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Hit the minibus trail to El Dorado
- Lottery scheme introduced to arrest dwindling earnings, boost ticket sales

Your ticket to ride could well be your ticket to a brighter and more bountiful future. If you ride with Lady Luck on your side, that is.

Alarmed at the dipping proceeds from sale of tickets — and a growing tendency among passengers to avoid paying the fare when they take a ride on a minibus — owners of minibuses are resorting to an inducement that could, perhaps, lure passengers into paying up: the lottery.

One minibus on the Salt Lake-Jadavpur route has already hit the new road, tying up with a biscuit-manufacturing company to introduce a game of chance. Every passenger who buys a ticket gets a free entry to a lottery, the results of which are going to be announced in mid-February. The sponsor has not decided yet what prizes will be handed out to the lucky few.

“We are keeping a close watch on the changing fortunes of that minibus-owner,” said Bengal Minibus Owners’ Syndicate general secretary Lakshmi Das on Tuesday. “If lotteries are perceived to be a solution to a perennial problem which plagues every minibus-owner, then we will convene a meeting of our committee to introduce the scheme on other routes as well,” he added.

If the staff of the Salt Lake-Jadavpur syndicate are to be believed, the move is already paying dividends. A minibus on the “lucrative” route — it serves a large part of east and south Calcutta and never once, unlike many other routes, leaves the city proper — can make about four up-and-down trips every day with each one-way trip raking in about Rs 1,000 by way of fares.

“Till before the last round of hike in fares, that was the gross earning,” a Syndicate staff said. But ever since the fares were hiked in November, they have shown signs of going down — or on the best of days, hovering around that mark.

“We did not lose any customers,” a Syndicate official said. “We just kept losing our earnings without any downswing in the number of passengers, as the number of without-ticket passengers kept growing,” he admitted, adding that after the introduction of the lottery there was an increase in ticket proceeds by about 10 per cent.

The concept — of arranging a sponsor for the game of draw and then inducing passengers to buy for their passage — was new to Calcutta, Syndicate officers said. Things were really going out of hand, they added, explaining that the desperate times called for desperate solutions. And the concept of every ticket having a series of numbers printed on it, which would have to match with the prize-winning set to get the lucky — and honest — passenger a prize, was one such would-be “desperate” solution, they explained.

“We had run out of ideas trying to make passengers pay for their journey,” Syndicate general secretary Das admitted. “But, if this experiment succeeds, we might have found a solution that is going to last,” he said. He explained that the concept could hook even the habitual without-ticket traveller.

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