V Dhayanantham, general secretary of the CITU affiliated union in MTC, said MTC buses are overcrowded during peak hours because of the reduced number of services. “When the MTC started operation following the lockdown last month, it operated about 85 per cent of its fleet. But now, it has been reduced to 66 per cent due to financial consideration. If the buses are to be operated with social distancing norms of carrying only 24 passengers per bus, it will lead to revenue loss but it should be compensated by the government. On the contrary, the MTC has reduced services instead of seeking financial assistance from the government for the losses,” said Dhayananthan.
The union leader said that overcrowding and less number of services have forced passengers, who were travelling by bus, to switch to two-wheelers and other personal modes of transport. “To bring those passengers back, the MTC and the government should strengthen public transport and operate buses with social distancing norms,” he said.
Meanwhile, a senior MTC official said that 75 to 80 per cent of the total fleet is being operated every day. “Around 2,400 buses are plying in the city even though the number of passengers have come down drastically. Before COVID-19, about 30 lakh passengers were travelling on the buses daily. Now it has come down to hardly 12 lakh. Even then, we are operating more than the required number of buses to ensure social distancing,” he said, adding that the MTC was not even able to recover the cost of diesel through the operation of the bus services.
“Despite financial constraints, the MTC has been paying salaries for the workforce without default, even when the bus services remained suspended for over five months,” he added. However, MTC officials claimed that they have almost doubled the number of services on certain routes like Ambattur, Avadi, Guduvancherry and Tambaram considering heavy demand.