KSRTC CMD invokes the mantra of change to survive beyond 2030
The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), reeling from a severe financial crisis, depends on the government for the payment of salaries to its employees and to meet other expenses. The financially crippled society, however, cannot benefit from public funds for long.
The existence of the public transport service provider is essential for society. It cannot continue without the support and cooperation of its workforce, says Biju Prabhakar, transport secretary and chief executive officer of the company.
In a free conversation, Prabhakar responds to the recommendations and opinions that members of the public raised during a Malayala Manorama campaign to transform the KSRTC into an autonomous society.
KSRTC struggles to distribute salaries to its employees. When will this crisis end?
This crisis will not end anytime soon. The company needs to come up with Rs 97.9 crore for salary and pension payments. Rs 82 crore is required for the payment of wages. The rest goes to the provident fund and insurance. Fuel alone will cost Rs 88 crore per month. Employee wages and fuel expenses totaled Rs 180 crore in April. The company has to repay a bank loan of Rs 30 crore. The bus insurance premium will average Rs 3 crore. In addition, the company needs to come up with Rs 7 crore to purchase spare parts and Rs 1.5 crore to pay road tolls. In addition, he must deposit money based on the guidelines of the Traffic Accident Claims Tribunal. The total expenditure will be Rs 250 crore and the income is Rs 164.71 crore. Society has to depend on the government because of this revenue shortfall. As long as the revenue shortfall persists, the crisis in wage disbursement will also continue. The only solution is to increase income.
Is the company considering initiatives to overcome the crisis?
If the current situation continues, KSRTC will not survive beyond 2030. Although already behind schedule, everyone should work together for the future of society. It is better late than never. Society cannot always hope that the government will bail it out. The government provided aid of Rs 2,037.51 crore in the financial year 2021-22. The company has received financial support of Rs 6,961.5 crore from the government since 2016.
Won’t providing adequate service to the public make KSRTC profitable?
Yes, it will. Our efforts are now moving in this direction, and we are implementing the recommendations of Professor Sushil Khanna’s committee report prepared after studying the crisis. First, long distance schedules need to be made efficient. Employees should also be deployed accordingly.
KSRTC SWIFT is part of the initiative to make long distance timetables efficient. Passengers will have clear bus schedules and better buses in good condition will be used for long-distance travel.
How do you envision the redeployment of employees?
The current fee system should be radically changed. At many depots we don’t have enough staff — if the driver is available, the driver won’t be there. We cannot operate at least 500 shifts per day due to lack of staff. This is mainly due to the skewed driver to driver ratio and employees not showing up for work on time. The dual-use model should be replaced with a single-use model.
Will the employees support such an approach?
The business must survive and management and employees must be willing to compromise. According to the single service model, the company will provide additional payment for additional service hours. The employee could earn an additional payment of up to Rs 17,270 every month based on this model. The current model of rights is based on the Labor Law drafted in 1961. There should be a change according to the changing times. Refusing to change will sink the business. Employees should come forward to increase revenue.
It is alleged that the exploitation of SWIFT timetables on existing KSRTC routes is to destroy the company?
If there was such a motive, SWIFT could have been deployed as a separate State Transmission Enterprise (STU) with all the rights of KSRTC. Not a single KSRTC program is now profitable due to the current rights regime. The average single hourly income is Rs 16,000, and we need seven employees to run one hourly.
Their salary and diesel would total Rs 20,000, which means that each schedule suffers a loss of Rs 4,000. That is why we have appointed employees on contract basis to operate SWIFT. They function as driver-driver. Only SWIFT can use buses and employees productively. SWIFT team hours of operation are different from other KSRTC buses. When a crew group rests after duty, another crew group takes control of the bus. A SWIFT bus is on the route 22 hours a day.
Why did you decide to buy new buses when hundreds of vehicles in construction sites were waiting for repairs?
Of the superclass buses, 704 are over seven years old and 240 of them are nine years old. These buses will be converted to regular timetables this year. Super class buses have a service period limited to seven years. They cannot be used for more than seven years for long distance service. If old buses are deployed on long-distance routes, they will break down halfway.
Even as you talk about reforms, the municipal circular of the city of Thiruvananthapuram is making losses.
Even the Delhi Metro was initially suffering losses. But today, getting a ticket on the metro itself is a difficult task. The city flyer, which handled 4,000 passengers, set a record the other day as 25,387 passengers used the service. It will pay off once we introduce electric buses.
Profitable channel services have been withdrawn. Successful experiences initiated are rarely followed by successive directions?
New decisions will be based on government policy. Service channels were not removed, but their frequency was reduced to 10-15 minutes from the previous 5 minutes. It has been rescheduled based on demand. We will continue the successful models that were launched earlier.
There are criticisms of the decision to diversify the business to exploit non-ticket revenue?
KSRTC has never been profitable by operating bus schedules alone. We have land property worth Rs 5,000 crore, and it could be used for business purposes. If we could generate 10% income, that would be Rs 500 crore. Our intention is to exploit this revenue opportunity. Revenue from sources other than ticketing was Rs 1.5 crore, which rose to Rs 8.5 crore in November, after the implementation of the tourism budget plan. We have formed a marketing wing for this purpose.
KSRTC’s Previous BOT Plans Gone Wrong?
Yes, we accept it. The shopping complexes were built with a marketing perspective. Large private construction companies will be employed under the design, build, finance, operate and transfer (DBFOT) model. We have appointed advisors and a marketing team for this purpose.
Will these plans materialize if management disagrees with employees?
There is an ongoing campaign that the management is some kind of monster. Previously, it was believed that you had to be influential enough to get something from the main office. This has changed. Even requests received via WhatsApp are now being processed. The medical reimbursement which was Rs 25,000 has been increased and we have provided up to Rs 5 lakh. There is, however, a section of people who try to pit employees against management through their social media interventions. Making the business profitable and running it decently is a necessity for both employees and management.
What is the KSRTC rejuvenation program?
The aim was to make a profit of Rs 35 crore by saving on fuel. This could be achieved by deploying more LNG, CNG and electric vehicles. We are also aiming to generate a profit of Rs 25 crore through computerization and by redeploying staff, and an additional Rs 25 crore through non-ticketing revenue, thereby reducing the revenue shortfall. This decision was taken when LNG cost Rs 43 and CNG, Rs 54.50. But the costs have now risen to Rs 110 and Rs 83, respectively. That is why we are now considering buying more electric buses. KSRTC bus utilization was 85% in 2017, which has now fallen to 72%. Our plan is to increase utilization to 95% by increasing employee efficiency.
What is the barrier to computerization?
There was a time when even the deceased employee was transferred! Such a situation changed once we migrated to SPARK (Service and Payroll Administrative Repository of Kerala, an integrated system for all government employees). The National Computer Center was tasked with implementing the electronic office. Software will be introduced that could assign employees to conduct schedules. Efficiency will increase once computerization is completed. GPS will be used to track buses. Traffic will be planned based on the information collected. The movement of introducing travel cards is in its final phase.
The world is increasingly opting for electric vehicles. Why is KSRTC opting for CNG-powered buses?
Electronic buses are better but expensive. We will have to pay 40-45% of the cost of the vehicle to replace the battery after seven years. The electric bus, which will soon be introduced, costs Rs 92.5 lakh, while a diesel bus could be purchased for Rs 33 lakh. We are interested in purchasing diesel buses. Green financing is the only option available to us. The KSRTC will need, for the time being, at least 1,500 to 2,000 electric buses to continue operating. We have started talks with financial institutions such as the World Bank and the AfDB. We are trying to get an electric bus for Rs 80 lakh. Simultaneously, we plan to purchase an additional 700 CNG buses, which could be powered by state-run biogas plants.