For the past two months, the bylanes and interior roads of Thiruvananthapuram, the southernmost district and capital city of Kerala, has been witnessing buses in different colours plying. One may assume these buses to be the characteristic private buses of Kerala, painted in loud monochrome colours and identified by their distinct name boards. However, the new fleet of buses is the state-run Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (Kerala RTC) service and is part of the new city circular bus service. Unlike the standard colours of the Kerala RTC buses — blue-white and red-yellow — these new public buses are painted in monochrome colours, with each corresponding to the route they ply.
Launched in November 2021, the city circular bus service features seven routes interlinking all major points in the city. These, according to Kerala RTC officials, ply along routes that don’t have private bus services and run at fixed timings irrespective of the footfall. It is also the first public transport system in Kerala with a hop-on-hop-off model. This means that, as the bus plies along the circular route, passengers can embark and disembark at any point within the validity of the ticket.
What is making this government-run bus service a hit among commuters, who have often highlighted the poor bus connectivity in Thiruvananthapuram, is the affordable fare and mainly the frequency of buses – every fifteen minutes. The basic fare is fixed at Rs 10, irrespective of the destination. So, if a commuter wants to travel between two points, which are 500 metres or 2 kilometres apart, the fare will be Rs 10. Commuters can also purchase a special ticket at Rs 50, the validity of which is 24 hours.
“It is a convenient option for people like me who have to travel towards the interior roads, instead of having to rely on autorickshaws,” said Harishankar, a commuter who works at the Neyattinkara Cooperative Society. “I travel from my residence in Maruthankuzhi to Thampanoor first, before travelling to Neyattinkara, my workplace. Besides, the frequency of the buses, too, is a great help for my day-to-day commute," he added.
Speaking to TNM, GP Pradeep Kumar, Executive Director of Operations (maintenance and Works), Kerala RTC, said, “Within the city, there are a large number of areas where there are no bus services. This has increased the use of private vehicles, which, in turn, has led to saturation of parking space apart from traffic congestion and rise in the pollution level. This is why we introduced the new scientific hop-on-hop-off transportation system, which exists in several developed countries.”
The Kerala RTC has identified 15 circular routes within Thiruvananthapuram city limits. As part of phase 1, bus services commenced in seven routes. “We are also going to introduce radial services, connecting places such as Nedumangad to Vizhinjam and Attingal to Neyyattinkara as well as outer ring road services, which connect places such Neyyattinkara and Kovalam without touching the city. With this, we hope to bring a total transformation in the city through the transport system,” Pradeep added.
The new system features seven bus routes that carry commuters throughout the city. The buses in each route are distinguished by colour and travel clockwise and anticlockwise from one point to another.
When this reporter travelled along the various coloured routes, the buses weren't too crowded and had a relatively small number of commuters. Many are still getting acquainted with the new system. According to one commuter, advocate Santosh, who travels from Vanjyoor, “When a person travels from one point to another, no matter the distance, the fare is always on Rs 10, which is an excellent feature. Another thing people are unaware of is the Good Day ticket, which costs Rs 50 and allows a person to use the same coloured bus throughout the city for 24 hours. This allows me to travel throughout the city for just Rs 50.”
Praveen, who runs a start-up business in Thiruvananthapuram, said, “As part of my job, I travel through the city almost regularly and have had to spend Rs 3,000-4,000 on petrol, but with the new system, my travel cost has been reduced to Rs 1,500. It is a very convenient service and with buses arriving at regular intervals I am able to use this service instead of autorickshaws.”
Incidentally, the basic fare of Rs 10 will be applicable only until January 15, 2022, after which the Kerala government will increase it.