The News Minute brings you The Last Stop, a series of stories on the state of public buses across south Indian cities.
It has been more than a year since the Kerala Road Transport Corporation launched electric buses. An initiative of the state government to control atmospheric pollution, the buses were launched under the zero carbon emission label. Ten AC low floor buses operated using electric power were taken on wet lease by the government from Maharashtra-based Maha Voyage LLP. The buses, which have features like CCTV camera, GPS and entertainment systems, were taken for a lease amount of Rs 43.20 per km.
Initially the buses ran trips from Nilakkal to Pamba during the Sabarimala season in 2018. After this the government claimed that the buses made a profit of Rs 57 per km during the season. According to data released by the Kerala RTC, the buses ran 360 km a day and generated Rs 110/km in revenue. As per calculations, electricity costs only Rs 6 per km while diesel would cost around Rs 31 per km.
However, Kerala RTC employees and trade unions allege that the claims of profit are wrong and say that the buses are in fact running at a loss.
“The claims of ‘profit’ have been raised to misguide the public and media. During the Sabarimala season, these electric buses frequently broke down so people preferred other buses. Later they withdrew other buses and pilgrims had no option but to take the electric buses. But they haven’t generated any revenue like the RTC claims,” MG Rahul, Kerala State Road Transport Corporation Employees Union (KSRTEU) general secretary, told TNM.
“Now these buses are running in the Thiruvananthapuram to Ernakulam route, it breaks down at different places causing a lot of trouble to travellers. It has to be recharged every 120 km, and recharging takes about 3 hours. We don’t have transformers everywhere to recharge the buses,” Rahul alleged. He added that the department will have to spend crores to install transformers. “We are already under such a severe financial crisis that employees are struggling. On top of that spending more on these unnecessary things will be a huge burden on Kerala RTC,” he noted.
The union leader alleged that electric buses are not suitable for the topography of Kerala, where most of the regions consist of small or big hills. “And these buses are running under loss. They also cannot be used within the city because, according to the terms of the lease, payment is given based on the kilometres it runs, and we cannot cover that many kilometres inside the city,” he said.
Another official with the Kerala RTC told TNM that many of the electric buses running from Thiruvananthapuram to Ernakulam had lost charge completely even during their first trip, on reaching Cherthala in Alappuzha. “Presently two buses are in the workshop, another eight are in operation but have to stop in between for a few hours. Though the department had claimed that the battery lasts for 250 km, it does not,” he alleged.
However, G Venugopal, Deputy General Manager (Operations), Kerala RTC, told TNM that all the 10 buses were running successfully in the long route (Thiruvananthapuram to Ernakulam). But he did not disclose whether the buses were profitable.
Rahul alleged that the buses were causing more burden to Kerala RTC. “The huge lease payments and battery charges are causing a massive loss on a daily basis. Initially when they brought these buses for a trial run, it was another type of big bus. But when we took them for lease, smaller buses were provided by the company. It’s all a scam,” he said.