The bus stand in Purulia town where some owners were filling the tanks with kerosene after the diesel price was raised in September
Oct. 31: Bus unions have said the 10 paise per kilometre fare hike announced today for long-distance buses fell “short of expectations” but they would accept it for now.
The decision — taken in view of the recent hikes in the price of diesel that made the fuel dearer by Rs 6.02 a litre since September 14 — was announced by commerce and industries minister Partha Chatterjee, who is the chairman of the group of ministers on transport, at Writers’ Buildings this afternoon.
“This falls short of our expectations, but we will accept this for now. Seventy per cent of buses had been off the roads over the past few weeks in order to cut losses after the fuel price rise (on September 14). At least that situation won’t continue. But this hike is not enough,” said Sadhan Das, the secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates.
“The increase in the fares announced by the government is very little and we are not happy with it,” said Mriganka Maity, the president of West Midnapore Bus Owners’ Association. “We will have to keep up the pressure on the government for a substantial hike in fares. It is not that only the cost of diesel has gone up. Maintenance costs and the wages of drivers and conductors have also increased,” he said.
Asked, how much the fare increase would help bus owners, Tushar Ghosh, the secretary of the Burdwan District Bus Owners’ Association, said: “We will not make any comment before we hold a meeting among ourselves.”
Bus owners in north Bengal had wanted a 16 paise per kilometre hike. Some of them said the 10 paise per kilometre rise would just cover the fuel costs, but not the maintenance costs of vehicles that have to run on potholed highways.
Some of the key highways in north Bengal are in poor condition.
Pranab Mani, the general secretary of the North Bengal Passenger Transport Owners’ Coordination Committee, said this evening: “The state’s decision has brought us some relief. Over the last couple of months, particularly after the hike in the diesel price, most of us were not plying our buses. Those still providing service to common people to ease their inconvenience were increasing losses and paying money from their own pockets. There was not even a marginal profit for us.”
Asked if the hike in fares would let bus owners cut losses, Mani said: “With this hike, we expect the fuel costs to be covered but given the state of affairs, we cannot specify what our actual earning will be like (after the hike is implemented).”
Mani said: “We had demanded a fare hike of 16 paise per kilometre but the state has decided to increase it only by 10 paise. Nevertheless, we appreciate the move as it will at least help us recover the fuel costs.”
He said it would take at least a fortnight for the new fares to come into effect.
“There will be an official gazette notification after which the fare chart, with detailed break-ups, would be prepared in the districts. These would then be scrutinised by the regional transport officers of each district and circulated among all our members. The fare chart has to be put on display in each bus, after which, we can charge the revised amount,” he said. “The entire process is likely to take 10-15 days.”
The situation of the roads in north Bengal is likely to improve, said bus owners.
“Out of 6,000-odd private buses, minibuses and maxi cabs in north Bengal, over 50 per cent were off the roads because our earnings were not meeting the daily expenditure. Now, we expect most of the vehicles to be back on the roads again,” a bus owner said.
Minibus and taxi fares in Calcutta have also been increased but their syndicates have refused to accept the rise and have said they would decide on their course of action next week.