Pondicherry Road Transport Corporation at a crossroads

From a fleet strength of 141, the number is now down to 65, but the official hope

From a fleet strength of 141, the number is now down to 65, but the official hope

A combination of factors, including an aging and shrinking fleet, and the advancement of private bus operators, have left a deep gash in the operation of the government-run Puducherry Road Transport Corporation (PRTC) in the territory of the ‘Union.

Established in 1992 as Puducherry Tourism and Transport Development Corporation (PTTDC), the company was transformed into PRTC in 2005. The company was established to meet the expectations of residents. But over time, the vision got a majority of troubled buses from the PRTC was gradually squeezed out by private buses.

From a fleet of 141 buses, including long-distance buses, the strength of the Transport Corporation has now shrunk to 65 buses, depriving the population of a reliable bus transport system. Officials say many regular trips from Pondicherry to Tirupati, Kumili and Mahé cannot even recoup the cost of diesel, let alone pay the salaries of drivers and conductors.

According to some sources, the PRTC’s financial losses were accumulating every year, which had affected the purchase of new buses and the operation of services. The fleet was prone to frequent breakdowns, leading to high maintenance and loss of revenue.

The intrusion of private operators into the operation of the company had made it more difficult to keep services afloat for a company largely dependent on funds from the government of Pondicherry.

“Private operators have a thriving network of over 70% vehicles, while PRTC owns the rest. The recent assault on the driver of a PRTC in Villianur by the crew of a private bus has again highlighted the conflict over timetables between the PRTC and the private operators,” he said.

“Private bus operators, in a bid to increase passenger numbers, ‘incentivized’ the PRTC team with daily payments to change their schedules. They also tried to change PRTC routes. the Corporation have revealed that private bus operators struggling to regain pre-pandemic levels have sub-leased operations to “auditors” who do not possess valid driver’s licenses. and the department has convened a meeting of all stakeholders on the matter,” the official added.

According to local resident S. Ayappan, “PRTC buses, especially those running on the East Coast Road to Chennai, were well received by passengers, especially office workers on Monday. However, the situation has now completely changed. Buses experience frequent breakdowns and are poorly managed, resulting in low occupancy. Buses operating on the Pondicherry to Karaikal route avoid towns such as Sirkazhi even when occupancy is very low.

According to a former PRTC official, “Reward and punishment must go hand in hand. PRTC must be trusted by customers and employees. The crew should be rewarded for their dedication and punished for cutting income and compromising safety.

“Although the transport sector offers good opportunities for the government to exploit revenue, successive governments have failed to increase the fleet. PRTC should also increase its buses on profitable routes, which are currently owned by private buses owned by politicians.

The Company should also focus on controlling inspectors on interstate roads such as Tirupati and Mahé. “The immediate need is to overhaul the Company to protect the interests of employees and develop the PRTC as reliable public transport,” he added.

A senior PRTC official acknowledged that the shrinking fleet size and frequent maintenance issues were a cause for concern.

“A number of buses purchased under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) have traveled over 7 lakh km and have become obsolete. But all of that is about to change as the company plans to procure 20 electric buses that will be deployed on nine routes. We also plan to purchase another 25 buses and have applied for funds from the government,” he added.

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