In about two weeks, it will be time for Vishu, a festival most Malayalees yearn to spend with their families. And while planning for the journey begins, Malayalees living in other cities feel the pinch. Bus operators, especially private operators from Chennai and Bengaluru, increase their fares exorbitantly.
Fare hikes go anywhere between 500- 1500. This happens even if seats are available on some private bus services. While checking the rates for 12th April, The Kochi Post found out that the prices of certain operators had gone up to INR 2900 from Bengaluru to Kochi. Whereas, plane tickets on the same route is close to INR 3500 on the same route! But considering that bus is the preferred mode of transport for students and the lower income groups, the price hike certainly seems unfair. This year since Vishu also precedes the long weekend of Good Friday and Easter, students and others are bound to try and get to Kerala by any way possible! This could mean a greater haul for the operators as there could be possibility of travel on the 14th as well as the 16th. Similarly bus fares go up during Onam season too, when Malayalees try going home to be with their loved ones.
“The issue needs to be looked at from a larger point of view. Air fares too, increase during festive season. That said, railway fares remain pretty stable and they even tend to announce an extra train service around the festival times. This also, could cause bus operators to increase fares from the competition point of view. However, it is unclear whether or not the operators collectively form a cartel or if it is just based on competition. Since these interstate tourist buses operate through contracts, it is difficult to regularize the system and put a price cap. Also, there isn’t much clarity on the nature of the permits of these vehicles. If there’s a way to ensure transparency in the permit system, we could nail down buses those are charging exorbitant rates and inspect them for other irregularities like limit on passengers and safety issue,” says D Dhanuraj, Chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research.
“The bus fares of any private service provider could double or even triple during festive time. While the normal rate for Volvo buses from Bengaluru to Kochi is INR 900, the rates are nearly INR 2900 during Onam, Vishu and Christmas. Despite booking for this amount, you might not get in the bus you have booked for. You may have booked a Volvo multi-axle but end up being in a normal AC seater which wont have sufficient permits for interstate transport making passengers change multiple buses before we reach our destination. On the other hand, KSRTC (Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation) bus services are excellent, on time and the price ranges between INR 750-1100. Since their services are limited, it is nearly impossible to get tickets during the festive season,” Sachin Salim, who travels home regularly from Bengaluru.
Ravindran, Vytilla office manager for Kallada travels who wasn’t too keen to comment said, “the fares increase simply because of an increase in demand while the services and the seats are limited. And no, we haven’t received any orders from the government so far to put a cap on the fares.”
“We can ask the operators to reduce or regulate the bus fares only on the basis of a complaint from a customer. And even if a lot of these operators run on contracts, we cannot have a say on how they charge from the passengers. The private operators end up pocketing benefits during festive season. We do have a say over state buses,” says KG Samuel, Deputy Transport Commissioner, Ernakulam zone.
State Transport Commissioner, Anand Krishnan says, “If the price raise is unreasonable, there’s scope for the government to regulate the fares, not otherwise.”
Lack of transparency and the Government’s inability to put a cap on pricing seem to be the main issue when it comes to regulating fares of private bus operators who run on contracts and obtain different kinds of permits. Till then it looks like staying put or taking a flight home would be the only relief for Malayalees during festivities!
Cover image courtesy: By Amol.Gaitonde, own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons