The minibuses on the Dey’s Medical-Howrah route went off the road on Thursday following a row linked to the “inadequate” hike in fares, an issue that has already resulted in a large number of buses disappearing from the road.
The operators of all 17 minibuses on route 125 withdrew their vehicles after a section of the Trinamul-backed staff refused to collect the new fares unless their wages were increased.
The operators expressed inability to raise the wages, citing the “inadequate” fare hike the government has allowed. “If union leaders force us to raise wages, we will end up losing more than what we have gained from the fare hike,” said Abasesh Daw, of the Minibus Operators’ Union.
Aftab Murshed, the secretary of the route 125 operators’ union, said: “The staff union led by Swapan Das of Inttuc (Trinamul’s trade union wing) refused to collect the revised fares unless the wages are hiked. In protest we withdrew the buses indefinitely.”
The wage hike demand has triggered fears that it might spread to other routes and trade unions would fan protests for their gains. If that happens, operators fear, minibuses on other routes, too, would go off the road. “We were forced to accept a nominal fare hike as we don’t have the numbers to launch a strong protest. Gradually, all minibuses will disappear,” Daw said.
Around 1,500 minibuses ply in and around the city. The staff unions are mostly backed by the Inttuc.
Till October, minibus fares were based on 4km stages. The group of ministers on transport changed this to 3km per slab while declaring the new fares on October 31.
“The change would have saved the industry if not make it profitable. Reverting to the 4km stage and restricting the hike to Re 1 per stage would have a crippling effect on the operators,” said a transport department official.
Post-October 31 hike, one could travel up to 6km for Rs 7 on a minibus. But the November 16 re-revision stretched the Rs 7-slab to 10km.
Transport minister Madan Mitra refused to speak on the issue, saying: “I have not heard of any strike on any of the minibus routes.”
Of the 8,000-odd private buses, nearly 3,000 are off the roads because of “unviable” fares.