There is lot of hue and cry over what the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation is facing over the last few years. Of all, the recent Supreme Court ruling that KSRTC cannot be provided diesel at subsidized rates is the last straw. Is it? Or is it not? Is there some way to pull it out of the mess that it is in now? How is it that the KSRTC runs at loss, while there are thousands of private buses in Kerala that make profits that run into thousands of rupees daily?

For novices on this topic, let have a look at the history of KSRTC.

This is what Wikipedia does have to say about KSRTC:

The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation began as the Travancore State Transport Department, constituted by the former Travancore Government with the intent of reorganizing the transportation services of the former state. Mr. EG Salter, Assistant Operating Superintendent of London Passenger Transport Board, was appointed as Superintendent of the Transport Department on 20 September 1937.

The first fleet consisted of 60 Comet chassis fitted with Perkins diesel engines, imported from England. The bodies of the buses were built by the staff of the Travancore State Transport Department under the supervision of the Superintendent. Thus the Transport Department began with a staff of about a hundred graduates appointed as Inspectors and Conductors.

The State Motor Service was inaugurated by His Highness Sree Chithirathirunal on 20 February 1938. His Highness and his kin were the first passengers of the system on the inaugural trip; Superintendent Salter was the driver of the bus. This bus, along with the thirty-three other buses brought on road driving through the Kowdiar Square was an attraction at that time.

Following the enactment of the Road Transport Corporation Act in 1950, the Government of Kerala formulated KSRTC rules in 1965 by Section 44. The Transport Department was converted into an autonomous corporation on 1 April 1965 and the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation was formally established by the government of Kerala by the notification dated, 15 March 1965.

So there we go, from such royal beginnings, the KSRTC today is reduced to some sort of vagabond who is always looking around for subsidy, loans and other freebies to survive daily. How did it reach where it is now? And as a common man who uses this mode of travel quite frequently, what are my suggestions to lift KSRTC from this mess?

If KSRTC is in its current mess, one reason definitely is total mismanagement. I don’t remember an efficient Transport Minister who was in charge, except when Shri KB Ganesh Kumar was there for a brief period. He did some good work, especially removing those red old buses and putting up the new white and green ones, but he was not there in the seat for long to carry on the good work. For long, the corporation has been handled by officers, without much leeway and flexibility to break from out from the shackles imposed by political masters.

Looking at the story so far, and my understanding of the basic psyche of the Kerala culture and economy, these are the points I can list out for improving the situation KSRTC, at least in a small way.

Divide RTC into three Zones

For outsiders, Kerala might seem the same from North to South – form Kasargod to Trivandrum. But in reality, the three states that existed at the time of Independence that is not Kerala, i.e. – Travancore, Cochin and Malabar are still different in most aspects except the language spoken.

The infrastructural requirements of the three regions are entirely different. So are the transportation needs. Those who have travelled across Kerala would know that. South Kerala is well connected with running helter-skelter. Also most of the road routes are nationalised, monopolised by KSRTC. But that’s not the case in Malabar. Add to the shortage of trains, most of the routes across the highways are dominated by private buses running at rocket speeds.

My opinion is that under the present circumstances, it would be wise to trifurcate the Kerala RTC into 3 – the Travancore – Venad RTC (for districts of Thiruvananthapuram, Quilon, Pathanamtitta, Alapuzha, Kottayam and Idukki), Cochin RTC (for Ernakulam and Thrissur) and Malabar RTC (for Kasargod, Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode, Malappuram and Palakkad).

This would help clear a few things. That is, first of all, the Travancore RTC can concentrate on its existing strength of the sheer numbers it operate daily, and can build on the profit based on numbers. In addition to that, the low floor services, including the AC Volvo for the high end passengers can be done in a more fashionable and well-mannered way for Trivandrum, being the state capital. Also, heritage services can be started from the capital, highlighting the heritage and royal history of the place. This can improve tourism and revenue prospects for the entire corporation.

In Cochin region, the corporation can work like how the BMTC does in Bangalore. Ernakulam is the one and only truly metropolitan city in Kerala, and the low floor, Volvo etc has huge potential in this region. Add to that the topography and the road connectivity between Ernakulam and Thrissur – which is one of the best in Kerala. They can also manage well with improving the connectivity with tourist places like Munnar and other hill stations. Since the land is more or less level, the Volvo and low floor can operate with élan.

In Malabar, the RTC must concentrate to close the gaps that exist in railways. There are serious connectivity issues between major towns, mostly due to less number of trains running at various peak hours, and only KSRTC can close this. There is no scope for low floor or Volvo here, except maybe in Kozhikode town. Also, a bigger concentration by RTC can reduce the death traps that are being laid down by the over speeding private buses. Malabar also can be treated as a hub for interstate services and long distance trips. In fact, this can be a boon here, especially with trips to Mysore, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Mangalore, Mookambika etc can be big revenue generators.

In short – splitting itself TVRTC, CRTC and MRTC could be the best thing that could happen to KSRTC – bringing focus to regional requirements.

KSRTC is a real estate master. Then be a master

KSRTC holds prime real estate and the best properties in most cities in Kerala, even in smaller towns and tourist places like Munnar and Wayanad. Then why wait, use them.

Build shopping complex, malls – they will incur build up costs initially, but sure, in long run, will wipe out the entire corporations losses.

They can add on paid parking spaces to the malls and shopping complex they build. A two floor of parking space of maybe 24000 sq ft can solve the entire parking woes of towns like Kannur and Thalassery. Add to that the revenue which may run into lakhs for a day.

Utilise the spaces in Munnar and other tourist hotspots to build hotels. Active participation in tourism can definitely boost revenue. Same can be done in other towns too, build a super speciality structure which includes a bus stand, extensive car parking, shopping complex, malls and hotels. The new bus stand at Kannur is a perfect example of how this can be done.

The KSRTC owned property in Munnar

Buy diesel form retail pumps

Why buy diesel from Oil Companies without subsidy when you can use the retail outlets for filling. That would save approximately Rs 15 on every litre of diesel consumed. Well, there may be chances that some miscreants among the employees might use this opportunity to make some fast buck, but somewhere, they need to be trusted. Mature thinking can always close gaps and loose ends. And when done, it will definitely push the profits up.

Infuse professionalism and corporatize

Doing this would run well for any organisation. Make it politically independent, corporatize, put some shares for the public and make it answerable to stakeholders. Then see the balance sheet in three years time and I’m sure, there wold be profits only.

Rationalization of bus routes

There are certain routes that KSRTC and only KSRTC can help prosper. There are interstate permits like Kasargod – Mangalore, Palakkad – Coimbatore, Trivandrum – Nagarcoil etc that the corporation operates with flamboyance, but they can certainly improve. They can give the private bus operators who fleece passengers on the Malabar – Bangalore routes if they put good buses on the road – definitely. Bring in Volvo, Sleeper, clean semi-sleepers that show the latest DVD’s on trips, and see the youth and regular travellers patronising the state carrier. If the Karnataka SRTC and Andhra SRTC can do it, why not Kerala?

The running billboards

Kerala SRTC has a fleet of more than 6000 buses, which run across Kerala. They have vacant spaces on both sides and back, which can be put to best use as advertisement hoardings. Think, if done professionally and logically, maybe handover to some professional advertising and marketing group can generate huge revenue. Think, charging a partly Rs 100 for a bus per day, KSRTC can earn Rs 6 lakhs a day, that makes Rs 1.8 crores a month, and in a year, approximately 22 crores. Hasn’t this idea ever struck anybody on the top of KSRTC yet? Don’t know, but for me it’s a great potential.

Well, there goes my idea for KSRTC. If somebody somewhere in the right position read this, and find at least some suitable for implementation, my day is made. Kerala State Road Transport Corporation is a wonderful phenomenon, and it deserves to live king-size. It may look like a white elephant, but we should realise, it is really a goldmine that we are sitting on, undiscovered yet.

The KSRTC operating on the lonely roads during a hartal in Kannur. Picture from my instagram id