Maharashtra transport department has allowed the resumption of inter-state bus service subject to adherence to COVID safety guidelines. The department had suspended inter-state bus operations on March 19 in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. Private bus operators, however, are not ready to resume the service and said travel fare will be revised before they hit the road again.
Speaking to TOI, many private bus operators in the city and state said they are unwilling to ply buses as low capacity utilization affects business viability. On September 2, the state government had allowed private buses to operate with 50% capacity.
Post pandemic, the challenges of public transport service providers will escalate due to erratic demand, need to ensure safety of drivers and conductors while maintaining distance of six feet between passengers and sanitizing buses regularly. All this entail additional expenses and hence the demand to revise the fare upwards.
On September 7, deputy transport commissioner Laxman Darade stated that no e-pass will be needed for passengers traveling in inter-state private buses. The standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the inter-state bus service to remain similar to that of inter-district Covid-19 guidelines.
In a letter to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and transport minister Anil Parab, Maharashtra Rajya Truck Tempo Tankers Bus Vahatuk Mahasangh urged the state government to waive taxes on private buses. Mahasangh’s vice-president Mahendra Luley clarified that unless their demands are met, private bus operators won’t resume both inter-district and inter-state service.
In the memorandum, the Mahasangh pointed out that for five months, private bus service has been shut. Considering the loss to the industry, the central government had announced loan repayment moratorium, which ended in August. Now, the operators will have to start paying instalments towards the loan amount. Many operators have started getting calls from financial institutions for payment of instalments, the Mahasangh stated.
In view of this, the state government should intervene and direct banks and other financial institutions not to levy interest on pending instalments, urged the Mahasangh.
Transport department officials told TOI that private bus operators contribute around Rs1,400 crore to the state exchequer by way of taxes.
Luley said in the current situation if the operators resume bus service, fares to all destinations, including inter-district and inter-state, will have to be revised. To a query, he pointed out the price of diesel was Rs64 per liter in March and it has crossed Rs80 per liter now. Besides, the SOPs of allowing only 50% of passengers of total capacity in one trip will add additional burden on the operators. “All these factors will lead to increase in the operational cost,” Luley pointed out.
(With inputs from TimesOfIndia)