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The Kochi connection

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BusPublic Transport

I was in Kochi on Monday, the 17th Jan. After I finished the personal work that I had gone there for, I called up Mr Vivek Mathai of Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), the people who had organised the Bus Day in Kochi on Dec 18th. Between us, we fixed up to meet next morning at 10 AM in their office.

Since I was going to be meeting the people who had organised the Bus Day, I myself chose to take the bus, in spite of the two cars being readily available to me at my brother's home on Diwan's Road, where I was residing (And, this was not the first time I was taking the bus in Kochi. I have always maintained that the Kochi bus services were good, and have readily availed them whenever an occasion arose - check this). I walked up to Govt Girls High School stop, a distance of some 500 M, and, immediately on reaching the place, I got a bus. And, even though it was the peak hour of 9.30 in the morning, the bus was not too badly crowded (though I had to stand), the frequency of services being so good.

The CPPR office is located at Elamkulam, some 5 Km up Sahodaran Ayyappan road from where I caught the bus, for which the conductor gave me a ticket for Rs 4, along with the change for the Rs 10 note that I had proferred. On reaching the Valanjambalam junction, some 200 M from where I got on, the bus got held up for close to 10 minutes. Just beyond the junction is the South over-bridge, and it being not wide enough to manage the present day rush-hour traffic, the police was manually turning into into a 'one-way at a time' road, allowing more time for in-coming traffic in the mornings, and outgoing traffic in the evenings, which was fair enough. But, the curious part was that, when opening up for the up-traffic, they were first allowing all the private vehicles (cars and two-wheelers) to go, only after which were they allowing the buses to move.

The bus eventually moved on to the next stop, viz Manorama junction, just beyond the over-bridge. Many people got off there, and I managed to get a seat, though, the bus filled up once again with the people boarding. Now, if anyone thought what happened at the earlier junction was curious, what followed at the next junction, a half km away, was nothing short of shocking. A 100M stretch beyind this junction is a bit narrow, and consequently, it has been turned into a 'car priority lane' (for upward traffic only) during peak hours, with the buses having to take a 300M detour to join back at the Kadavanthra junction, beyond the narrow stretch. So, the 'priority lane' idea, that we are trying to promote in Namma Bengaluru, is already in practice in Kochi, but with a reversal of priorities. And, the irony of it all is that it is happening in Marxist dominated Kerala. (Talking about this later, Vivek stated that similar is the case at the Kacheripadi junction on the other main artery, linking the inner city to the National Highway)

The next stop was at Elamkulam, where I got off, and with the help of directions from Vivek, over phone, I walked up to their CPPR office. The notable thing here again was the poor state of the foot-paths (or, whatever, there was of it), a feature shared with Namma Bengaluru, in spite of the larger percentage of trips made using buses here (and, consequently, by walk).

CPPR is headed by Mr Dhanuraj, a native of Kochi, who, after mastering in Physics at IISc, Bangalore, worked in the IT field for a while, switching then to Economics, and later doing an MBA. During the over one hour discussions we had, we re-discovered the smallness of the world, with our knowing many people in common, as also the like-mindedness in our approaches to a more sustainable life-style, particularly in cities. They are very conscious of a negative tag the term NGO generally carries, and consequently, they have deliberately taken on the form of a company, sustaining their activities through a lot of out-sourced research work, and field studies, simultaneously.

The 'bus day' event organised by CPPR was quite a success, with the support from the private operators being pretty good, though there wasn't that much of enthusiasm from the govt-owned KSRTC (K here standing for Kerala). The KSRTC has come on the scene recently, firstly with a few AC buses (VOLVO) linking the airport (22 km from the city), followed by a few more along the main arteries, and now by non-AC buses (brand new), termed 'Tiru-Kochi'. The AC buses appear to be well patronised, though frequency of services is a bit of a problem. The Tiru-Kochi services, which charge the same rate as the private buses, appear headed the namma 356 way (check this), bunched together and near empty ( I was trailing two of them, one behind the other, on a busy stretch, during the peak hour), with the crew more interested in completing the tasks assigned, unlike their private sector counterparts, who have a stake in patronising custom.

The bane of the bus services (privately owned) in Kochi is very plainly on account of the government's license-permit raaj, which does not allow for entry of big players. If a more liberal regime is put in place, Kochi can perhaps provide a model for the rest of the country, since the competitive culture is prevailing there already.

After a gap of nearly 33 years, the Kochi Corporation has recently elected a Congress Council, and Mr Dhanuraj was hoping to set up a dialogue between the Council and a set of active citizens that he is in regular touch with. The idea of PRAJA as the platform of the upper house quite interested him, and he will be exploring the possibility of setting up something similar in Kochi. I expressed fullest support from PRAJA in all their endeavours.

Muralidhar Rao

PS: Mr Vivek Mathai is 2nd from left, and Mr Dhanuraj is 4th from left resply in the picture
 

Comments

vivekmathai's picture

CPPR visit

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 Dear Murali,

Nice to read your blog.It was really interesting to see a few of your views on the buses in  Kochi.We indeed thank you for your valuable time and efforts to come to CPPR Elamkulam office and meeting us.We were able to understand more about Praja through you.As you rightly said CPPR also would like to extend this relationship in future assignments also.

Thank you

silkboard's picture

nice post, some questions for Vivek

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Nice and detailed post Murali, that's a Praja blog to emulate.

When Vivek first reached out to ask about our experiences with the Bus Day, must confess that at least I didn't pay attention to the different situation at Kochi. Unlike at Bangalore, a Bus Day there requires reaching out to several Bus service providers, so the Bus Day script would be pretty different. It would be nice to sit down and compare if the effort at Kochi was easier or harder compared to Bangalore.

@Vivek - how is the progress wrt to making Bus Day a permanent monthly affair? And did you guys setup air pollution measurements as well for your Bus Day (like at Bangalore). How were the results like? And any data shared by Bus operators on ridership increase in Bus Day?

Since there are private operators in play there, if they get to see that Bus Day would lead to increase in revenues (lesson from Bangalore), the idea may get all the support (and funding).

cheers,

SB aka Pranav

sanjayv's picture

Bus day in Kochi

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I happened to be in Angamaly around bus day for a wedding reception in the family.  Angamaly is a town in Ernakulam dist where Kochi is.  One Volvo bus service comes all the way to Angamaly town.  (For some reason, they refer to Volvo buses as "low floor" buses there).  There was a lot of publicity in the papers and TV for the bus day, and many celebrities took buses which helped propogate some discussion.  Unfortunately, most of the discussion seemed to about these guys traveling in the low floor and there was some general snickering suggesting that the celebrities try the regular buses.  I for my bit tried to wave the Praja flag among family and pointed out that this idea was started in Bangalore by some really committed folks.

What this blog made me realize is that private buses were also part of bus day.  This fact completely escaped my attention earlier since the news reports seemed to focus on the celebrieties and the low floor buses.

Couple of other observations.  Volvo bus fare appears to be much cheaper in Kerala. Angamali to Aluva Rly Stn (about 9 kms) is some 24 rupees or so.  In fact, bus fare in general is definitely cheaper there. BMTC buses are certainly of better build quality, but the disparity is striking.

PS: One surprise at this wedding reception was when Jose Thettayil (Transport minister and Angamaly MLA) made an appearance.  The groom's uncle is a well known local figure... the things a politician has to do!

murali772's picture

Mallu cynicism

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Unfortunately, the Kochi bus day has contributed to reinforcing the even otherwise cynical nature of Mallu's. If you mention bus day in Kochi, what the general public points out to is about how the the cars (as also escort vehicles) belonging to the celebrities followed the bus all the way, and picked them up from the end point. The whole message has this way got lost.

Moral of the story perhaps is that involving celebrities can work both ways.
 

Muralidhar Rao
Naveen's picture

Govt does not allow ?

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Mr Murali - Nice detailed post, thanks.

You say "government's license-permit raaj...does not allow for entry of big players"

Can you pls explain - what exactly is stopping big players from operating buses in Kochi ?

In Mangalore, Ballal has been a big player operating city services (apart from inter-city services) for several decades now, but most others are small time, with typically 5-10 buses.

If big players want to operate, they are free to do so, isn't it ?

murali772's picture

no brand names

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@ Naveen  -  That was what was told to me by someone when discussing the subject of poor accident record of the Kochi bus services. The inference is logical too, since you don't come across any 'brand' names connected to the services. Whatever, I had intended to check out the matter myself, and, now that we are linked to CPPR, I shall use their good offices to attempt an RTI exercise.
 

Muralidhar Rao
Aswathi's picture

As an avid user of the bus

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As an avid user of the bus service in Kochi since childhood, I can vouch for their connectivity and service (I have travelled with my baby and a suitcase from my house to the railway station on a crowded bus).I have travelled by the govt.-owned and the privately-owned buses and have founf my expereince in the latter to be better, esp, as a lady travelling with a baby.... The 'mallu cynic' that i am, was not a big fan of the fanfare associated with the 'Bus Day' as it only highlighted notions that people already have. The photographs of these celebrities returning in their cars after the bus ride only served to reinforce the notion that the bus is only for the masses and not for those who possess cars, just as i have been told repeatedly by everyone around me....

murali772's picture

RTI query raised

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@ Aswathi  -   Welcome to PRAJA. Sorry for the delayed response. I noticed your post only yesterday.

I expect you are a resident of Kochi. If yes, your comments more or less corroborate what I have been saying about the Kochi bus services all along. There certainly are the short-comings. But, apparently, nobody has gone into the why of it all. May be you would like to do it, alongwith CPPR?

In the meanwhile, I have raised a query as below with the Kochi RTO, under RTI:

With public bus transport services, in PPP mode, becoming a focus area of city development, as per the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP), and Kochi bus services already in the hands of the private sector, I am now proposing to enter the business in Kochi, initially with 10 ordinary (non-AC) buses, to be followed in about 3 months' time, with 6 Volvo buses. In this connection, I request the following information:

1) Is there any eligibility criterion for grant of licenses? If yes, please furnish details.
2) Can I run the buses on routes of my choice? If not, what are the bases for allotment of routes?
3) Can I choose my own fare table, for non-AC services, and for AC services? If not, please furnish the approved fare table.
4) How is the license fee decided - on per passenger seat basis, or per sq ft of floor area basis? And, how much is it, for non-AC buses, and for AC buses? And, how is it payable - monthly, quarterly, or annually?
5) Are there any fare concessions to be given for certain classes of customers, like students, etc? If so, please furnish details.

I have received the acknowledgement. It's nearing a month now. I'll give it another five days, and follow the query with an appeal. Let's see where things land up.
       

 

Muralidhar Rao
Aswathi's picture

Interested in the response

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Thank u, Murali and you are right, I am a resident of Cochin and interested in the response to your query.  

murali772's picture

licence-permit raaj in full flow

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I just received the following responses to my queries, from the Kochi RTO:

1) New city bus permits are restricted except for KSRTC.
2) Yes, other than city services, under the condition of route notification by Regional Transport Authority.
3) No, fare of stage carriers are approved by the Govt of Kerala.
4) Permit fees - Rs 5,000/-, SC - Rs 400/-. Tax decided on the basis of seat capacity of the vehicle and permit fees decided on the type of the vehicle.
5) Yes. Fare concessions to be given to students and handi-capped persons.
6) Five years

I had asked only five questions. The sixth answer I presume pertains to the licence period.

What becomes fairly clear is that licence-permit raaj is in full flow, this plainly being the bane of the Kochi services.

PS: Though the reply is hand-written, it is fairly legible, came quite within the stipulated time of one month, and the name and address of the appellate authority has been clearly indicated
 

Muralidhar Rao
Aswathi's picture

Is that so bad?

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While the idea of big names entering the scene in the absence of govt. intereference is appealing, am not sure if its quite that simple given the socio-political climate of the state. I think its inevitable, but not just yet. Maybe, proper policing is the answer. 

murali772's picture

it will get bad, unless - - -

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@ Aswati  -  When it's inevitable, why not usher it in faster, since otherwise, the roads are going to get more and more cluttered with private vehicles. And, as their numbers grow, it's going to become that much more difficult to ask them to be left in the garages.

Meanwhile, the city will also be burdened with all kinds of mega projects like the METRO, which apparently is already happening. If the city has a satisfactory bus service, perhaps you can say ' no, thank you' to the MTERO.


 

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

Kochi to observe another BusDay

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Kochi is set to celebrate yet another Bus Day! The Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), with the support of the Indian Chamber of Commerce, telecom partner Uninor, and media partner Red FM is observing May 31 as ‘Bus Day’. Celebrities and politicians are expected to participate in the event, the route for which is the Fort Kochi-Aluva stretch. The event will be flagged off from Fort Kochi at 9 am. Both KSRTC and private buses operators will participate in this venture.

For the full report, click here

Perhaps it's time the CPPR people told the new state government that times have changed, and that they should now be concentrating totally on good governance, and facilitating providing of services and production of goods in the private sector, and regulating the same effectively, rather than continuing in these areas themselves and doing a poor job of it all.

The Gulf job avenues are on the decline. If the state has to absorb the millions in the job market, it has to grow the proper way. And, for that, the whole approach has to change from the days of the 'public sector' ( a mis-representation, if you ask me) commanding the heights of the economy.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

20th June Bus Day

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Kochi celebrating its 3rd Bus Day today (20th June)...Dist Collector Sheikh Pareeth, IAS, travelled in a private bus from Kaloor to his Camp office today morning. Good support from all the resident associations and corporates.

The above are excerpts from Kochi Bus Day facebook wall (link is provided below):
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bus-Day-Kochi/171634682896373

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

public dis-service

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This is because the services (Kerala SRTC) are yet to achieve break-even status, mainly because of inadequate marketing, unscientific scheduling in many routes and non-cooperation of a section of bus crew, said an RTC official. As a preliminary step, the agency would publish online (in www.keralartc.com) the detailed time schedules of the buses operating in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. “We hope to post the timings online in another week,” said the RTC's MD, Alexander K. Luke.

For the full report in The Hindu, click here.

Kochi city has had fairly efficient public bus transport services from long, as testified by long time city residents (like Aswathi), on this blog itself. And, the interesting part is that it was being provided by private players all these years. They have had their shortcomings too, and, as evident from the discussions here itself, these have been essentially on account of the government's "licence-permit raaj".

Now, instead of tackling that and thereby trying to improve the mobility scenario for the burgeoning city population, the neta-babu combo saw an opportunity in JnNURM to pursue their limited goal of gaining control, if not of making some money on the sly. And, what you have at the end of some 3 to 5 years of their getting into the picture, is evident from the above report.

Need one say more? Not too different from Namma BMTC story (particularly, the Metro feeder 'services'- check this), right?

Muralidhar Rao
Dhanuraj D's picture

City Bus operations in Cochin

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everyone bemuses when we discuss city transport issues. I am born and brought up in Cochin and i have seen how transport requirement changes and how the demands in the sector grown over the years. it is a research paper i would like to deal with. Anyways, i am happy to share my thougts here.

  1. intra city transport and suburban transport requirements are mostly met by bus in cochin though we have water front unlike in many other cities. 
  2. private buses have done a tremendous job in supporting the system but many policy makers and administrators look at them vengenance and not ready to acknowldge their contributions.
  3. many in Government believe that KSRTC is the sole custodian of the public transport solutions in Kerala. I dont understand whether they are ignorant about the messed up services they operate at many places including in cochin. what we need is the sustaibale transport solutions that cater the needs of the commuters and connecting every area of city and suburbs.
  4. KSRTC had launched thirukochi services one year ago. as we feared, many of them are not keeping their schedule these days. media was very fanatic in those days blaming private bus operators for every accident and they had found  saviours in KSRTC. today most of them keep silence on the development on this front.
  5. what are the reasons for poor public transportation reasons in cochin; routes are not rationalised for many years, monopolisitc nature of transport minsitry introducing  thiruckochi bus services ignoring the higher investment by private bus operators thus leading to a uneven field, non acceptance of the socilaist class in the transport department that commuters expect better, timely and orderly services and they are not looking at the bus service as a charity operations. they want clean and tidy environment, informaiton on their mobile phones to know about the timings, good faciliteis at bus stops and bus depots.

 

murali772's picture

dog in the manger

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The availability of public transport has further been reduced because soon after the KSRTC launched its 50 Thiru-Kochi city services, 76 private buses surrendered their city permits citing feasibility issues. Twenty private buses plying to Aluva surrendered their permits, of which eight were in the Aluva-Fort Kochi route alone. But the KSRTC failed to step in with its Thiru-Kochi services in these routes.

- - - The public transport in Kochi might get even worse thanks to a notification issued by the State government in July 2009 putting restrictions on issuing and renewing permits to private bus operators with effect from May, 2006, along nationalised routes. Only the KSRTC and civic agencies like corporations or municipalities will be allowed to operate along such routes. This means that permits issued after the notification will not be renewed on the expiry of their validity of five years. This fall in services will have to be made up by the KSRTC or other government agencies. Interestingly, though the number of city permits to private buses has been limited to 600, the KSRTC can apply for any number of permits.


For the full report in The Hindu, click here

Quite as Mr Dhanuraj has pointed out in his post above, Kochi had a fairly reliable bus service, operated by private sector players, all these years. With proper facilitation and regulation, by the government (a role that only it can take on), the private players would very easily have met the needs of the city adequately. Instead of doing just that, the government chose to take on the role of the player in addition, even with its poor track record across the other parts of the state, and has ended up making a total mess of the services in the city.

And, while thus doing everything possible to kill private entrepreneurship in the bus services sector, the government, on the other hand, recently went on to host its "Emerging Kerala Investors’ Meet" in great grand style. The question that arises here is how can any investor take a government, that treats the existing businesses the way it does, seriously, and invest in any new business in the state? Not surprisingly, all the investments that are happening seem to be in trades like in gold jewellery, silk sarees, liquor, etc, but very little that can contribute to much needed economic growth.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

Licence-permit and red-tape raaj in full play

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The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) is planning to introduce 20 new Thiru Kochi buses through the Goshree route in the coming days. According to officials with the Zonal office, a request has been sent to the Chief Office in Thiruvananthapuram requesting the authorities to deploy 20 more Thiru Kochi buses for Kochi city. The buses will be utilised to run services along the Goshree bridges. “The move comes in the wake of the recent High Court order giving the green signal to the KSRTC to operate 22 stage carriage services through the Goshree bridge immediately. We hope to get the buses soon,” Amvujash, Inspector with the Zonal office, Ernakulam, said. The Ernakulam depot could not re-route the existing buses through the Goshree as the buses already have a heavy patronage within the city, he said. 

For the full report in the New Indian Express, click here.
 
I was amused to read the above report on a recent visit to Kochi. For adding 20 new buses, the High Court had to intervene, after which the Zonal office had to request the Chief office to deploy the buses.
 
All this, even as the private operators, who had generally been providing a decent service, have been crippled through all kinds of constraints imposed on them (read my post of 31st Oct, above).
 
The unfortunate part is that the Kerala public, steeped as they are in Socialism resulting out of the decades of Commy rule, refuses to look beyond government for providing of services, however incompetent/ incapable it may be.
 
Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

Another facet of the licence-permit raaj

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Finally, share taxis, a solution to the travel woes, is becoming a reality in Kochi. The Motor Vehicles Department (MVD) is set to issue permits for share taxis soon.

Deputy Transport Commissioner P Sainudeen said the plan was to issue permits for those applying for a contract carriage permit. “Those who have the  contract carriage permit can operate share taxi services in the city,” he added.
 
A sitting of State Fare Revision Committee is scheduled to be held on April 23 at Ernakulam Guest House to gather public opinion and suggestions in this regard. Representatives of the Justice Ramachandran Nair Fare Revision Committee, National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC) and government officials will take part at the sitting.
 
Share taxi service is considered to be a suitable mode of public transport system to certain areas of city to where buses services are not available.
 
For the full report in the New Indian Express, click here.
 
Instead of allowing the private bus operators a bit more freedom, so that they can operate profitably, while providing the much needed services to the public, the babudom can only think of using the opportunity to make underhand money for themselves - the share-taxi service licensed as contract carriage provides the perfect vehicle (pun intended).
 
And, look at the government paraphernalia involved - State Fare Revision Committee, Justice Ramachandran Nair Fare Revision Committee, National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC) - all maintained through tax payers' (yours and my) money. Can we continue to tolerate such profligacy?
 
Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

Identical scene in West Bengal too

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"We are now fighting for our survival in the trade. We urged the government to take a decision within August 9 for hike in bus fares, otherwise we shall announce our next course of action the next day," JCBS General Secretary Sadhan Das said after his meeting with the minister yesterday.

Since the bus fare hike last time, Das said there was a hike in diesel price by Rs 19 per litre in nine instalments. "But the bus operators are yet to get any hike in bus fares despite their cooperation with state government," he said.

Stating that 30 per cent of the 35,000 buses in the state under the JCBS had already withdrawn vehicles failing to run the fleet properly, Das said more buses were likely to be withdrawn if there was no hike in bus fares immediately.

The minister, however, said the state government would soon deploy 600 to 700 Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) buses in different routes to cope with the situation.


For the full report in the Business Standard, click here.

Same dog in the manger attitude of the government, as in Kerala - check my post of the 31st Oct, '12 above. It had to be, right? With both the states having been under Commy rule for such long periods, apparently, the public in these states can't think of anything other than the government doing everything for them. But, why are the people in the non-Commy states too still stuck in Nehruvial Socialist mode?

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

crony socialism

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Trade unions have had a major say in crippling KSRTC by overloading it with such manpower flab that an arterial thrombosis is on the cards, unless the government is bold enough to go in for immediate surgical invention. By no means is trade unionism in this context synonymous with the Left but the damage has been wreaked by political heavyweights from Congress and its ally who have used KSRTC to dole out jobs to their sidekicks. Surely, professionalism has to take precedence over cronyism while running the corporation.

For the full text of the editorial in the New Indian Express, click here.

This is an affliction not limited just to Kerala, but to almost all states across the country. And, the only way out can be through facilitation of effective competition from reputed private players. But, unfortunately, even the efforts of the likes of Shiela Dikshit, who successfully carried out opening up of power distribution to private players (check this), has not only been rather lackadaisical, when it came to bus services, but even ominous, with the likes of Ponty Chaddha (he died subsequently) entering the field - check this. Apparently, even in today's world, people think that pursuing such a line would be politically incorrect.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

just follow the High Court's advice, Sir

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Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy opposed the proposed bill when it was placed before the National Road Safety Council and Transport Development Council meeting chaired by Union Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari here on Tuesday.
 
Before allowing to set up the Road Safety Authority and allowing private bus operators to ply buses on nationalised routes, the Centre must take steps to protect the interest of state road transport corporations, Reddy said.
 
Even Tamil Nadu and Kerala Transport Ministers also expressed a similar view. However, Gadkari said he will go head with the bill and it will be introduced in winter session of Parliament.
 
For the full text of the report in the Deccan Herald, click here
 
The Kerala minister had already been told by the state High Court, as early as August this year, to shut down his KSRTC (check this report in the New Indian Express). Now, I suppose he can conveniently do that, with organised private sector players all poised to take over.
 
Check this post too. 
 
Muralidhar Rao
amithpallavoor's picture

This post has a bit of

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This post has a bit of nostalgia from my school and college days as far as I am concerned.

I visited Kochi after a gap of 14 years in 2013 and was surprised to see the kind of construction that has come up there. The numerous river islands in Aluva are full of apartments.

Kerala is a perfect example of crony socialism and it has perfected the art of running a state based on the License Raj Model. 

Sadly regulation is restricted to running of buses and there is no regulation as far as protection of enviornment is concerned.

 

 

murali772's picture

cost-effective and efficient commuter services

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Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu flagged off India’s first diesel electric multiple unit (DEMU) train service with an air-conditioned coach here today. The Angamaly-Ernakulam-Tripunithura-Piravom train service is expected to help in reducing traffic congestion in the State’s fastest growing city. - - - Top Railway officials said the AC coach provides reclining type comfortable cushion seats for 73 passengers similar to air-conditioned chair car of inter-city express trains. Other coaches of DEMU train are provided with bench type cushion seats and large windows with glass shutters. The train is equipped with bio-toilets and fully vestibule for free movement of passengers between coaches.

For the full text of the report in The Hindu BusinessLine, click here.

This service runs almost parallel (geographically) to the proposed Kochi Metro operation - not just that, it goes even beyond by some 10 to 20 km at either ends. Now, the frequency of the operation has not been mentioned. But, all in all, if it could be operated like the Mumbai commuter trains, which is very much possible, where then was the need for the Metro?

Talking to a Kochi resident about the same, during my visit earlier in the week, I was told that, while the fare charged by the DEMU operation, for a ride between Aluva and Ernakulam is in the range of Rs 10/-, it is expected to be in the range of Rs 100/- for the same distance by the Metro. This is even as the Kochi SFI/ KSU lot, competing as they both are in pseudo-Socialism, will impose a hartal on the city, if the authorities, in their rare benevolence, allow the private bus operators even a 5 paisa increase in the per km fare, even if operational costs have soared over the given period - for more on that, click here. In such a scenario, how is it going to be attaining a ridership level to be able to meet even the operational costs, leave alone the colossal financial costs, that's mounting by the day on account of the inevitable delays, arising largely out of land acquisition (in the heart of the city) issues?

This is apart from total disruption of the life in the city, the impact of which becomes even more acute during the torrential monsoons.

As such, apart from some few khaas aadmi (who may occasionally take the ride), and the contractors (nevertheless, L&T must be complimented for doing a professional job), whose interest does this white elephant serve?

As I had stated earlier too (check here), the entire thing resulted largely out of an ego trip on the part of Mr Sreedharan, who, after having attained a certain exalted status (and perhaps rightly so, for the good work done in the past), wanted to further it to a demi-god level, by showering benevolence on "his people". What he has achieved instead is the imposition of a colossal burden on the tax payer. And, mind you, taxes are not paid by the rich alone, as generally believed all these years - every aam aadmi pays taxes too, while buying even essentials like toothpaste and soap.

The argument may be that, as cities grow, the benefits will eventually show up. But, I am not quite sure that's how cities should be planned, particularly when there are competing demands, perhaps far more worthy, for the total quantum of revenue (and, other forms of funds) available at a given time. And, there's no guarantee that the patterns of growth are not going to change over time. That's where cost-effectiveness of a scheme comes in.

And, in that respect, as for Bengaluru, there's perhaps nothing to beat Commuter Rail (Namma Railu) and bus based growth pattern. Further, while Bengaluru may have grown to a level where Metro has also become necessary, for every Mangaluru, Hubli-Dharwar, Mysuru, or even Kochi, Kottayam, Trissur, Kozhikode, Madurai, Coimbatore, Vijayawada, Tirupathi, or wherever, the rail-bus combo provides the most cost effective commuting solution. As such, let planning for these cities be based purely on such considerations, and not on ego trips of some local hero's.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

the sector needs professional handling

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Though the routes for the Kudumbashree women bus service which will be launched by the Kochi Corporation are yet to be finalised, there is a strong demand from the civic administrators that the buses should be pressed into service along the major byroads of the city where the frequency of bus services is low. However, the decision to save Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) by the State Government resulting in the non-issuance of fresh permits is the major hindrance that the civic body will have to overcome if it wants to launch services through the roads having no bus connectivity.

- - - “Only three buses are available. So, it will be a wise decision if we commence short trip services through byroads rather than going for long distance routes. If we select long distance routes, we will be able to conduct only two or three services a day. That is why we are demanding circular trips covering the byroads with no bus connectivity,” said a Corporation official.

The Urban Poverty Alleviation Department (UPAD) of Kochi Corporation is implementing the project. According to a top Corporation official, initially, there will be male staff in buses to assist women employees. Later, the service will be exclusively owned and operated by women. The cost for a bus is around Rs 17 lakh.


For the full text of the report in the New Indian Express, click here.

The entire approach reeks of pseudo-Socialism, that Kerala largely remains steeped in, exemplified by the handling of the project itself by the Urban Poverty Alleviation Department (UPAD) of Kochi Corporation. This is even as the city is spending thousands of crores on the (ill-conceived, in my opinion - check my post of 27/06, scrolling above) Metro, perhaps with the hope of leap-frogging to Dubai level of ultra-capitalistic development, and the gulf-connected citizens are splurging tons of money on gold, real estate, silk, liquor (now controlled), and what have you. Can't there be some kind of a mid-path between the two extremes?

Kochi had fairly good bus services, all in the private sector, from long. The short-comings that existed were largely on account of the government's licence-permit raaj. Somewhere along, the government johnnies decided that they were missing out on the "opportunities" enjoyed by their counterparts in Karnataka and other states, and decided to tighten the raaj for the private players, to the extent of almost choking them out, and simultaneously expand the state-run (Kerala SRTC) operations, like Tiru-Kochi services, etc. JnNURM became a handy tool for the purpose. But, government services remained government services, rather dis-services, quite like the Malayalam saying which states that a "dog's tail cannot ever be straightened out", and deteriorated to an extent where the Kerala High Court was compelled to suggest to the Kerala SRTC to consider closing down (check here), and leave the job to the private sector.

Now, public bus transport services are an important infrastructure area, having a huge impact on the economic, educational, social, and in fact all activities of the cities, states, and the country, and therefore needs professional handling, which a Kudumbashree kind of set up (a women's self-help group) is not quite capable of, as much as even the state, as has been repeatedly proved across the country. It's time the job is left to professional private players, even as the government ensures institution of effective regulatory bodies to oversee the goings on.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

towards modern as well as sustainable urban development

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In response to a mail I had sent around, linking my post of 1st Aug (scroll above), I received the following comment from a lady resident of Kochi:

I would like to bring a few things to your attention regarding the DEMU service...The very next day after inauguration the AC coaches and a few new compartments were taken away to some other states and they were replaced by old coaches which were neither cleaned nor maintained properly. With the result, middle class travellers could never think of using it...It never maintained time and hence least dependable....

Where as Metro... we are all looking forward to it..because
1. It could take us to city within 20 minutes which now is taking almost an hour
2. Senior citizens find it difficult to drive in the city and drivers are not available
3. Much cheaper than engaging taxies...
4. Not only senior citizens ,all working women look forward to a decent mode of transportation, because now they are depending on the auto riksha drivers who are infamous for their rudeness...
5. The roads have now become broader and more spacious wherever the pillar has been completed
6.There are 2or 3 tier parking spaces in all the metro railway stations
7. When we went to Delhi this February we found out how convenient, safe ,quick and economical the Metro truly was....

So Metro is not a white elephant , but going to be a giant leap towards a Modern Kochi....


Since, I expect the above will be the opinion of many a resident of Kochi too, I thought I'll put down my response here.

In my post, I had mentioned "The argument may be that, as cities grow, the benefits will eventually show up - But, I am not quite sure that's how cities should be planned, particularly when there are competing demands, perhaps far more worthy, for the total quantum of revenue (and, other forms of funds) available at a given time", which forms my key argument against the project.

Apparently, the DEMU operations are a trial run, as much as the ones being launched in Bengaluru, to Ramnagaram and other townships around the city (check here), which hopefully will evolve into full-fledged Commuter Rail services, soon (perhaps, even before Kochi Metro gets into operation). And, again, if these are operated on a PPP model, as they should be (check here, as to the why of it), you'll have the same level of comforts as in a Metro operation, but for a much lower fare, affordable not just to the middle class, but even the aamest of aam-aadmi.

Yes, Delhi, Bengaluru, etc have, over the years, got so densified that Metro has become inevitable. But, I dare say that, had the government instituted a professionally run Commuter Rail system (more or less on this basis) well in time, the densification of these cities could perhaps have been avoided, and along-with that, the Metro too, and therewith the ever-galloping cost of living. The need essentially is for a modern, as much as sustainable and affordable Kochi, as much as any other city.

Also, equally important is the role of bus services, if we want to move along these lines. And, that's where we need professional players, and not just the government-run KSRTC/ Tiru-Kochi, Kudumabashree kind of operations, as brought out here (though this specific petition pertains to Bengaluru, it holds equally valid for other cities and towns too).

Muralidhar Rao

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