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Bus fare SOS sent to Mamata

Calcutta, Dec. 3: Bengal’s biggest bus operator union has written to Mamata Banerjee, questioning the logic of the government’s flip-flop on fares, pointing out how it could destroy the state’s transport system and seeking a rethink.

This is the first time transporters have formally lodged a complaint since the government revised the rates in a span of 15 days.

The government had announced a hike on October 31 after months of dithering and then partially rolled it back on November 16. The rates were reduced after complaints reached the chief minister that the hike was not confined to Re 1 in all slabs as the government had promised.

“When the government announced the new fare structure on October 31, the decision was arrived at after carefully considering all the figures that the private operators had submitted to the government justifying our demand for a hike,” said Tapan Bandyopadhyay of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates.

“We want to know what happened suddenly that the fares had to be revised (downwards) again. The minimum fuel consumption is around Rs 3,500 every day per bus. The driver and conductor together get 24 per cent of the sales as commission. At the end of the day, if the total ticket sales is around Rs 6,000, an owner is left with Rs 200. It is not a viable proposition to run a bus in Bengal unless the government reconsiders its decision,” he added.

Separate letters were sent to the chief minister and the transport minister on Saturday. But the syndicate disclosed having sent them only after they failed to elicit a response from the government today.

Transport minister Madan Mitra neither confirmed nor denied receiving the letter but added: “There is no reason to feel the government would react to any demand for fare revision from any corner. The fare structure that the government has arrived at is quite justified.”

The syndicate controls more than half the 8,000-odd buses in the city and 19,000 of the 30,000 across the state.

The other big operator, the Bengal Bus Syndicate, also echoed the demands.

“Of the 8,000-odd buses in the city, nearly 3,000 are already off the roads. If the government refuses to listen to our reasoning, more owners will pull out. It is not possible to pay EMIs and ply buses under the existing fare structure,” said Deepak Sarkar of the Bengal Bus Syndicate.

According to Sarkar, the first hike in three years had given them the hope of “pulling on”, but the next revision has put “our existence at risk”.

Private bus operators across unions said a stage was around the corner when nearly all the private buses would be forced to disappear from the roads.