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Private buses off the roads

- Transporters on indefinite strike demand fare hike & highway repairs

Siliguri, Sept. 16: Over 6,000 private buses and maxi cabs will go off the roads in all districts of north Bengal from tomorrow for an indefinite period till fares are revised to offset the diesel price hike and roads are repaired.

The decision to go on an indefinite strike will be a cause of concern for commuters in all north Bengal districts as 70 per cent of them use private buses and maxi cabs to go to work.

The North Bengal State Transport Corporation (NBSTC) has around 650 buses that ply on highways in this region. Even if NBSTC brings out all the buses in its garage, the number of vehicles is unlikely to exceed 700.

Yesterday, the decision on the strike was taken by the North Bengal Passenger Transport Owners’ Coordination Committee (NBPTOCC) at a meeting here.

“Despite the pathetic condition of roads and non-revision of fares, we have been running our buses and maxi cabs across the region. Our maintenance and operational costs had increased substantially since the last revision of fares in 2008. However, now that the price of diesel has increased, we cannot afford to run our vehicles any more, unless the roads are repaired and the fares revised,” said Pranab Mani, the secretary of the transport owners’ committee.

The committee represents 32 organisations of bus and maxi cab owners across north Bengal. “Over 6,000 private buses and maxi cabs in the region will go off the roads from tomorrow for an indefinite period. We can only rethink our decision if our demands are met,” Mani said.

According to the bus owners, while there has been no hike in bus fares in the last four years, the cost of maintenance of the vehicles has gone up, mainly because of the deteriorating state of the highways in north Bengal.

“We have revised the salaries and wages of our staff during this period. Costs of tyres have doubled while insurance and lubricant costs have increased by 30 per cent. The price of diesel has increased by Rs a per litre since the last revision of fares,” Mani said.

“We have to incur expenses for repairs and maintenance of our vehicles because of the bad roads and now that diesel prices have increased, we will suffer heavy losses if the fares are not increased,” he said.

“In north Bengal, private buses cater to over 70 per cent of commuters, the remaining 30 per cent travel government buses. There are several routes, particularly to villages or semi-urban areas where there are no government buses.”

Dhiraj Lama, who commutes regularly from Siliguri to Changrabandha, said: “The most available modes of transport are the private buses and maxi cabs. If they go on strike from tomorrow, it would aggravate our problems.”

Those who commute in the Dooars would face the same situation. “We have read media reports and were apprehensive that the bus owners would go on strike. We had, however, banked on trains,” said Rajesh Dutta, a bank employee who travels between Siliguri and Nagrakata everyday.

“But now that the trains have been diverted because of damage to the train line near Oodlabari, no buses or trains would be available for the Dooars tomorrow. We have no idea how we will go to our workplaces.”

The bus owners, while reiterating that they would stick to their decision until any further development, said they would communicate their demands to the state transport department.

“Today being a holiday, our constituent associations and the apex body will communicate our decision and demands to the administration in all six north Bengal districts. Letters would be sent to officials of the transport department and to the transport minister,” a transport committee member said.