May 28, 2020
The state government has announced starting of #public transport from June 1. Yet to do the same as per WHO protocols, perhaps additional costs will mount which most likely will fall on the common man’s pocket. Second; even as public transport would ply intra district, but keeping up with government norms (i.e 60% passengers/social distancing/sanitizations etc) would be a challenge for the operator.
Things have fast changed in the ‘World of Corona’. As per protocols to prevent infection, one passenger per seat (on a 2 person seat) will be allowed to commute in a bus. Besides the bus driver and conductor shall have to follow strict measures like desensitization of seats during/after journey, ensuring every passenger is sanitized, and more such. Perhaps these measures will add to additional cost for the transport operators. Obvious, that the transport operator will recover this new additional cost from the common man’s pocket.
Recent reference drawn from Kerala starting public transport. The state government thereto start public transport has decided to increase the bus fares to cover for the losses incurred by bus owners while operating services by maintaining social distancing norms. A report from kerala mentioned that to ensure social distancing, a 38-seater city service bus can carry just 19 people. Only one person will be allowed to sit in a two-seater and two persons in a three-seater. No standing passengers will be allowed. “As only 50 per cent passengers are allowed, it is not possible to give concession for students,” further mentioned a media report from kerala.
“In normal times (before Corona) a private bus was operating on an average 75-80% capacity, and even then meeting-up expenses was difficult, explained Rajesh Prasher, President of Private bus operators Union. Adding,” Now when we have to operate on 60% capacity, recovering running expenses will become highly infeasible.” He said that cost for operating buses is going to increase in the current situation, and therefore continuing for long (without additional price) will not be possible for an average bus transport operator. “Unless the government pays-up for the losses through some kind of relaxation or allows us increase in the ticket price, he informed.
“We have no problem in running buses for public transport, but besides losses to operators there are certain other challenges also which need to be addressed by the government for everyone’s safety, he added.
Talking about number of passengers, he stated that though at main bus stands arrangements can be made to ensure that the number of passengers allowed is in sync with government orders. However maintaining the same at off locations (like between Shimla and Shoghi, many small stoppages like 103 tunnel, Sankat Mochan, Taradevi, etc) will be a challenge for a sole bus conductor. Also in case at a stoppage 15 passengers are waiting, but the bus can accommodate only 3, he added. Then in those situation which criteria to be practiced is another practical challenge needed to be addressed.
“Besides even sanitization criteria are to be evaluated for running buses,” he added. As for long distance running (between states/inter district) bus seat(s) sensitization is not much problem (as passenger will sit on seat from eg Delhi and get down at Shimla only). “However for a local commute (Intra district), sanitization of seats, keeping track of passengers, etc are going to be huge issues, he rued. For example in journey from Shimla Bus Stand to Sanjauli, there are going to be atleast 6-7 stoppages. So every time after a passenger vacates seat for another, sanitizing the same will not be possible, he informed. Moreover in such short distance running even keeping a record of traveler will be practically in feasible.
Adding to it is safety of driver and conductor, he stated. “Perhaps the government should provide every bus (private/public) with a temperature gun on security basis and PPE kits,” demanded Prasher.
He said that even the private bus operators are keen to start functioning, but such practical issues have to be dealt with, before hand. If not done, then a similar situation like in Punjab can arise here too. Reportedly in Punjab private operators refuse to run, for safety (self and public) reasons. Need of the hour is to inculcate faith in citizens and operators that travelling in buses would be safe, but if the above stated issues are not addressed it will lead to distrust. Adding he informed that a meeting is scheduled with state government on Thursday wherein decision shall be taken.
Though the state government does not even recognize the private bus operators as Corona Warriors, but now the ball is in their court. Will they address the roadblocks or will they leave it open ended, will have to be seen.