As commuters shun public transport fearing the spread of Covid-19, many bus operators are grappling with low revenues, pushing States to consider increasing bus fares.

Post pandemic, the challenges of public transport service providers have escalated due to erratic demand, need to ensure safety of drivers and conductors while maintaining distance of six feet between passengers and sanitising buses regularly.

Normally a cheap mode of travel, buses find it unviable to operate at current fares..

Salary cuts

The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) has not yet increased fares and has restarted operations in a phased manner after mid-May. But DTC drivers are facing salary cuts and most of the contractual drivers employed in Delhi Integrated Multimodal Transit System (Delhi’s public private partnership bus operator) are not even getting paid, DTC’s Karamchari Ekta Union’s Working President, Manoj Sharma, told BusinessLine .

Bengaluru had increased bus fares but had to roll back the hike after facing public backlash. Odisha had increased fares for some segments as it eased lockdown and limited the number of people boarding a bus. However, many private bus operators in Odisha and elsewhere are unwilling to ply buses as low capacity utilisation affects business viability. Private operators in Odisha have urged the State government to operate the buses.

Even with all seats filled the revenue per bus will be much lower compared to the pre-Covid triggered lockdown phases. Starting this month, the UP State Road Transport Corporation has decided to resume operations in all intra-State routes, while limiting the number of people who can travel in buses.

However, it will not operate buses where the passenger load is less than 60 per cent, it said.

Awaiting govt’s orders

Metro rail operations in cities are yet to restart as the Home Ministry has not yet given the go ahead or given guidelines. Delhi Metro, which has been running two trains on each route to maintain the track, signalling system, coaches, will take a call on the number of people in each train, after the Home Ministry orders, said sources. Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, has called for running metro rails, which traverses across Delhi and adjoining areas.

“In the post-Covid era, middle class would like to opt out of public transport,” said Jasmin Shah, Vice-Chairman, Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi, a think tank. Also, many drivers have gone back to their villages and this is proving to be another challenge for operators who have to start running buses, according to Shivanand HM Swamy, Centre for Excellence in Urban Transport, Centre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT).