The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) could be ‘driving’ up the road not taken to see itself out of the red.
The loss-making public utility intends to convert and scale up its out-of-use buses into campers, food trucks, bio-toilets, and even staff sleepers.
The cash-strapped KSRTC had taken a severe hit due to the COVID-19 crisis. As a ‘revival’ initiative, the KSRTC has started rolling out food trucks and staff sleepers by refurbishing its abandoned buses.
As per norms, KSRTC should withdraw a bus from its fleet after being used for 15 years. The ‘scrap buses’ are put on auction. These vehicles are usually purchased by educational institutions for as low as Rs 2 lakh. The KSRTC has around 300-400 unused buses which could be remodelled for non-travel purposes.
The first KSRTC food truck, managed by Milma, was launched at East Fort in Thiruvananthapuram recently. The KSRTC remodelled the bus by spending around Rs 2 lakh, before handing it over to Milma which refurbished the interiors in 20 days.
The KSRTC had also initiated discussions with government agencies like Kudumbashree, Matsyafed, Meat Products of India, and KEPCO to use the ‘buses’ to run their stalls.
KSRTC Managing Director Biju Prabhakar said the corporation faced a huge crisis due to COVID-19 and hence it decided to mull such options to monetise old buses. “Around Rs 1.5-2 lakh would be required to rebuild a bus. If it is given out on a monthly rent of Rs 20,000, we will get Rs 2.40 lakh per year and Rs 12 lakh in five years, which is a far better deal than auctioning.”
The KSRTC had recently rolled out a remodelled old bus as AC staff retiring room. It had 16 beds, lockers, a dining table and a wash area. Such retiring rooms would be helpful to staff who wait for long hours to operate services at places like airports. At such places, fixed schedules would not work, especially during Sabarimala pilgrim season and other such travel-intensive times.
Vehicle remodelling is cost-effective in comparison to the construction of permanent buildings. The end-to-end remodelling is done by KSRTC staff at its various workshops across the state. Remodelling a bus into AC sleeper costs around Rs 5 lakh.
Biju Prabhakar said they were planning to arrange such sleepers for the police too. In addition to retiring rooms, the KSRTC would also explore the viability of converting old buses into bio-toilets for the police.
In eco-sensitive zones where building restrictions are strict, KSRTC can use its converted buses as stationary rooms for tourists. The first round of discussions in this regard was held with Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) and the Forest Department.
“It won’t be a mobile camper. The remodelled buses without wheels can be parked at beautiful locations where construction is otherwise not allowed,” Biju Prabhakar said.
Iconic double-decker buses
In Thiruvananthapuram, the KSRTC has plans to reuse one of its iconic double-decker buses into an eatery where customers could enjoy a beautiful view of the beach along with food.
Another double-decker bus, which is still in service, will be remodelled with a transparent upper roof for a city tour, covering all major tourists spots such as Kowdiar Palace, Museum, and Kovalam.
Biju Prabhakar said the corporation had more plans like setting up a mobile health clinic on the lines of the Hindustan Latex-run mobile unit under the Social Justice Department. “The erratic work environment is taking a toll on the health of KSRTC staff. We are conducting a study on the rising number of deaths of KSRTC employees. I hope interventions such as mobile health clinic, with diagnostic facilities, could bring about a major change,” he said.
Putting prime land to use
The MD said the KSRTC, with 94 depots and five regional workstations, had the advantage of possessing prime properties which could host food trucks and fresh marts.
KSRTC zonal traffic officer Jacob Sam Lopez said the bus stop in Amabalapuzha, where KSRTC owned around 3 cents of land with highway frontage, would be made a food joint’ with passenger waiting rooms.
Some private firms and banks had approached KSRTC, seeking to utilise its remodelled buses for its operations. KSRTC will submit these proposals to its board for final approval.
KSRTC would hand over food trucks after taking the requisite permissions from the Motor Vehicles Department. It would also provide power and water connections. “Those operating the service should take other permits such as food safety licence and permits from the local bodies,” officials said.
Lopez said that the huge turnout at the recently opened food truck of Milma at Thiruvananthapuram was proof that there is a demand for such facilities.
Thiruvananthapuram Regional Co-operative Milk Producers' Union Limited chairman Kallada Ramesh said that the Milma food truck at East Fort was getting a good response. “We spent Rs 4.5 lakh to turn the bus into a food truck. Major catch of this project is that we will get KSRTC-owned prime properties to run the outlet. We pay Rs 20,000 for the outlet at East Fort. It is a win-win situation for both KSRTC and Milma. We are planning to run such trucks across the state. The KSRTC has also agreed to hand over an old double decker bus which will be utilised as a mobile unit,” he said.
(Jisha Surya is an independent journalist based in Thiruvananthapuram)