As buses of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) resumed its services after nearly two months, several people who were stuck in Hyderabad during the COVID-19 lockdown gathered at the Jubilee Bus Station (JBS) in Secunderabad to head back to their native places.
The state Cabinet on Monday decided to relax the lockdown norms to allow the resumption of bus services. Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao on Monday night told reporters that the TSRTC would resume the services from Tuesday.
Since Hyderabad is the worst affected by COVID-19, the government decided not to resume the city services. Even the buses to and from the districts are not being operated from the Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station (MGBS), the biggest bus station in the state. Instead, JBS in Secunderabad was handling bus services.
"I have been stuck here since the lockdown began. I'm very happy to go back home now. I had come here for some temporary work and soon I ran out of money. I struggled a lot but I'm finally going back home to my children," said Shankar, a native of Sangareddy, who was working in Hyderabad as a driver.
"I missed my home a lot and I'm going to see my parents in Nizamabad district," Teja, a youngster who was working at a McDonalds store in Hyderabad said.
"Though restaurants are opening and home deliveries are being allowed, I prefer going home because I feel safer there. I will stay with my parents till the situation gets better. Then maybe, I will return to Hyderabad and look for a job again," he added.
Telangana is also not allowing buses from other states to enter its territory.
"Two things are banned. Firstly, city-buses will not be allowed because there is a problem here. Secondly, inter-state buses will be closed. Our buses won't cross the state border and buses from other states won't cross our border. RTC buses can run, but within our state only," KCR told reporters on Monday evening.
The Chief Minister said since neighbouring Maharashtra is worst affected by COVID-19 and Andhra Pradesh too has a high number of cases, it was decided to keep the inter-state bus services suspended.
The bus depots and stations across the state, which were deserted for nearly two months, saw the return of some hustle bustle early Tuesday as drivers, conductors and other employees resumed their duties. Wearing face masks, the employees attended to the work.
Buses and the premises of bus depots and stations were sanitised. Conductors were seen carrying sanitiser bottles and sprinkling it on the hands of passengers. "We are issuing tickets only to those passengers who are wearing face masks. The conductors are ensuring that physical distancing is maintained in buses," a TSRTC official said.
While seating arrangements in few buses have been changed to ensure physical distancing, in the majority of the buses the conductors are making sure that the seat next to a passenger remains vacant. The conductors have also been issued directions not to allow standing passengers to ensure physical distancing.
"Because they're keeping many seats vacant, buses are filling very fast. Before I could get into a bus and go home to Kamareddy, the vehicle got full. I have to wait for the next bus now," a student at JBS told TNM.
People lined up since early morning to buy tickets at the JBS and other bus stations.
Since autos and taxis also resumed services from Tuesday, the passengers are not likely to face hardships in the last mile connectivity.
"Our vehicles were lying idle for close to two months now. We're glad that things are slowly returning to normal, but we will have to see whether we can make any profits or not. We will know in another 10 to 15 days," an auto driver outside JBS said.
Both the city bus services and the Hyderabad Metro services have not resumed and hence the passengers will have to depend on auto rickshaws and cabs to reach the bus stations or designated boarding and alighting points.
The TSRTC has 10,460 buses and in normal days its services ferry a little over one crore people every day.