Special: Onam rush, the same old story

train rush.JPG

Kozhikode: The festive season and vacations bring with them a surge in air and rail passenger traffic, but the state has proved a complete failure in handling the rush of people.
With  Onam falling on September 16, a Monday this year, train tickets from  cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai to major cities in Kerala have been sold out weeks ago.
In the struggle to reach home, non-resident Keralites are being forced to depend on tatkal tickets as there is a nearly 3000 long waiting list on most of the daily trains to the Malabar, such as the Chennai- Mangalore superfast, and Yeshwanthpur- Kannur Express.
But diminishing the hopes of passengers, only less than a  100 tatkal tickets are issued for a train on a given day and that too at a cost of Rs 1200 or more by some travel agencies in Bengaluru. 
Adding to passenger troubles, tickets of the Kerala bound Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation buses for the first three weeks of September were completely sold out by August last. Also, while bus fares from cities like Bengaluru to the state have risen sharply,  air fares between the Middle East and Kerala have risen by nearly 300 per cent. 
“There is usually a surge in inward bound travelling to Kerala during Onam, Christmas, Eid and the summer vacations coinciding with the closure of schools in March with a good many Malayalis settled in other  parts of the country and abroad heading back home.
Even if 10 per cent of the millions of Keralites working in cities like Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune and  other places in the country travel to Kerala during the Onam or Christmas season it works out to a huge number,” notes N. Subramanian, vice president (marketing and sales) of the Kozhikode- based Superstone Properties and a frequent traveller on the Kochi- Bengaluru and Kozhikode- Kochi sectors.
Vijayakumar, Kozhikode regional officer, National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC),  says the festive season usually sees a four to five per cent rise in passenger traffic.
And according to a pre- feasibility report of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd on the ‘Kerala high speed rail between Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam’, traffic in Kerala has been growing at a rate of 10 to 11 per cent every year, resulting in high traffic and pressure on the roads and increased travel time.
Although Kerala is well connected to its neighbouring states through inter-city and inter-state bus services run by the KSRTC and private operators, their capacity, constraints, and ultimately the riding quality and safety has made road travel the least preferred by the public. 
“The situation has resulted in a three-fold rise on train dependency,” says C.E. Chakkuni, general secretary of the Malabar Rail Users Association, and a member of the Calicut Airport Development Committee. 
“Prediction of the growth in the number of passengers is not such a herculean task today and so there is no justification for the delay in announcing special trains  during the festive seasons,” he maintains, blaming the lethargy of the governments in the state for the lack of planning.
Pointing out that around 9000 people depend on the Kannur- Yeshwanthpur Express every day, he wonders why the services of around a 1000 KSRTC buses were abruptly stopped from the Malabar. “Why isn’t the  government not showing any interest in restoring these services?” he asks.
The time has obviously come for travel demand forecasting, which is today an integral component of  modern transport planning. Like in any other field, travel demand forecasting can be divided into two components – long term and short term.
The first takes into account mainly demographic factors, economic and infrastructure growth in a particular region. And the second focuses  on  short term fluctuations, especially  seasonal variations and trends.
In fact, in countries like the US, the surge in air and road passenger traffic on the eve of Christmas and New Year Holiday season  frequently makes headlines. The surge or decline in holiday travel is also used as an important indicator of  economic health.
But despite a  large number of Keralities working abroad or outside the state often returning home for festivals or vacations, its transport department  has made no room for travel demand forecasting, which could make life much easier for most travelling to the state, deplore experts.

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