TN's 'sacred cow' a winner

TN's 'sacred cow' a winner

Having taken an early lead in the nationalisation of bus transport in 1972 under the previous DMK regime, Tamil Nadu’s ‘efficient’ public road transportation system has been a mixed bag of policy commitment and adopting the loan-route for periodic fleet augmentation and modernisation, up to inducting the latest ‘Volvo’ buses.

A quick analysis reveals that the ‘social gains’ of public transportation, despite the private sector bus operators flourishing in long-distance sectors and select short distance routes, has more than offset the transport PSUs’ accumulated losses that stood at a staggering Rs 1,453.43 crore in 2010-11.

Break down this complex functionality into its various elements, the TNSTC’s ‘USP’ lies in a matrix of assets: The 8 STUs boast of 21,169 buses, carrying 2.10 crore passengers a day, accounting for one of the largest networks of public road transportation in the country, says State Transport Minister V Senthil Balaji.

The MTC alone with nearly 3,500 buses in Chennai on an average ferries 55 lakh passengers every day. The average age of the bus fleet in the State is 4.08 years, even as Tamil Nadu’s fleet utilisation has been over 94 per cent.

The State in public interest did not raise bus fares since December 2001 until the latest steep hike in November 2011 when the transport STUs’ were on the brink of ‘collapse’ due to mounting fuel and maintenance costs.

Yet, Tamil Nadu has managed to keep its fleet profile extremely functional and young. A large section of the youth in the State – all school students up to the 12th class - get free bus passes to this day, while college students get a 50 per cent concession in fares. Several other sections get free bus passes, which have added to its  enduring popularity.

Like free electricity to farmers, the transport STUs too have become a sacred cow, a societal icon in its own right, drawing sustenance from the State’s huge welfare outlays, despite the edgy, high fiscal deficits of its annual budgets. This trend would continue until cities like Chennai gets a full-fledged Metro rail. Even then rural areas would depend only on buses. 

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