Four days into the Odisha government’s order for partial relaxing Covid lockdown regulations in as many as 20 districts of the State under Category A which exhibited virus infection test positivity rate less than 5%, the most awaited bus service in such districts continues to remain off the limits.
Even though some bus operators have come forward to resume public transport despite knowing the risk of incurring losses, low footfall of passengers has forced them to retreat. The situation is almost the same at bus stands in almost all major cities of the State where economic activities have started to breathe a new relief after weeks of Covid lockdown and shutdowns.
In Sambalpur's main bus stand, where once more than 300 buses used to ferry passengers to different corners of Odisha and outside each day, only a handful of local buses have resumed their operations. What is more worrisome for the bus operators is the absence of passengers. They say that few buses which ply on the roads in the city are even failing to get a double-digit number of passengers nowadays.
The situation is quite similar in busy towns of western Odisha like Bolangir, Rourkela, and Jharsuguda. Due to less availability of passengers in the stands, most buses continue to bite the dust at major depots.
It may be mentioned here that the private bus service plays an extremely crucial role as the biggest public carrier of passengers in the State. But the question arises as to why the relaxation in lockdown guidelines have failed to set the wheels of the buses in motion.
Secretary of Private Bus Owners’ Association, Sambalpur, Sujit Kumar Hota said, “We started operation with few buses to ascertain the situation but passenger flow is negligible which is very frustrating for us after we have to deal with weeks of crisis due to losing livelihood.”
Ratan Kumar Das, a staff who conducts a local bus in Sambalpur said he has been witnessing just two to three passengers travel in bus in each trip during the last four days.
Well, the answer lies in some important aspects. First of all, Odisha government is yet to allow significant permissions for normalization of economic activities and public road transport especially by buses in the other 10 category B districts which also includes the financial and administrative capital of the State Cuttack and Bhubaneswar.
Both the districts which have the State’s two of the biggest bus hubs, the Baramunda Bus stand and the Badambadi are yet to see a resumption of activities due to the restrictions.
Secondly, long-distance bus service especially to other States has also taken a beating during the lockdown and is yet to resume normalcy due to curbs on inter-State travel.
Thirdly, fear of the virus infection still very much lives in the hearts and minds of the public especially at a time when the scare of a third surge of the pandemic looming and the second wave of the cases yet to completely subside. People even in the districts where Corona cases have waned are feeling insecure in taking public transport in fear of contraction. On top of that, sky-rocketing prices of fuel is playing spoilsport in the decision of the bus operators to restart their livelihood.
However, the Odisha government has declared that it is always duty-bound to help the bus service sector and alleviate the sufferings of the vehicle owners in the time of the pandemic.
While the State government has waived off the taxes for bus owners for a period of three months, more ameliorative steps are also in the offing to provide relief to bus owners and service providers, said Transport Minister Padmanabha Behera.