If you have found your Metro trains less crowded lately, you have the fare hike to thank.
A comparison of Metro Railway’s passenger count between July and September and the 24 days since fares were raised shows a more than 13 per cent dip in daily load.
In simple terms, it means the transport lifeline’s average passenger count has been 80,000 less every day over the past three weeks.
Graphic designer Suvajit Dutt needed to jostle with co-passengers for space to stand while travelling from Girish Park to Jatin Das Park every morning. Now he even gets a seat on some days.
“Until a month ago, trains were so crowded that I stopped taking a backpack to office,” recalled Suvajit.
Metro fares were raised on November 7, the first time since 2001. The fare for the shortest journey increased from Rs 3 to Rs 5 and the maximum from Rs 13 to Rs 25.
Since then, the number of passengers has dipped steadily, say Metro Railway officials.
The average daily passenger count between July and September — October data has been excluded because of the Puja rush — was 5.9 lakh. Between November 7 and 30, the figure dipped to 5.2 lakh.
Metro’s daily passenger load may have decreased but not its income. Daily average earnings, in fact, shot up from Rs 30.77 lakh in July, Rs 30.28 lakh in August and Rs 32.94 lakh in September to Rs 42.63 lakh between November 7 and 30.
“Since fares were increased, there has been a steady dip in passenger load and that has eased the problems associated with overcrowding to some extent. This should help us serve passengers better by taking some pressure off our rakes,” a senior Metro official said.
On-time performance has already improved. “Earlier, the doors wouldn’t close at first attempt because of overcrowding and that was one of the main causes of delay. Since November 7, there hasn’t been a single glitch,” the official said.
Over the years, Metro’s passenger graph has shot up with the length of the route increasing from 3.4km and only five stations between Esplanade and Netaji Bhavan in 1984 to 27.83 km from Noapara to New Garia (Kavi Subhas).
After the extension of the route from Tollygunge to Garia in 2009, the daily passenger count rose by 2.3 lakh. The next year, services were extended till New Garia and linked to suburban train services in the south. This year, the route was extended from Dum Dum to Noapara.
According to data available with Metro Railway, the number of daily passengers became increasingly difficult to handle after the New Garia halt of suburban railway (between Garia and Baghajatin) became operational in November 2012.
Sources said this alone added around 40,000 passengers to Metro’s daily load. Vanishing buses from the roads of Calcutta made it worse.
But commuters seem to have returned to cheaper options of surface transport— autorickshaw, local trains and buses — since Metro fares were raised.
Bus operators said the few private buses that were still plying— many are off the roads because of the state government’s decision not to raise fares — had become even more overcrowded.
“The load on already overcrowded buses has increased,” said Tapan Bandopadhyay, secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates.
Suburban trains have drawn a section of those who used to travel by the Metro. Saikat Jana, a medical representative from Hridaypur on the northern fringe, has gone back to catching a train to reach Sealdah. A one-way journey with his monthly ticket on a train costs him only Rs 3. From Sealdah, a bus ride to reach anywhere between Park Street and MG Road costs Rs 5.
A Metro ride to any of these destinations from Dum Dum station would cost him at least Rs 10.
Autorickshaw drivers on the Garia-Tollygunge route confirmed that the Metro fare hike has fetched them more passengers. After the extension of the Metro route in the south in 2009, these autorickshaw drivers had seen their number of daily trips cut by half to around 15. Now their daily average is 20.
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