Friday, 9 February 2018

Third law #6: Bus fare hike - Loud outrage and silent submission

So, there was stiff opposition to the bus fare hike. There were loud protests and a lot of breast-beating. But a fortnight later, it looks like people have resigned themselves to the new fares and are continuing to use the bus services.

The bus fare hike struck at the middle and weaker sections of society, but they now are on the verge of accepting the high fares. They have no other go? I was curious about this. I even wanted to know why they accept it at all.


Putting an end to this I had an informal conversation with a couple of commuters too, just to know the current position. Saravanakumar, who resides in Chromepet, usually takes at least two buses from his home to Kaattankulathur, for his service engineer work. “I have to travel till Tambaram by bus and from there I take another bus. For this 20 km, I used to spend about Rs 30 a day earlier. Now it is almost Rs 45 to Rs 50. This almost a 60 per cent hike,” he said.

When asked why not a bus pass, Saravanakumar said, “It is not as easy as you think. My kind of job is different. Most of the times I have to travel across the city to different places from Kaattankulathur, to customer’s places for service. For this, sometimes the Rs 50 pass was a big help. Now, even that is not available. The monthly pass can be availed of only between two specific stops and so, that would not help me.”

For a middle-class resident like him, who cannot afford a two-wheeler, the bus fare hike is really big trouble, according to Saravanakumar.

So, how is he handling the hike now? Saravanakumar said, “We have no other go. We have no time to launch into a revolution. All we can do is to reduce other expenses and spend that for commuting. The TA given for service engineers and marketing professionals is suitable only for petrol expenses of a two-wheeler, and not for public transport.”

Why does he not take a local train? He said, “I have to carry a bag of tools which would be heavy. It is not easy to carry it during the rush hours. Buses are more convenient for me.”

Rajamanikkam from Mandaveli, who sells onions and tomatoes in Mandaveli market, says, “There is no proper train connection between my area and Koyambedu, from where I have to buy my stock. So, the only mode of transport for me is bus. But, now this is worse.”

In an anxious tone, he adds, “Now I have only two options: either increase the price of vegetables or give up this business and find another.”

He pointed out that “The first one would be impractical, as most vendors in Mandaveli market, who transport goods through their own vehicles, sell for lower prices. So, there are chances of my losing customers. I do not know what other work to take up as I have only been selling vegetables for 15 years now.”

Asked how he was handling the hike in bus fares, Rajamanikkam said, “I have not given up my vegetable sales business. I am still using the bus service. But, the profit I was making has gone down so much after the bus fare hike. I am planning to increase the vegetable price to a reasonable level. However, I am still not sure how it will go down with the customers.”

Rajamanikkam said there are many others like him across the city. “Every vegetable market in the city will have ‘victims’ of bus fare like me. Every one will have a sad story,” he said philosophically.

With a lot of protests still being carried out by the Oppositions parties, the stories of commuters like Saravanakumar and Rajamanikkam end where they have got used to the hike. Be it a service engineer, who has to reduce his other expenses, or a vegetable vendor who has to hike the prices of his goods, it is the public who have to adjust.

Some snippets and suggestions

Rs 1,000 pass remains, Rs 50 pass goes:

The State government has announced that the Rs 1,000 monthly MTC bus pass will continue to be sold at the same price, amidst criticism of the recent bus fare hike. However, rates for the route-specific passes in the city buses have been hiked and the quantum of the hike is yet to be announced.

The Rs 50 daily pass, which allows a commuter to travel unlimited, has been stopped. While the Rs 1,000 pass allows a commuter to travel unlimited for a month in all categories of the MTC buses, except air-conditioned buses, the route-specific pass allows one to travel only between two specific bus stops.

Strike, the reason for hike?

The hike in bus fare came immediately after the transport workers strike. Employees of over 25 different unions organised a massive eight-day protest between 4 and 11 January which caused untold misery to commuters across Tamilnadu. Their demands included fixing monthly salaries on a par with permanent State government employees as per 2.57 multiplication factor, returning deductions worth Rs 5,000 crore made from salaries of existing employees towards social security schemes, release of terminal benefits to retired employees and removing discrepancies in pay scale within the department.

Maintenance, another deal-breaker:

The government hardly takes into account the maintenance of vehicles before hiking ticket fares. As per government rules, the workers should drive and maintain buses in such a way that they should run 6 km for every litre of diesel. But most government buses don’t run even 4 km for every litre consuming excess funds from the treasury with rise in crude oil prices adding to the woes. Also, after air buses and AC buses came into the picture, maintenance costs have skyrocketed as they have more delicate parts need extra care.

Autonomous transport:

In countries like Germany, driverless vehicle technologies are on the verge of getting implemented. In India, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd has already launched driverless tractors. So, this is the right time for the State to float tenders for developing such technologies so that revenue outflow in the transport department can get greatly reduced.

On-demand services:

During lean hours, buses run with fewer passengers. If on-demand services are introduced, it will save fuel expenses while also giving more breathing space for workers between duties. Something like GPS-assisted technologies can be utilised to help buses connect with each other and share passengers.

BRTS:

Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) is slowly getting popular in India. In cities like Ahmedabad, the system is already in place and tasting great success. If introduced in Chennai, it will not only save fuel expenses but also the time taken to reach destinations. This is the right time for the State government to re-start the project which was shelved in the draft stage. Earlier, it was taken as an integrated part of Circular Corridor Project in India. Beginning at Adyar, the route will cover Saidapet, Jafferkanpet, Ramavaram, Puzhal, Manali, Chennai Central Railway Station, Lighthouse and return to Adyar. The corridor would cover a distance of 70.3 km.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, Feb 9, 2018.

This column, 'Third Law' will feature current affairs that break out to be the news of any day. In this column, I will try to figure out and put to the public debate, the reactions of any incident that might cause some serious effects on the society. Because, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

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