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Extra buses spare taxi strike blues

Extra buses and planning ensured that Calcutta did not miss the taxi much on Wednesday.

The steps by the administration were most effective at the airport but many train passengers had to cool their heels at Howrah station because of the strike called by the Bengal Taxi Association.

However, the sight of commuters hanging from the doors of buses or scrambling to hop on to autos, familiar on taxi strikes, was rare on Wednesday. “It did not feel like a strike”, was the refrain on many office-goers’ lips at the end of the day though two-third of the city’s taxis were off the road.

Many of those who travel by taxi used their own car or hired one or took a bus. Mega Cabs, the AC radio taxi service with a fleet of 200, benefited with bookings doubling overnight. “The demand was high even in the afternoon, when it is usually slack. About 25 cabs were booked for the entire day,” said a spokesperson.

Mallika Mukherjee, who takes a taxi from her Tollygunge home to her Chowringhee office, hired a driver for Wednesday. “He charged Rs 160 for the to and fro journey. The taxi fare is usually about Rs 120, so the difference was not much,” said the bank employee.

Mallika might not have been too perturbed by the strike but Mamata Banerjee was. At Writers’ Buildings, the chief minister dubbed the strike brigade blackmailers. “Calling strikes every day will not do. This is blackmailing and it is just not done. People will face problems for a few days. After that, we will manage. Those who are doing all this (taking vehicles off the road) might as well stay at home. We won’t tolerate such behaviour,” she said.

The state government ran 40 extra AC buses on Wednesday. “These buses are operated by private companies. Today, they ran as public buses,” said transport minister Madan Mitra.

The department also ran 200 extra non-AC state buses. “I have not received any complaint of passenger inconvenience,” said Mitra.

Those who flew into the city in the morning faced difficulty in finding transport but the situation became almost normal by afternoon though only about 100 taxis, a quarter of the usual number, were available at the airport.

“A queue had formed in the morning because the extra buses were not running then and there were not enough taxis,” said a police officer.

In addition to the usual quota of AC buses, about 20 non-AC ones operated from the airport to Howrah, Esplanade, Barasat, Barrackpore, Garia and other places from 1pm.

“We are plying taxis because our party (Trinamul) is not supporting the strike,” said a driver at the airport stand.

More profit could easily have been the motive as passengers going the same way were being asked to share a taxi. Some passengers protested but later gave in. “We are allowing them to ferry two passengers at a time since we have to provide them some incentive to ply their vehicles,” said a volunteer manning the prepaid booth.

Those who arrived at Howrah station in the afternoon could not find any taxi outside the old or new terminal. The few cabs that brought passengers to the station were not allowed to pick up fares.

“My wife, kids and I have been waiting 30 minutes for a cab,” said Sunil Ghosh, a Kasba resident. A taxi that had come to drop a passenger asked for Rs 300 and a shuttle car Rs 500 from him.

“A cop told me that buses were running from the taxi stand but I didn’t see any,” Ghosh complained.

Mitra claimed enough taxis were available in the morning, when most long-distance trains reach Howrah.