Sankranthi, the harvest festival, is perhaps the biggest festival in Andhra Pradesh, where agriculture is predominant. Apart from the festive cheer and the harvest frenzy, the influx of family members and friends from cities to the villages to celebrate the festival is the common sight that marks the festival.
The Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) is operating 6,500 special buses to meet the passenger rush during the Sankranthi festival. Giving the Corporation fleet tough competition is a large number of private buses crisscrossing the earmarked routes in and around the State.
Competition from private buses
The private bus operators eating into the revenue of the State-run transport organisation is a perennial problem, and the solution lies in strict enforcement of the rule book. They jack up the ticket price many folds cashing in on the festival rush.
The APSRTC officials and the regulators of the Motor Vehicles Act and Rules, to put a check on the private operators violating norms, have come out with all guns blazing. “We will not allow any private bus operator to collect extra ticket fares. The fares fixed by the APSRTC are considered standard charges. Any violation on this count will invite heavy penalties, and cases will also be booked against the bus owners,” Joint Transport Commissioner S. Venkateswara Rao announced at a recent press conference.
The APSRTC, meanwhile, is hopeful of earning some extra moolah during the festival season. “Our decision not to charge extra money from the passengers and our offer of 10 % discount on bookings for return journey will stand us in good stead,” said the Corporation’s Vice-Chairman and Managing Director Ch. Dwaraka Tirumala Rao.
Redeploying RTC buses
Pinning revenue hopes on the first festival of the year, the Corporation is bracing up to redeploy buses wherever needed. Mr. Tirumala Rao scotches the reports that the shortage of RTC buses comes in handy for the private operators to fill in and fleece the public. “Fleet-wise, our position is very comfortable. The strength of the buses in our fleet is much more than many private travel firms put together,” he asserts.
Pointing to the fact that the APSRTC is a public service organisation and it cannot afford to operate like a commercial firm, he reiterates that he would make up for whatever little shortage of vehicles there is by diverting the fleet.
But the scale of preparedness by the APSRTC and the sternness of the RTA authorities do not seem to deter the private bus operators who continue to charge higher prices. The reason apparently is the fact that the penalties and fines imposed on the erring operators are lower than what they earn by adopting illegal methods.
“We have increased the ticket rates by 20% to 30%,” says N. Sambi Reddy, president of the Andhra Pradesh Private Bus Operators’ Association. Despite knowing that the RTA staff have started surprise checks from January 10, many private bus operators remain indifferent and term the fare hike a ‘necessary evil’ for their survival.
Informing that cases have already been booked against more than 100 private bus operators for violations, Mr. Sambi Reddy says they should be allowed to ply the vehicles as most people had booked their tickets in advance.
Citing a prolonged slump in the business, the private operators say that unable to replay loans, many of them surrendered their vehicles to the finance companies. “Paying ₹6 lakhs towards annual tax besides meeting other expenditures is becoming increasingly difficult. The officials should consider certain exemptions for us, and we certainly deserve fair treatment,” says an operator, seeking anonymity.
“Our buses are being seized and we are being harassed. The last four months have been extremely dull in terms of business. The government should consider a few exemptions to enable us to survive in this business,” said an office-bearer of New Sai Krishna Travels.
Meanwhile, as part of a special drive, raids by teams constituted by the Transport Department will continue not just through the festivities but even after its conclusion.
During the Sankranthi festival last year, the Transport Department officials earned revenue to the tune of ₹62 lakhs by imposing penalties for flouting rules and booked 975 cases against the violators.
This year, at the behest of the Transport Commissioner P.S.R. Anjaneyulu, teams have fanned out across the 26 districts of the State to ensure strict enforcement of norms, especially at the inter-State check posts and the entire operation will be monitored from the headquarters, on a daily basis.