Hopes of an early end to the “indefinite strike” by private buses faded on Tuesday with the transport minister failing to come up with a solution acceptable to the operators and the unions sticking to their demand for a fare hike.
If Day II of the strike was bad for commuters, worse lies ahead as minibuses and taxis threaten to disappear from Thursday. The taxi strike will be for 72 hours, while the minibus operators have not specified any duration.
Transport minister Madan Mitra had sought time till the Trinamul Congress meeting on Tuesday evening for a decision on fares but he failed to offer any solution after the chief minister marked Friday for “pullout” from UPA II.
“Mamata Banerjee has taken the Trinamul Congress to a new height with today’s decision and we are all proud to be with her in her fight,” Mitra told Metro. “If the operators want to take the commuters for a ride, the government will not sit back and watch. We will continue running additional buses as we have been doing.”
Most of the transport unions are backed by Trinamul, which has been opposing any demand for a fare hike, but the operators have expressed their inability to soften their stand.
The Progressive Taximen’s Union, led by transport minister Mitra and in control of 12,000 taxis, is the only transporters’ organisation that has decided to stay away from the strike. However, during the last taxi strike on July 25, several members of the union stayed off the road despite a directive from the leadership to maintain normal services.
“We want to run buses as our livelihood depends on them. But the government can’t keep dragging its feet on fare revision. Till the fares are raised, we will not run the buses,” said Sadhan Das of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate.
“After the latest hike in diesel prices, taxi owners have been getting Rs 300 as their daily payment from the drivers, against the Rs 450 they used to receive earlier. Unless we can make ends meet, how will we run taxis?” wondered Bimal Guha of the Bengal Taxi Association. “If there is no positive move after the 72-hour strike, we may decide to go on an indefinite strike.”
Transport department officials admit there would be a “crisis” once the 2,500-odd minibuses and around 20,000 taxis disappear simultaneously when around 3,500 private buses are already off the road.
“The full impact might not be felt on Thursday because of the Left Front’s Bangla bandh but Friday will be a real test for us. Public transport will collapse,” said an official in the transport department.