When a public transport system is destroyed, many things including human values are destroyed. Public systems like KSRTC should not be viewed in terms of revenue, expenditure and profit and loss. The KSRTC crisis should be discussed in the context of the whole world fighting for public transport systems and moving on the path of awareness.
Why is the whole world advocating for public transport?
1. Economic benefit to society
The indirect benefits of running a bus are many. It not only promotes low-cost travel. Even the box store at the bus stop will benefit from the bus service. Business establishments near bus stations, increase in land prices, etc. etc. should be taken into consideration. The bus fare should not be increased proportionally to all this increase. Government should support public transport. If a commercial complex comes up at or near a bus station, the revenue to the government including taxes is huge. What misses this is ignorance of economics.
A person commuting from home to work on a two-wheeler is more likely to walk from home to the stop if there is a bus service. In effect this practice increases his health. It can be dismissed as a minor matter if desired. People who conduct door to door surveys about lifestyle diseases and build hospitals in panchayats to eliminate diabetes, cancer, heart disease etc. But think about this too.
3. Traffic congestion
If KSRTC runs non-stop service to Lulu Mall in Thiruvananthapuram, how many people will depend on it. How many private vehicles will be removed from traffic and parking? Even if there is a bus service right next to a large apartment complex, it would be better. Let’s take the earlier example. Who will provide space for parking vehicles used by lakhs of people like these 50 people? The government itself. How big is the traffic congestion created by millions like them. Crores have to be spent from the public exchequer to resolve its consequences.
4. Right to travel
There is no other group of people in India who travel daily like Keralites for livelihood and other things. Therefore, their right to travel should be protected. Public transport is the biggest means of doing so. People who can’t drive, who can’t afford to drive, and those who are physically challenged all have the right to live. How can a regime that has destroyed public transport like KSRTC claim to be a people’s government? Never before has a government gone to court not to pay employees as part of a crackdown on KSRTC.
5. Perpetual expenses
The cost of travel has come to break the family budget at a time when fuel costs have skyrocketed. The investment and ongoing costs for private travel can be huge for a typical family. Some people proudly display the figures of bikes and cars being sold in Kerala. Shame on Kerala when you see it at the level of development. They are belittling the improvements of the public transport system.
The impact of stopping a bus service on the lives of those who cannot afford this money can be huge. Similarly, many services have been canceled in the last few years due to profit and loss. Money saved for private travel can be used to provide better education and good food for children. Is this not real public service?
6. Social relations
There are so many stories in this little Kerala about the relationships between regular bus commuters. The elephant cart has a deep connection with their lives. The person who drives the vehicle has contact with at most one or two people through it. That is sometimes. But why don’t we think about the relationship created between office workers and students who regularly travel by bus? How many types of discussions take place in a bus? After denying such relationships to the people, those who take the tax money of these people and buy luxury cars should think about the fact that human relationships have a great value in the society. Let them not forget the paths they have traveled. They are destroying human values. What they do is push the members of a society into isolation. It is not just about monetary figures that you have to think about.
7. Mental fun
You may be ridiculed for talking about this. One can sleep, read, talk, enjoy the view or talk on the phone like today. When you hear it, you can say it is nonsense. But those who have traveled for at least an hour on a bus or train know better. Those who govern us are not ignorant of it.
8. Level of pollution
Assume an average of 50 people use a KSRTC service. If this service is interrupted, those 50 people will not end their journey. Instead they will rely on different types of vehicles. How much air pollution increases when 50 people use two-wheelers? Those who preach against air pollution in Kerala turn a blind eye to KSRTC’s crisis. Many studies have been conducted on the extent to which public transport reduces pollution.
Traveling by bus is much safer than traveling by bike or car in a hurry on a busy road. It is true that KSRTC buses and private buses are regularly involved in accidents. But most of those who feel its impact are on the other side. Administrative systems should make public travel convenient for them too.
All the above are advantages of public transport system. All the public systems of the world should be locked down if we are talking about profit and loss. We can argue for it if we want. The need for government financial support for public transport is a topic that is being discussed all over the world. It should not be tried in courtrooms.
Those who destroy KSRTC, whoever they are, are imposing a heavy burden on the people. The fact that the people of Kerala, the government and the judicial system, who claim to be enlightened, do not see this is, in a word, absurd.
(The writer is a senior journalist and teacher)
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