Private passenger transport operators' bodies BOCI and SBOA on Tuesday urged the Maharashtra government to provide relief package, including waivers in taxes, extension on moratorium on interest and deferment of motor insurance to the coronavirus pandemic-impacted school bus operators.
Claiming that over 50,000 school buses and around 1.5 lakh bus staffers are currently in financial distress, the Bus and Car Operators Confederation of India (BOCI) and the School Bus Owner Association (SBOA) in a joint release also warned that if these measures are not provided immediately most of the operators might go out of the business.
"With the entire school curriculums moving online, bus owners are burdened with taxes, insurance, maintenance, EMIs and parking charges, among others, due to which they are forced to lay off their staff, as they are not being paid by schools or parents," said the release.
It added that the sector has made several representations to the authorities in the transport department, the state's ministries and to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to draw their attention to multitudes of issues faced by the sector and have urged urgent action to alleviate their pain.
Thousands of women employees who accompany school buses to take care of school children have also been rendered jobless by the lockdown and are struggling with the most difficult phase of their lives, it said.
The association has requested the government on bus staffers' salaries for the entire lockdown period, waiver of taxes, deferment of motor insurance, extensions of moratorium and waiver of interest, among others, as part of the relief package, the release stated.
Besides, it has also sought increasing the age limit of school buses for operating in Mumbai to 20 years from 8 years at present and to 20 years from 15 years in other areas of Maharashtra, parking facilities for school buses, GST input credit benefits and banning of illegal private vans plying as school buses, as per the release.
"We are staring at a bleak situation as the schools are closed for many months, whereas in Maharashtra, new academic year commences from April for ICSE and state board classes commences from June and bus fees is collected accordingly," SBOA President Anil Garg.
He added that simultaneously, bus owners have not received the transportation fees for the academic year ending May 2020. Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis and followed by repeated extension of lockdown, many schools have started their classes online and schools have refused to pay bus owners saying that parents are not paying fees for buses as they are not using the bus service, said Garg.
This situation has led to thousands of bus operators being jobless as there is nothing that we can do to retain our staff. Over two lakh people in the state are already dependent on these buses for their livelihoods and many owners have taken loans to buy buses and haven't been able to pay their loan instalments, he said.
"We would seek government intervention to provide some support to the bus owners and staff members to bring them out of this crisis," Garg added.
BOCI President Prasanna Patwardhan said that arranging transportation for schools will also be quite challenging as social distancing norms would need to be followed strictly.
"High-end schools might not face a big problem as they can increase the fees and they can compensate for the additional burden of hiring more buses to transport children. But, standard schools will have to use the same buses for longer distances by having staggered starting and closing of different divisions and giving operators additional money to cover their running costs," he said.
Patwardhan added that social distancing norms should be eased by the government, and school authorities should direct the safety norms to the transporters as per the respective status quo.
Banks should be instructed to reschedule loans by giving at least a six-month moratorium period to all customers and to waive off the interest for the moratorium period, according to the release.
Banks and NBFCs should be advised to provide top-up working capital at low interest rates to resume business, according to the release.