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Double fare to skirt bumpy highway

Sept. 25: Passengers commuting between Siliguri and Jalpaiguri allege that some private bus owners have begun charging double the fare for a longer alternative road to the potholed NH31D, which no bus is willing to take.

Buses running from Jalpaiguri to Siliguri do not take the 45km NH31D now because the road is potholed.

The alternative road, via Ambari and Belakoba, is over 15km longer compared to NH31D.

“The fare is Rs 20 for daily commuters in private buses plying on the Siliguri-Jalpaiguri route. It has unofficially been increased by Rs 5 since September 21, when the private bus strike across north Bengal was withdrawn. Most of us pay the additional Rs 5. We understand that this is because of the rising costs of running and maintenance of buses and the diesel price hike,” said Chaitali Biswas, a daily commuter.

“But some of the private buses are charging as high as Rs 45-50, which is double the current fare. This is unfair. We will pay revised fares but only after these are revised formally and notified by the state government authorities,” she said.

Demanding a hike in fares and immediate repair of roads, private bus owners had gone on strike earlier this month. They withdrew it after assurances came in from the state transport minister and north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb.

“These days, buses don’t ply on NH31D because the road is so bad but take the alternative route via Ambari and Belakoba to reach Siliguri. Via NH31D, it is a bother to run buses and because of the heavy congestion, it takes four hours sometimes to cover the 45km route,” a bus owner said.

“On the alternative road, the distance is around 62-63km but we can at least reach Siliguri from Jalpaiguri in one and a half hours,” the bus owner added.

Representatives of the North Bengal Motor Transport Owners’ Association, based in Jalpaiguri, said they have instructed their employees to charge Rs 5 extra from passengers.

“As no government decision has come yet, we need to take other routes because of bad roads while bearing additional fuel costs. We have informally asked our employees to charge Rs 5 extra from passengers,” said Sudipta Ghosh, the association secretary said.

“Passengers have realised our problem and paying this extra money. However, if some bus conductor charges even one rupee higher the amount we have mentioned, the passengers can approach us with specific complaints. We would then take appropriate measures,” Ghosh said.