Transporters at Saturday’s meeting at Writers’
Calcutta, Aug. 17: The state government may have persuaded bus operators to cancel their proposed state-wide strike but the transporters rued the administration’s failure to accept their suggestion for a long-term solution in the form of a fare regulatory commission.
The government today gave the transporters an “assurance” about considering a fare hike but ruled out an immediate increase. It made no promises about forming an independent panel to revise the fares at fixed intervals depending on fuel price and the ever-increasing operational costs.
“We have been demanding repeatedly that a regulatory commission be set up with members from the state government and the private transport lobby. We reiterated the demand in our last letter to transport minister Madan Mitra on August 5,” said Tapan Bandopadhyay, joint secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates, which controls nearly half of Calcutta’s buses.
“If there can be a panel to decide on power tariff hikes and milk prices, why not one on transport?” he asked.
Bus fares were last revised in mid-November last year, when ticket prices were raised by a flat Re 1 in keeping with the chief minister’s policy of not burdening commuters. The paltry hike had shocked operators.
Earlier, the empowered committee of ministers on transport had on November 1 worked out a stage-wise fare structure on the basis of distance, which most bus operators had welcomed as a pragmatic step to address their problems. But within a fortnight, the government changed the structure.
“When the price of bread rises, the government doesn’t show any concern. But when it comes to bus and minibus fares, the government lends its support to the consumer. Why?” asked Abasesh Daw, general secretary of the Minibus Operators Coordination Committee.
“If a regulatory committee is set up, no one can play politics over fares,” he added.
This time, the bus and minibus operators had been demanding a 60 per cent increase.
Around 37,000 private buses and 7,000 private minibuses ply in Bengal, accounting for 72 per cent of the state’s public transport fleet. It’s the government, however, that controls the fares.
In contrast, an autonomous state undertaking — the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking (BEST) — manages the entire suburban bus transport system in Mumbai which has a fleet of 3,380 buses ferrying 45 lakh commuters on 335 routes.
A 16-member BEST committee takes all the decisions, including fare revisions, based on the economic situation.
A similar approach is followed while fixing power tariff in Mumbai. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission decides the tariff structure based on models that look into both fixed and variable costs.
“But in our state, there has never been any attempt to align the fares with the operational costs of the bus owners,” said a bus owner in Calcutta who did not wish to be named.
In the mid-1980s, the then Left government had set up a committee on urban transport but it was disbanded within a few years.
In the early 1990s, then transport minister Shyamal Chakraborty had set up a 31-member committee to address the problems of the transport sector but it did not recommend any long-term mechanism to fix bus fares.