Intra-district bus services resumed across Tamil Nadu after a long gap on Tuesday, with the State government relaxing the COVID-19 lockdown. Patronage, however, was low. As inter-district bus services have not resumed, passengers had to get down at their respective district borders and board moffusil or town buses to reach their destinations.
Bus services across the State were stopped on March 23 due to the lockdown. However from June 1, the State was divided into eight zones and limited bus services were allowed in districts — except in Chennai, Kancheepuram, Chengalpattu and Tiruvallur. The services were again stopped on June 25, due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Addressing reporters after inspecting the disinfection measures at a depot near Pallavan House in Chennai, Transport Minister M. R. Vijayabhaskar said that 6,000 of the total 22,000 buses were operated across the State.
“The patronage was very low on Tuesday. We expect the numbers to increase gradually and simultaneously, the number of buses operated will also be increased. In mofussil buses only 32 passengers will be allowed to travel and in town buses, including the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC), 24 passengers will be allowed. Passengers must board from the rear entry and alight from the front. Upon entering the vehicle, commuters should use the sanitiser provided at the entrance,” said the Minister.
He said the vehicles are disinfected frequently and masks are compulsory for passengers and crew. “We have provided safety gear for conductors and drivers. We have also made arrangements to ensure people don’t go near the driver,” he said.
The Minister added that in the first phase, the buses are being operated within districts. “However we ensure that the passengers are dropped at the bus stop closest to the district border to ensure that he/she can get a bus to his respective destination easily,” he explained adding that bus passes taken earlier are valid till September 15.
The Minister added that as of now, bus services will be available till 9 p.m as patronage is low.
In Chennai, after a gap of five months, Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) buses resumed commercial services on Tuesday. However there were very few passengers on most routes on the first day. Officials and bus crew expect the numbers to increase in the coming days.
“Usually three singles fetch a revenue of ₹3,000. But today, it was just ₹200,” said an MTC conductor in Broadway.
The MTC has a fleet strength of over 3,600 buses and operates in over 650 routes. On an average, 36 lakh passengers travel by the MTC buses per day.
The MTC will ferry passengers up to the Greater Chennai Police limits and the passengers can hop onto moffusil bus services from there to reach their destination. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, only 24 passengers will be allowed to travel in an MTC bus. “Only one passenger will be allowed to occupy a seat. He/she will be allowed to board only with a mask. The buses are disinfected frequently and hand wash facility has been provided at all the termini. We have also resumed the small bus service,” said an MTC official.
However passengers said they were wary about the first day. “Now, many people have got used to travelling on their bikes or their relative’s vehicles. Besides, as many daily wage earners and domestic workers have lost their jobs, there is less patronage,” said N. Chitra, member, Tamil Nadu Domestic Workers Welfare Trust.
K. Natarajan, treasurer, Labour Progressive Federation, said that there were a few complaints about drivers and conductors not being provided with masks, gloves and lack of hand wash facilities in bus termini. “But services have resumed only on Tuesday. So we have decided to wait and check if things improve. There was very less patronage on Tuesday,” he said.
In some MTC buses, physical distancing was not followed on the first day.
Intra-district bus services resumed from depots in Cuddalore, Villupuram and Kallakurichi districts on Tuesday after a gap of nearly two months, with the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) adhering to guidelines and safeguards.
An official said that TNSTC was operating only 50 % of its buses and the passenger flow is expected to increase gradually in the coming days. No buses are being operated to neighbouring Puducherry, he said. A total of 600 buses resumed operations from Villupuram region — comprising 10 districts. Of these, as many as 125 buses were operated from Cuddalore district followed by 65 from Villupuram and 55 from Kallakurichi district.
However, private buses remained off the roads in the districts.
In Virudhunagar too, patronage was low for the limited number of buses operated on Tuesday. According to District Collector, R. Kannan, TNSTC Virudhunagar region was operating 82 urban services that were run within various towns and 12 rural services connecting different parts of the district.
Despite the TNSTC operating only around 25% of its buses, the patronage was very low, according to officials. “For most of their needs, people from different towns of Virudhunagar district tend to go to neighbouring districts, like Madurai, Tenkasi and Thoothukudi. With buses being operated within the district limits, the patronage is bound to be very low,” said an official.
Meanwhile, the TNSTC — Coimbatore Division operated 800 buses in four districts. According to the officials, the maximum number of buses were operated within Coimbatore district with 401 buses, followed by Erode district with 153 buses, Tiruppur district with 142 buses and the Nilgiris district with 104 buses. The 800 buses, which included town buses and intra-district mofussil buses, were only around 30% of the total fleet, the officials said. The number of buses being operated will be increased depending on the demand, TNSTC officials noted.
V. Duraikannan, president of Coimbatore District Bus Owners Association (South), said that only around 12 private buses out of around 330 buses were operated in the district on Tuesday. “Most of the private bus operators are afraid to resume bus services because they feel that the number of passengers entering the buses cannot be controlled [in private buses],” he said.
(Inputs from Vivek Narayanan in Chennai, S Prasad in Cuddalore, S. Sundar in Virudhunagar and R. Akileish in Coimbatore)