Chennai’s Metropolitan Transport Corporation, the monopoly bus operator, routinely overloads its buses. It obviously has little regard for the effect of this practice on the life of its vehicles – which are not buses with proper design, but crude bus bodies on lorry chassis. One offshoot of the overloading is that conductors do not move around and issue tickets in the buses, which is the norm in this part of the world. They sit near one entrance of the bus and expect all passengers to squeeze their way through the crush, or pass on the fare through other passengers.
Often, the moving bus approaches a fare stage in this kind of situation, without giving all passengers an opportunity to buy the ticket. These passengers are then pounced upon by “checking inspectors” who levy a fine of upto Rs. 500.
On Tuesday evening, one could see such a plight befalling a few passengers. Two girls were seriously embarrassed as the checking inspectors emptied their bags asking them to part with whatever cash they had. One of the girls started weeping. It was plainly evident that there was no intention to defraud the transport company on their part.
Such scenes make us wonder why the Tamil Nadu Government, which wants no change in the bus operation system for Chennai, to modernise the functioning of MTC. For one thing, it needs to provide more choice for travel. This could be done, as we have pointed out in the past, by selling a variety of travel cards or passes. Secondly, there is absolutely no justification in expecting passengers to buy tickets on board, when buses have been overloaded well beyond the limit prescribed by the transport permit for the bus. This situation can be remedied only by operating more buses, of different kinds of comfort levels, and with affordable fares.
We emphasise at this point the need for the DMK Government, and the UPA Government’s Urban Development Ministry which is funding some of the expansion plans for Chennai transport, to modernise Chennai’s transport network in both infrastructure and operational practices.
There is no justification for Mr. Karunanidhi’s Government to fine passengers when it has not fulfilled its own obligations. In fact, the Government should be taken to court for allowing the MTC to overload its buses, which is a violation of the Motor Vehicles Act.
In fact, the DMK Government has consistently turned a deaf ear to letters written by the Union Ministry for Urban Development asking all States to set up separate authority for integrated transport. Tamil Nadu has resisted attempts to even functionally integrate bus and train services, trotting out excuses about lack of response from the Southern Railway.
It is condemnable that the DMK Government is recalcitrant even in the face of extraordinary levels of demand for travel in a growing economy, with the narrow view of satisfying its unionised class of transport workers, making a mockery of the principle of public transport.