems to have provoked anger among people across the State. Even before the announcement could sink in, commuters in Chennai had a further shock in store on Saturday with the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) coming out with a detailed fare card for the different types of services operated by them. While officials of the State Transport Corporations (STCs) claim the ticket fare hike was a pending for long, commuters say the sudden, unannounced hike will force them to pay through the nose for public transport.
In several parts of the State, including Coimbatore, Tiruchi, and Tiruvarur districts, commuters took to the streets in protest. While residents organised a road roko in Shoolagiri town in Coimbatore district, members of the Students’ Federation of India carried out a demonstration in Tiruvarur district. A large number of people staged a road roko in front of the bus stand in Shoolagiri demanding that the State government take back the price hike.
There were scenes of passengers, who had booked tickets online before the fare revision, arguing with bus crew members at the Central Bus Stand in Tiruchi when they were asked to pay the difference.
S. Subban, who travels to Namakkal from Erode regularly, said he earned ₹250 a day and hereafter, he would have to spend ₹100 for bus tickets daily, which meant spending 40% of his earnings on travel.
Joseph, a resident of Nettukuppam in Ennore, said the hike is bound to cause severe hardship to daily wage earners, who depend on buses to commute to their workplace.
He said that in several routes, the fare had been increased by 100%.
He referred to the 56N bus route operated from Ennore to High Court where the charge before the hike was 8.
Now, the fare has been fixed at ₹16. The MTC, having more than 3,500 buses in its fleet, operates only 50% of the buses under the ordinary service, with the remaining operated under Express and Deluxe categories.
While discussing the theory of government officials comparing the ticket fares prevailing in other southern States, commuters questioned the deficiencies in the public buses being run here.
Poor maintenance, leaking roofs during rain, irregular schedule, cramped and broken seats, and, above all, abusive bus crew who harass the commuters by not returning change were some of the issues listed.
Commuters were also angry that MTC buses operated as Express or Deluxe services do not differ in any way from the ordinary bus services except for the colour on the name board, thus not justifying differential fares.
Social activists from the city and nearby districts like Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram pointed out the hike is bound to put more pressure on the suburban train services, which are the only transport facility operated on an economic scale.
A senior official of the State Transport Department said the fare hike was the first step towards making public transport in the State financially sustainable.
He said a lot of research was undertaken into the situation in neighbouring States before going for the ticket hike across the board.
He said that while in Tamil Nadu, fares had been hiked only twice since 2001, in Karnataka the ticket fares have been hiked 16 times.
In a State where 50% of the routes are socially obligatory routes and the eight transport corporations were sustaining ₹9 crore of losses per day, there was no other go but hike the ticket fares, he added.
The official also cited the thousands of crores in losses accumulated over a period of 15 years and the present situation where the transport corporations have been able to meet the basic needs of keeping pace with the price of diesel, operational expenditures and payment of salary.
Stagnant fleet strength
While new buses were purchased thanks to Central government funding through the JNNURM, the State has not been able to increase its fleet as the Central government has completely withdrawn from funding of transport departments. The Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled & Caregivers, in a letter to the Chief Minister, has requested the government to extend the concessional fare of 75% in all the State Transport Corporation buses.
(G.N.S) Dt. 22