Shekhar Kumar, who works as a graphic designer in Sector 17 of Chandigarh and takes a bus from his home in Zirakpur to reach his office, has been hit by the recent hike in bus fares by the Chandigarh Transport Union.
“The raise in tariff is confusing, for it has not been accompanied by any rise in the quality or frequency of buses. I still have to wait for a bus for more than half an hour. With the recent hike, I end up paying almost Rs 2,000 a month, if not more, on bus tickets. The auto-rickshaws have also increased their fare due to the UT policy of not letting the autos from Mohali or Panchkula enter the city. Now I think a two-wheeler would be much more economical and less time-consuming,” he said.
The increase in bus fare by the CTU in January has made bus travel a costly affair for commuters, and is forcing many to think of switching to a personal vehicle. The fare hike comes at a time when the UT Administration is trying to decongest the city roads.
Chandigarh already has the highest density of vehicles per capita in the country and the need to improve public transportation has been underlined by experts, time and again.
Residents who have to commute long distances from Mohali, Zirakpur and Panchkula, are the most hit by the fare hikes. While the basic fare for traveling to upto five kilometers has been kept the same for both AC and non-AC buses, the fares over five kilometers have been increased by over 50 per cent. Moreover, the price of the general bus pass has also been increased.
“By regularly increasing the fares, the authorities have simply pushed the lowest economic strata of people away from affordable travel. They can no longer afford AC buses. The choice people are left with is to wait at the stand for a non-AC bus. As a student traveling regularly from Panchkula to Panjab University, I end up paying Rs 70-Rs 80 on my travel depending, on my choice of AC/non-AC bus. The price of a student pass and the general bus pass has also been increased significantly,” lamented Paranjaya Mehra, a PhD scholar at PU.
The autos have also increased their fare substantially following the hike in bus fares, although they blame it on the UT Administration’s decision of not allowing the autos from Punjab and Haryana to enter the city. Shiv Devi, a house help, who takes an auto from Dhanas to Sector 27 every day, said, “The fare has increased from Rs 20 to Rs 30 for one side. Now I spend Rs 60 on commuting every day. And the buses are even worse.”
CTU fares costliest
A former councillor with Chandigarh MC, Pallav Mukherjee claimed that the system is extremely “unfriendly” for citizens.
Drawing a comparison between other cities and Chandigarh, he said, “Compared to local bus systems anywhere else, the rides are extremely expensive here. The per kilometre cost for passengers is among the highest in the country. The CTU has never had any outreach programmes and most of the people do not even know it exists. It has done nothing to become citizen friendly. Buses come after long spans of time. Most of the people in the city do not even need private vehicles. They travel distances of a few kilometers per day in their private vehicles only because our public transportation is not a feasible option.”
Amit Bhatt, Executive Director of Integrated Transport at World Resources Insititue of India, agreed. “We want more and more people to use public transport and one of the most important pre-consideration is affordability. The question then comes for the setting of an affordability range. Main competition to public vehicles are the two-wheelers and they operate roughly on Rs one per kilometer. So, if you increase the tariffs, people will switch to two-wheelers.”
He added, “Of course you need to pay for the transit, but fare box is just one aspect for generation of revenues. You can also get revenue through other means. The city needs to explore options like parking charges, congestion tax, and so many more way through which earnings can be generated.”
Citing the example of Delhi, and stressing on the importance of affordability of public transport systems, he said, “If you look at Delhi, as soon as the transit was made free for women, the share of women commuters rose from 20 per cent to 50 per cent. That is the clear benefit of affordability.”
Will incur losses
Reflecting on the fare hike, Bhatt said that it was just a step towards incurring losses. “If tomorrow you increase the fare by 25 per cent but lose ridership by 50 per cent, you lose even your previous profits,” he said.
On the ways to evaluate affordablity and set standards, he said, “An ideal expenditure on transport should be less than 10 per cent of one’s income. So if you look at the spending of Rs 2,000 per month, the household, including women and children, spend almost Rs 4,000 per month on transport. Thus, ideally the average income should be Rs 40,000. But it is generally far less.”
Talking about the domino affect in the society, Bhatt said, “Increase in this expense percentage affects people in a way that they either stop taking public vehicles all together or start cutting down on necessities, including food and medicines, among others. If people switch from bus to two-wheelers, there will be increased emission of pollutants, more congestion on roads and will subsequently it will add to the nuisance.”
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