An empty Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) bus meant for inter-district service stands idle at the Mehdipatnam bus stop at noon on September 4 and Mallesh, the bus conductor, scans the bus stop making eye contact with passers-by in search of commuters. The bus from Sangareddy was headed to the Jubliee Bus Station (JBS) and was hoping to pick up commuters from the bus stop. “We pick up commuters along the JBS-Mehdipatnam-Lingampally route regularly. People use the inter-district buses for transport within the city than to commute inter-district,” says Mallesh.
“People get down at the first official stop of the bus, which is within the city itself,” explains Mallesh. “It’s the morning and evening bus trips that see a lot of crowds, the buses mostly run empty at noon,” he adds.
Since inter-district bus services were resumed in May, commuters in Hyderabad have relied on these for their commute. They get down at major bus stops and commute further in share autos. If someone has to travel to Uppal in a bus, the best way forward would be to hop on to a bus heading to Jangaon and Warangal. If someone wishes to get down at Ameerpet or Mehdipatnam, the best option will be to get on an inter-district bus heading to Zaheerabad via Lingampally, suggests the bus conductor.
To go to Dilsukhnagar, hop on to any bus heading to Khamman, the bus will also allow commuters to connect from LB Nagar area to Madhapur or Biodiversity Junction. The Khammam to KPHB buses allow people to access Ameerpet and SR Nagar. “The ticket price will be less than Rs 50, which is cheaper than an auto. Talk to the bus conductor before boarding the bus,” adds Mallesh.
Transport enthusiasts, however, point out that the local knowledge of bus routes and connectivity is known to only a few people, who are regular commuters of TSRTC. The corporation itself does not advocate this information to the public.
As of September 5, plans to resume bus service in Hyderabad have been put on hold. Though the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) Unlock 4 guidelines allowed metro services to resume, it made no mention about buses. The four months of bus service suspension has hit the poorest of the poor who depended on these buses to find work, the hardest.
On August 29 morning, a day before the MHA released the Unlock 4 guidelines, M Bibi, a labourer on hire stood at the labour adda at Miyapur bus stop in Hyderabad hoping to find work. Bibi had been waiting at the bus stop for over two hours and was misinformed that city buses are to resume on September 1. “Even if I don’t get work here, I can go to areas like Alwal and Jeedimetla to find work when the bus services resume service,” hopes Bibi.
The Transport Minister for the state, P Ajay Kumar speaking to The Hindu, had reiterated that city services will resume only after COVID-19 cases drop in the city. On September 5, the state recorded 2,478 fresh COVID-19 cases. The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) limits has recorded the highest cases among districts consecutively for the past seven days.
In the pre-COVID-19 era, on a daily basis, the TSRTC's buses transported over 100 lakh people across the state and 33 lakh daily commuters within Hyderabad alone.
“If we don’t get work at this labour adda, usually we move to another adda in a bus, but travelling in an auto is expensive,” says Sujatha, who has been earning Rs 600 in wages following a hike in wages since the lockdown, but it gives no relief, she says. “What’s the use of the Rs 200 hike? The auto drivers now charge Rs 20 for a trip that used to cost Rs 10. Everything has become costly,” she says.
Sources in the TSRTC told TNM that shortly after the start of the COVID-19 related lockdown, the corporation submitted a detailed plan on how to resume bus services to the state government. But, no decision was taken and the plans have been gathering dust since then.
At the time, the plan to resume services took into consideration the safety of bus drivers, conductors and passengers alike. The recommendations included suggestions such as doing away with conductors inside the buses and placing ticket counters at major bus stops, introducing contactless digital payment methods for tickets at bus stops, thermal scanners at bus terminals and interchange stations, physical distancing measures. Sale of daily and weekly bus passes to avoid commuters crowding at ticket counters, enforcing strict entry and exit points in the bus were some of the other suggestions.
One of the key suggestions made by TSRTC was reducing the number of bus seats, doing away with bus service along routes with fewer occupancy ratio, and diverting their 800-odd city buses to service commuters along major arterial roads in the city. Officials say the idea was to provide commuters with buses every two minutes to avoid crowding at bus stops. These plans have however been put on hold, inform officials.