The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cut the fare to catch the student

It rains discounts in monsoon. And not just in shopping malls. This year, they are giving one on bus tickets as well. In a pioneering move in the city, route 242 is offering a 50 per cent fare slash to school students. The offer, unlike the while-stocks-last retail price cuts, will be on round the year.

Now, competition has reached the roads and the customer is ready to ride high. With more buses plying on the same route, many are carrying far fewer passengers than they would like to. “It is recession time. There are hardly people on the roads,” grumbles a conductor of a near-empty bus in Calcutta’s central business district.

The problem was acute for the route in question. “Ours is a small stretch — just 7 km —from Bagbazar to Bandstand. The Metro Railway runs across almost the entire stretch. A journey from Sovabazar to Dharamtala costs Rs 3 by bus, while a tube ride takes Rs 4. So, many passengers who can afford the extra rupee, prefer the comfort of an underground journey,” says Ramen Pal Chowdhury, a bus-owner. “On top of that there are so many buses plying along Central Avenue, 46B being the latest entrant. We need something extra to attract passengers.”

The route zeroed in on students because of the cluster of schools on and around the route — as many as 13 — discounting sundry others that the bus helps connect. Ashok Kumar Sau, secretary of the route 242, counts them on the fingers: “We have so many students who avail of our bus. We thought it would be a great help to them if we started this scheme.”

A great help it is, affirm guardians. Shibani Mitra of Bagbazar, mother of two school-going children, has already bought a bunch of 50 coupons. “A single journey took me Rs 9 for the three of us. Thanks to the coupon, now I can save Rs 6 every day. That is quite a saving at the end of the month.” This also means the Mitras do not mind waiting an extra minute or two for 242 to appear, ignoring other buses.

Coupons are available in denominations of Rs 1.25 and Rs 1.50, which have to be bought from the Bagbazar depot on production of the fee book or the photo-identity card. But there is rider. The coupon has to be used during school hours and while in uniform. So, no hitching a ride to the evening show at a discounted rate.

Going by sale count, the coupon is a hit. In the two weeks that the scheme has started, 1,500 of Rs 1.50 and 2,500 of Rs 1.25 denomination have been snapped up.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty welcomes the discount drive. “Such facilities are offered in district buses. The state buses, too, have a single-fare-double-journey scheme for needy students. To avail of this, the school principal’s certification is required. But it is good if private buses start the trend in the city.”

Route secretary Sau admits that the first-off-the-block advantage will soon be lost. “Our competitors will surely pick this up. But once it spreads across the city, we will have the satisfaction of knowing we did something good for society.”

But 242 has other plans to stay one up. “To increase passenger comfort, we could have fans and drinking water on the bus. This is only the beginning.”

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