Private bus operators met transport minister Madan Mitra on Monday and said the few buses still plying in the city would go off the road unless the government hiked fares immediately.
The minister, however, later said the government was not considering any fare hike.
After the meeting, the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate said it would write to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, explaining why a hike was necessary.
“For the owners it has never been so bad,” said Tapan Bandopadhayay of the Syndicate, the largest bus union in the state. “If no decision (on fare hike) is taken now, the few buses still plying will disappear. The chief minister should understand our plight.”
A source in the union said the minister had been told as much at the meeting.
Representatives of the Syndicate and some other unions met Mitra separately through the day.
Industry insiders said that since the last fare revision on October 31, the diesel price has gone up by nearly Rs 1.50 a litre while insurance has become 43 per cent costlier. The prices of spares and the cost of maintenance, too, have risen.
“In the city proper, nearly 4,000 of the 8,500-odd private buses have gone off the road after failing to bear the financial burden. Around 400 of the 685 JNNURM buses (privately owned) are off the road,” said a private bus operator.
The bus operators’ meeting with Mitra comes three days after the minister admitted in the Assembly that nearly 70 per cent of private buses had gone off the road. He also added that the government was running 400 additional buses daily to make up for the shortfall.
“In a democratic set-up, everyone has the right to place demands. But right now the government is not thinking of any fare hike,” Mitra told Metro after the meeting. “What we are witnessing now is a fallout of the dirty politics the Left Front had indulged in.”
Responding to a long-standing demand of bus operators, who had gone on a strike several times, the Mamata Banerjee government had announced a fare hike on October 31.
The operators were happy with the revised structure, which came into effect on November 1, as the hike in certain slabs was as much as Rs 3 or Rs 4. The government, however, had a change of heart following distress calls from passengers, who complained that the hike was too much.
The group of ministers on transport, led by industries minister Partha Chatterjee, swung into action and capped the hike at Re 1 in each stage. The operators claim that the revision defeated the very purpose of the hike — to ensure a reasonable profit.
“We are in a situation where most owners are not in a position to pay the EMI for their buses,” said Abasesh Daw of the Minibus Co-operative Coordination Committee, which will meet the transport minister shortly.
A large section of commuters is sympathetic to the operators. “Because the government wants to keep bus fares down, we are being forced to take expensive modes of transport,” said a government official.