Ahead of Deepavali, the arbitrary increase in ticket prices by omnibus operators is once again in focus.
Massive hikes during festive seasons are a recurring issue. An analysis of ticket prices of more than a thousand bus services from Chennai to some of the major cities shows that the average ticket prices have gone up by 100% in many cases. The steep increase is witnessed in the minimum ticket price on normal days and on Friday when most people are expected to travel for Deepavali.
For instance, the minimum ticket price for a non-AC sleeper from Chennai to Salem has gone up by 214%, from ₹500 on Wednesday to ₹1,570 on Friday.
J. Veerakumar, a salesperson from Tirunelveli, who is planning to go home for Deepavali, said that the skyrocketing ticket price had made it unaffordable. “I could not find a ticket in State Express Transport Corporation-run buses. In omnibuses, the tickets are more than ₹1,500 whereas my salary is only ₹14,000. For this price, I could buy clothes for some more members of my family,” he said, adding that he was now planning to catch mofussil buses to Tiruchi, Madurai and then to Tirunelveli.
Complaint in vain
N. Logu, an activist from the non-governmental organisation Consumer Voice, said that in some cases, omnibus tickets to Coimbatore and Madurai during Deepavali weekend were higher than air tickets on normal days. “This is a recurrent issue and our demand for punitive action goes unheard every time. The helpline provided by the Transport Department is seldom active,” he added.
T. Sadagopan, president, Tamil Nadu Progressive Consumer Centre, alleged that irrespective of the political party, those in power are hand in glove with the omnibus operators. He further claimed that many omnibuses, during festive seasons, were operated without adherence to any safety or regulatory norms. “Many tourist buses transform overnight into omnibuses during festival season,” he said.
“As per the new Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, two-wheeler riders are being hit with heavy fines for violation of rules. However, the omnibus operators are violating norms and fleecing customers with impunity,” he argued.
S. Sampath, joint general secretary, Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) Staff Federation, said that the Transport Department did not even have basic data on the number of private buses and registration details of omnibuses plying in the State. “A request filed under Right to Information Act by us has now come up before the State Information Commission since the Transport Department said it did not have the data,” he said.
Difficult to monitor
He also said that a majority of the omnibuses were registered in places like Nagaland and Puducherry for tax concessions, making it difficult for Tamil Nadu to monitor them. “If you look at the data available in the public domain, the registration of all types of vehicles like motorbikes and cars are going up in the State. However, the registration of omnibuses is on the decline despite a tangible increase in the number of services,” he said.
He criticised the Transport Department’s claim of action taken based on specific complaints of hike in the ticket prices. “The prices are there for all to see on online ticket booking websites. If the department wants, it can act proactively,” he said.
Defending the idea of ‘dynamic pricing’ during the festive season, A. Afzal, president, Tamil Nadu Omnibus Owners’ Association, said that it was present in every industry. “Are we seeking regulation of ticket prices of airlines,” he questioned, adding that it was based on supply and demand.
He, however, stressed that exorbitant increase was an aberration and not the norm. “Major operators who are members of our association increase the price within the limit of minimum and maximum fare already agreed upon with the government. This is evident from our ticket prices,” he said.
“The sharp increase is effected by smaller operators, who are not our members. We ourselves report such cases to the government and action is often taken,” he added.
A senior official from the Transport Department said that the administration had certain constraints in controlling pricing since it did not have the authority to fix ticket prices for contract carriage. “Our toll-free number is active. We have also formed 60 teams for conducting special checks during the festive season, mainly to check exorbitant charging of customers by operators,” he said.
“The government has significantly increased the number of services during the Deepavali weekend. We are encouraging the public to utilise them instead of travelling with private operators,” he added.
Article source: https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/the-great-deepavali-rip-off/article29772376.ece