Low-cost Bengaluru-Kochi flights threaten bus monopoly

Low-cost Bengaluru-Kochi flights threaten bus monopoly

DH Graphic/Gangadhar RA

For lakhs of Bengalureans heading out to neighbouring Kerala, road and rail commute could get costly, cumbersome and time-consuming. So, why not just fly down? Yes, it's now an option. This season, a one-way fare for an hour's Bengaluru-Kochi flight has dropped dramatically to about Rs 2,000, inclusive of all taxes and airport charges. 

Rain-induced landslides have played havoc with roads in northern Kerala. Buses of both Karnataka and Kerala state transport corporations are now forced to take long detours. Train tickets are notoriously tough to get due to the powerful "bus mafia", as the Karnataka-Kerala Travellers' Forum (KKTF) dubs it. 

So, here's one way to bypass the rail and road en route to northern Kerala: catch a flight to Kozhikode. On Friday, a one-hour, 25-minute-long Jet Airways flight from Bengaluru's Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) to Kozhikode was listed at Rs 2,065. But if that works out a bit over budget, Air Asia had its low-cost flights lined up to Kochi. The ticket rate: Rs 1,399 plus airport charges. 

A quick search showed how this compares with a bus journey to Kochi. An AC sleeper ticket by the KSRTC's Airawat from Bengaluru to Ernakulam is priced at Rs 1,052. But the trip takes 10:15 hours. Yet, commuters could be itching to get this question out: How fast could you get to northern Kerala after landing at the Kochi airport? 

The answer? Low-floor buses operated by the Kerala Urban Road Transport Corporation (KURTC) to Kozhikode and beyond. Tickets, priced at Rs 200 to 350, could be booked online (www.kurtconline.com). These buses pass through Thrissur, Malappuram and other northern Kerala destinations. 

But flight tickets could get unaffordably expensive during festival seasons, reminds KKTF convenor R Muralidhar. The only long-term solution, he notes, is to introduce more trains, both to northern Kerala towards Kozhikode and Kannur, and to southern Kerala towards Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. 

The 2014 railway budget had announced a weekend train from Bengaluru to the Kerala capital. "This has not been implemented so far. The bus lobby is behind it," he says. "Why would they allow hundreds of their passengers to be diverted to this train? Those bound for Thiruvananthapuram are now forced to shell out anything between Rs 2,500 and Rs 4,000."