Topper K'taka a commute for the swiftest

The recently published report by Transport Research Wing (TRW) of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) claims that 25 states account for only 8.6 per cent of state-run public transport buses.

Karnataka’s road transport corporations own 17.4 per cent of the state-run bus fleet in the country. Going by the dismal transport scenario in the northern states, Karnataka is among the southern league doing a far better job.

Is the decentralisation of the KSRTC into four corporations in 1997 the answer behind this success? Certainly, says P G R Sindhia, twice transport minister before the division. He recalled the mid-’90s when the corporation got so unwieldy that a single Managing Director was not adequate.

“The number of depots and labour got so large that it was unmanageable. Bangalore city transport was riddled with losses and problems. In rural areas, buses had passengers both ways but in Bangalore city, it was one-way,” said Sindhia.

For more than ten years, KSRTC used to be known for its losses. But this came to an end during Sindhia’s second term after he created a special officers’ team to look into decentralisation.

Asked if monopolising public transport was indeed a good idea, Sindhia replied, “We have not touched private operators in Dakshina Kannada because they have and still are doing a good job. In mid ‘80s, our government had 65 per cent share of public transport. Private operators continued to provide very bad service and so we took over.”

Muralidhar Rao, founder of online civic website Praja, who filed a PIL against monopolising public transport in  1990, begs to differ. “The only reason why Karnataka’s RTCs make profits is because they are a monopoly. A good government-run service is not supposed to make profit,” said Rao.

Though the situation in the south is much better than in north India, where it is a case of  ‘license permit Raj’, Rao says here too the rules are biased against private operators. They are regularly harassed by the state, he charged.

KSRTC’s claim that its fleet penetrate 92 per cent of villages is disputed by Rao. The figure does not say how many trips a day and whether all the people in the villages even have equal opportunity to get onto the buses. If an estimated 2,870 people have to share one bus, and the seating capacity per vehicle is only 50, where do the remaining commuters fit, he asks. 

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