Bus operators peeved at exclusion from vaccine priority list

They demand relief package, interest-free loans for sector

Private bus operators have taken strong exception to crew members of approximately 12,500 private buses not being mentioned in the State government’s priority list for COVID-19 vaccination.

George Joseph, who owns a fleet of buses that operate in the city, said Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) bus crew and even seafarers who hailed from the State had been included in the priority list. He expressed concern at the government not readying a relief package to save the private bus sector from crisis. A majority of buses have been forced to keep off the road for months together for want of patronage.

“A few thousand bus operators submitted G-form to the Motor Vehicles Department [MVD] since they would otherwise have to remit hefty tax every quarter. Already, the annual insurance premium paid by most bus operators has gone waste since just a few buses were in operation. We bank our hopes on the Finance and Transport Ministers of the new government to help us through the crisis. Many bus owners like me availed loan to retrofit CNG kit in buses, to overcome the skyrocketing diesel price. Faced with dull patronage, it is an uphill task paying the monthly instalment,” he said.

The State government must give a tax break, reduce the sales tax on diesel supplied to public transport buses, and help arrange interest-free loan of ₹5 lakh to private bus operators, since the sector was sinking and 80% of the around 12,500 private buses had halted service in Kerala during the past month due to skyrocketing operational cost and the steep fall in number of commuters, said Lawrence Babu, general secretary of Kerala State Private Bus Operators’ Federation.

The price of diesel has increased to ₹90 per litre and a bus that operates limited number of trips needs 50 litres of the fuel. This includes the over ₹30 that the Centre charges as taxes and around ₹20 that goes to the State government.

Each bus must get a minimum income of ₹6,000 a day to operate in a sustainable manner, said Mr. Babu. But, most bus operators were not getting even half the amount. It would be tough to revive the sector if there was any further delay in the government intervening in a proactive manner, he said. Steps must also be taken to increase student fare, since bus operators incurred huge losses when they travelled for as low as ₹1 per trip, he added.

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