We've read about this multiple times - there are two major categories of permits issued for buses - the stage carriage permit, and the contract/tourist permit. Only buses with a stage carriage permit are legally permitted to issue "tickets".
What is a stage carriage?
The legal definition of "Stage carriage" as per the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 is -
“stage carriage” means a motor vehicle constructed or adapted to carry more than six passengers excluding the driver for hire or reward at separate fares paid by or for individual passengers, either for the whole journey or for stages of the journey;
The important part in this definition is the "separate fares paid by or for individual passengers" either for the whole journey or for "stages of the journey." I'll talk about stages a little later.
|A Kerala SRTC bus ticket (Representative image)|
What is a ticket?
A ticket is a "receipt" issued by the conductor in exchange for collecting the fare for traveling by the stage carriage. The Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 prescribes that issue of a "ticket" is compulsory - failure to do so can result in penalty for the conductor, who is responsible to ensure that all the passengers have paid the fare and obtained a "ticket".
The requirements for "ticket" is prescribed under Section 72 (2) (xi) (xv), and says -
that tickets bearing specified particulars shall be issued to passengers and shall show the fares actually charged and that records of tickets issued shall be kept in a specified manner;
The 'specified particulars' as described under the Kerala Motor Vehicles Rules 1989 (the requirements are similar among other states as well). The ticket should contain a serial number, the vehicle's registration number, the actual fare and fare actually charged, and the point of origin and destination (or the "fare stage" numbers).
What is a stage?
It is almost impossible to charge fares according to the actual distance travelled by a passenger. Hence, the journey is divided into "stages", and passengers are charged for the number of "stages" traveled by the passenger. The length of each stage is defined by the state government. In case of Kerala, each stage is 2.5 kilometres long, while in Bengaluru city (BMTC) the stage is 2 kilometres long. The fare stage is 6 kilometres long in case of Maharashtra - Maharashtra has a "sub-stage" system for the first few stages, to make fares more proportional to the actual distance travelled. For the purpose of "stages" - stops of importance is categorised as "stage stops".
How is a ticket fare calculated?
Let us see how fares are calculated - I am using the example of Kerala to explain fare calculation:
Let us assume a bus service originates from Place "A" and terminates in Place "AB" - covering a distance of 16.2 kilometres. Such a journey would have 8 stages - let us call them "1" through "8". Look at the illustration below -
As you may have already spotted, the stages are not split exactly at 2.5kms each - it might be a little less or more. Usually, the importance of the stop is also considered while designating "stage stops". The bus originates at Stop "A" and terminates at Stop "AB". However, the terminus stop (AB) is not a "stage stop" as seen in the illustration.
Suppose, you board the bus at Stop #C and get off the bus at Stop "U". You will be charged the fare from the stage stop preceding your stop, till the stage stop following your stop (or till your stop if your stop is a stage stop). In this example, you will be charged for traveling from stage "1" to stage "6" (1 precedes your boarding stop, and 6 follows your alighting stop). Now, if you were charged for the real distance travelled, you will have to pay the fare for 10.8kms - however, according to the stage fare system, you will have to pay for 12.6kms (the distance between stage number 1 and 6).
This system has its advantages and disadvantages. In some case, the stages are longer than usual to accommodate important places - so you get the benefit of paying a little lesser than what you might have to pay if you were charged for the actual distance. The disadvantage is that you might end up paying a little more if you board just before a stage stop and alight immediately after one. Consider the illustration above - and assume you board at stop D and alight at stop J - you travel only 3.6 kilometres, but you need to pay for 7.2 kilometres since you will be charged from stage 1 to 4. Knowing the stages on the route you plan to travel might help you save some money by planning accordingly.
This can be expensive in some places - for example, in Bengaluru. You may travel 3 stops - assume, stop D to F (in the illustration above) - it is only a 1.2 kilometre ride. But, you will be charged from Stage 1 to 3 (you board before Stage 2, and alight after 2) - that is for 4.8kms. For the sake of clarity, I'll round down the distance to 4 kilometres (since, Bangalore's BMTC has stage lengths of 2 kms). Although you travel for only 1.2 kilometres (you should pay only for the minimum fare ideally), you end up paying for 2 stages i.e., 4 kilometres (Rs. 10 - instead of the minimum fare of Rs. 5). This can make it expensive!
|A sample fare table - explanation below|
Fares are charged based on a 'fare table' - the fare table is approved by the state government, and the bus operator is not allowed to deviate from the fare table. The fare table above has 21 stages. The fare is determined by identifying the column that matches with the boarding stage, and then heading to the appropriate row with the alighting stage mentioned. For example, if you are traveling from Stage 6 (Ernakulam) to 10 (Kozhikode), you pick up the column that is titled "Ernakulam", and go down till the row titled "Kozhikode" - so the fare is Rs. 190. There could be additional levies that go in - that is usually given to the conductor as a separate order. In case an electronic ticketing machine is used, the machine would already have those information programmed. The conductor goes through the calculation manually if they use a manual ticket instead.
|A fare calculation for the illustration above|
The above is another fare illustration with stages labelled according to my earlier illustration. One point to be noted is that you can never travel "within" a stage - that is, your origin and destination stage can never be the same. So if you are traveling from Stage 1 to Stage 7, you will have to pay Rs. 19 (according to the illustration above). For those interested, this fare is calculated based on the existing fare approved by the Kerala government - according to the government order, the minimum fare levied from passengers is Rs. 8, for the first 2.5 kilometres. For distances beyond that, the fare is calculated as the minimum fare, plus 90 paise for every kilometre traveled after the first 2.5 kilometres. The fare is then rounded to the nearest whole rupee. So, if you travel for 3.5 kilometres, you need to pay Rs. 8 + Rs 0.90 = Rs. 8.90. This is rounded up to Rs. 9. However, as explained earlier, they would charge you for 5 kilometres (the next stage) - so that is Rs. 8 + Rs. 2.25 [Rs. 0.90 x 2.5 (the distance charged in the next stage)] = Rs. 10.25. This is rounded to the nearest whole rupee - that is to Rs. 10.
We'll read about understanding a ticket in the next part! Stay tuned!!