Merely 10,000 buses, of the 37,000 buses, have been plying on the road owing to the drop in demand and resurfacing COVID-19 wave. On March 17, the Union Minister for Roads and Transport Nitin Gadkari met private bus operators to discuss the problems ailing them. One of the biggest concerns discussed was the repayment of loans to financial institutions that run into crores. This comes at a time when the Maharashtra government has allowed sleeper and double decker buses with more than 9-seats to have buses 13.5 meters in length from the current 12 meters.
On Wednesday, few members of the Bus and Car Operators Confederation of India (BOCI) met Gadkari in Delhi. Sources who attended this meeting said that the minister was sympathetic towards the condition the bus transport industry is in. “He directed the officers to set up a meeting with the Finance Ministry to resolve the matters. The minister heard our points and understood our problems,” said a member of BOCI.
Free Press Journal had reported about this issue, where around 10 lakh buses and 5 lakh tourist cabs owe monthly vehicle loans of Rs 50,000 and Rs 10,000, respectively, to the banks and financial institutions. The banks are asking them to make repayments as far as possible by March 31. However, more than 70 per cent of bus operators are struggling to restart their businesses.
“Majority of the buses are parked at open grounds, parking lots and even roads, as the business is severely affected. With the second wave of COVID-19 emerging, the situation is getting grimmer. These are the buses that otherwise would ferry office goers from different corporates areas and sectors. The government allowing longer buses won’t make much difference unless the situation normalises,” said a bus operator.
On an average, 12 meter buses have 30 seats. The length of the buses increasing to 13.5 meters will increase the seating capacity by 20 per cent. It will allow manufacturers to have longer chassis and multi axles for such long buses.
Currently, states like Gujarat and Rajasthan have longer buses. However, sources in the Regional Transport Office (RTO) said that they were catching them, as these buses weren’t permitted to ply here in Maharashtra. Sources said that, at present, there are bus operators who are running these longer buses with the existing chassis and axles, which can be dangerous.
“When buses ply at greater speeds, the tail of these buses could hit the road if operators illegally extend their buses on the existing dimensions,” said a RTO official. Another issue that can crop up is maneuvering these long buses in cities and smaller roads, as they have a longer turning radius.