Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala's state-owned public transport service has been in the red for quite some time, but with the number of passengers thinning down owing to COVID-19 curbs, the financial situation has further worsened for Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC). As KSRTC buses are literally running without passengers, in a desperate move the management has now decided to reduce fares for premium services.
This about-turn follows the recent fare hike to cope up for revenue loss during the early phase of COVID lockdown coinciding with the first quarter of the financial year.
KSRTC will go back to the pre-Covid fares on Wednesdays and Thursdays for its premium services such as Superfast and those above this category. The proposal has received the approval of KSRTC Director Board. Cabinet approval is not required for reducing the fares.
If the number of passengers increases with the latest decision, then the KSRTC will reimpose the old fares for other services including fast passenger buses.
Bus fares were hiked 25 to 30% following the Covid lockdown. Both the minimum fares as well as per kilometer charge of super class buses had gone up.
The super class bus category includes Super Express, Super Air Express, AC, hi-tech, Super Deluxe and low-floor buses. Services using Scania and Volvo buses too come under this category.
For other services, the minimum fare was made Rs 8 and the distance for it was reduced from 5 km to 2.5 km. For 5 km one has to pay Rs 10 instead of 8.
Lean days too
Even though the Corporation is operating a number of long-distance services, there are few takers. However, the private bus services are reportedly operating smoothly.
It has been noted that on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, particularly, the KSRTC is not even getting half the number of its regular passengers for its services. Due to the steep fall in the number of passengers, the Corporation is now running into further losses.
KSRTC Managing Director Biju Prabhakar says the Corporation is just about managing to run the show because the state government is paying the salary and pension of staff.
Only 360 new buses likely soon
Soon after the Left Democratic Front came to power in the state in 2016, the government had declared that 1,000 new buses would be procured at a cost of Rs 324 crore with funding from the Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Fund Board (KIIFB). Worryingly, the government could only take a decision to buy 360 buses just the other day at the fag end of its five-year tenure.
More significantly over the next two years about 2,000 buses whose expiry is imminent will have been taken off the roads. Of these buses, 300 are not even in running condition at the moment. The KSRTC will plunge into deep crisis if more buses are not procured immediately.
Though the KSRTC had given buses on rent for long-distance services, these ran into losses reportedly because of the loopholes in the contract.