Amidst the observance of ‘black day’ and protests by the INTUC, BMS, and AITUC-affiliated trade unions in the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, the State-transport utility on Wednesday commenced its premium inter-State services using wet-leased multi-axle buses.
Transport Minister Thomas Chandy did not turn up for the flagging-off ceremony at the KSRTC Central bus station at Thampanoor anticipating trouble from employees, who are apprehensive about reduction in staff strength in future.
Following protests by the Transport Democratic Front (INTUC), Kerala State Transport Employees Union (AITUC), and Kerala State Road Transport Employees Sangh (BMS), the first service of wet-leased bus to Bengaluru commenced at 2.10 p.m. without flag-off.
As the bus started, the surprised agitators of the three unions, who were shouting slogans, tried to surge forward.
They were prevented by the police personnel led by the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Fort, J.K. Dinil by throwing a cordon. Chairman and Managing Director, KSRTC, A. Hemachandran also did not turn up anticipating protest.
Only Executive Directors of the KSRTC were present. All the 46 seats were booked in the initial service. Another service using the wet-leased multi-axle bus also left for Bengaluru and a third one to Mookambika also commenced later in the day from the capital, KSRTC officials said.Euro 4-compliant luxury buses wet-leased from Swedish automobile giant Scania has been deployed for the KSRTC’s branded services Garuda Maharaja. The KSRTC director board has given approval for the wet lease of 25 Scania buses.
Along with the bus, the automobile firm has provided the driver and will take care of the maintenance, toll and permit. The KSRTC will have to deploy the conductor and provide high-speed diesel. Scania has provided the first lot of 10 buses and the remaining 15 will join the fleet later.
Five services will be operated using the 10 buses and one bus will be kept as spare. In the initial phase, the KSRTC will deploy the buses to Bengaluru, Mysuru, Chennai, Manipal, Salem, and Madurai.
The KSRTC will withdraw their buses operating to these sectors to allow the wet-leased buses to ply. The model, if successful, will be extended to more inter-State routes. The rent per km fixed by the KSRTC varies from ₹23.82 (for 800 km and above) to ₹30.24 per km for 600 to 649 km.
The wet lease is part of the cash-strapped KSRTC’s plans to bring down the employee-bus ratio from 8.5 to the national average of 5.5, to dispense with separate categories of drivers and conductors, and to increase daily collection. The unions are opposing the decision to hire the driver along with bus.