In the election season, there are many promises that the DMK and the AIADMK are making to the electorate, but improved and low cost transport is not among them. Does our SUV-loving class of politicians find the issue of transport inflation too difficult to comprehend?
The DMK, in its five years of rule, did not take serious steps to augment the fleet of buses at least in Chennai. As we like to point out, Bangalore did that, and today has almost double the number of buses that Chennai does. The BMTC is by no means an advanced transport system, but it has put Chennai’s MTC in the shade.
To its credit, the DMK has promised free bus passes to senior citizens, which we must welcome wholeheartedly.
The question that follows is, how will senior citizens avail of their new right, if there are not enough buses on the roads?Again, if the buses are the ramshackle bodies fitted on to lorry chasses that have been serving people for many years, how will arthritic old people board them?
Going beyond this issue, there is the wider question of economics. The price of oil has been going steadily North, burning bigger holes into the pockets of workers with modest wages. These are the only class of travellers who still cling on to the buses, other than non-wage earning travellers such as students, pensioners, a significant number of women. Then, there are the disabled.
The DMK used to pride itself on making constant improvements to the nationalised transport network. Today, it has opted to channelise all expansion as a concession to its party sympathisers – who now operate the quickly-famous Tata Magic taxis. Surprisingly, no one is reminding the DMK that it promised to run mini-buses this year. What happened?
The AIADMK has always looked at urban transport as a difficult problem. During the transport strike some years ago, it worked to break the strike by removing all permit restrictions and allowing private buses to run in Chennai in a laissez faire environment. In its earlier regime, the inter-city bus network under the State Express Transport Corporation nearly collapsed due to lack of maintenance and genuine investment.
Although this is one of the most promising areas for reform, and the Government of India under UPA I did try to undertake that, the prospects of radical reform in terms of service provision, cost, comfort and true expansion seem bleak.