Private Buses finally gets cut to size...

The City bus service in Ernakulam - the Commercial Capital of Kerala - is handled almost exclusively by Private buses. Official records show that there are over 900 buses serving the city and its suburbs - extending from Thripunithura to Cheranalloor and Thevara/Fort Kochi to Aluva. The sheer number of buses provide an amazing connectivity within the city, with frequencies as good as a minute between two buses! However, the amazing frequency has led to unhealthy competition among bus operators - and finally ends up in buses running at speeds putting even F1 drivers to shame.

It is no secret that these private buses run on a mix of Kerosene and Diesel (obviously for saving on fuel money - only to spend more on engine repairs). In addition to cutting costs, the mix also allows buses to pick speed much faster than a bus running purely on diesel. Each bus runs with about 3-4 crew members manning it - including one driver and two conductors. The crew are usually at tenterhooks, because any dip in collection would lead to a confrontation with the bus owner. In their attempts to ensure that competition does not run away with the passengers, they tend to overspeed and drive dangerously.

On all my visits to Ernakulam, I have sadly been witnessing atleast one accident - thankfully none were fatal. In one of my visits, I even witness crew of two buses fighting it out in the middle of the road - because the bus ahead was running too late, eating into the next one's revenue. In a gruesome incident recently, a person lost his life in the city after a bus ran over him. If reports are to be believed, the driver was overspeeding. It would be partiality to blame only the bus owners or the crew for the competition - the government had a blind eye when it came to regulating the number of services. As a result, the government is now at a tricky spot - its attempts to introduce KSRTC services on many routes drew flak from operators.

Following the recent death atErnakulam, the City Traffic Police (of Ernakulam City) have commenced a drive to ensure that buses do not overspeed. Newspaper reports suggest that the city police have formed teams of policemen, who observe buses and issue a warrant on the spot for irregularities. The Police have also deployed interceptors - equipped with speed sensing radars - to check overspeeding in the City. The allowed speed for City buses is only 35 kmph in city limits (A very unrealistic speed indeed!). Although a small move, this move would surely reign in errant operators, and perhaps restore some peace in the city.

The wait for the swanky buses from KSRTC just got longer, with the entire project hitting roadblock after roadblock. Hopefully, those buses would really cut Private buses to size. Private buses are necessary evils - but they need to cut down to the level that they are necessary, and not a bit more.