As per the existing government directions, only 50% of the total seating capacity of buses can be filled.

Passengers entering private bus from bus station in Kerala while police officials monitor standing in rainImage for representation
Coronavirus Transport Friday, May 22, 2020 - 20:09

Private bus services in Kerala have partially resumed as lockdown restrictions are eased, but operators claim they are struggling to make ends meet due to physical distancing guidelines that only allow a handful of passengers to commute at a time. Now, these operators have asked the state government to modify guidelines on buses to permit more people onboard.

As per the existing government directions, only 50% of the total seating capacity of buses can be filled. According to bus operators, this will only allow about 18 passengers at a time.

"They are only considering the number of seats. But while considering the number of people who can also stand and travel in the bus, 50 percent of the total capacity would be around 57. The government should modify this protocol because we are not even covering fuel costs. Though state carriages (Kerala RTC buses) are also running at a loss now, the government will bear the expense. But that is not the case with us," says KB Suneer, a bus operator in Kochi and Ernakulam and district general secretary of the Private Bus Owners Association.

He also told TNM that various private bus operators' associations are reaching out to the state Transport Minister to share their difficulties. "We are going to demand that at least a few people should be allowed to stand and travel in buses in addition to the seating capacity prescribed by the government," Suneer adds.

According to operators, around 200 private buses operated across the state on Thursday, and on Friday, only 150 buses were in service. There are around 12,000 private buses in the state.

"We can only ask association members to service if they can bear the loss. How can we force them?" asks T Gopinathan, general secretary of All Kerala Bus Operators Organisation.

The bus operators also said that some of them are waiting for certification from the Motor Vehicles Department to prove that the buses had not been in service for the past two months. "The certification can be used to get a waiver for the bus's insurance money that we normally have to pay for two months. We hope the department will hasten the processing of this paperwork,” added Gopinathan.

The bus operators also raised concerns of special police squads who have been deployed to halt buses and check if physical distancing rules are being followed.

"Though the workers on the buses try to tell people not to enter, people still board these buses since there are very few buses in service now and they have to wait long periods for another one. Either people should refrain from boarding when workers tell them to do so, or the police should not book us for small variations in the number of people,” Suneer said. 


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