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Bus stop: swank turns junk

Trendy and illuminated bus stops that sprang up across Calcutta two years ago for commuter comfort and as a step to let the cityscape make a designer statement are in a shambles because of poor maintenance and theft.

These have become eyesores as thieves had taken away the lights, the metal seats and the flex banners for advertisements and squatters had invaded the space. Huge billboards have engulfed many sheds in some areas, leaving no space for people.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation had allotted space for about 160 bus stops to four outdoor advertising agencies — Karukrit, Enkon, Pioneer and Display — in 2011. Each company was given 40 bus stops with the clause that they would build, operate and maintain these shelters from revenue through advertisements. The civic agency retained the land ownership rights, though.

“After the Esplanade-Dalhousie area was declared a no-billboard zone in July 2011, the outdoor advertising agencies were compensated with the bus stops where they could display advertisements to earn revenue,” a CMC official said.

“Since most bus stops in the city had been haphazardly constructed, with no sense of aesthetics, the agencies were given a modern design for the shelters so that uniformity was maintained,” another municipal official said.

The CMC earns an annual commission of Rs 1,30,600 from each “modern” bus stop, which adds up to a total of over Rs 2 crore. From Rs 72,000 in 2011, the cost of building one shelter has become Rs 1,30,000 over the past two years.

Calcuttans initially welcomed the new sheds fitted with bright lights, three metal seats and the name of the stop clearly spelt out at the top.

But Metro found during a ride from Shyambazar to Gariahat that most of these shelters are now wallowing in neglect.

Seats stolen

The most common sight from Deshapriya Park to Bowbazar is the missing metal seats — stolen and sold as scrap. Concrete benches have come up at some bus stops.

“The only good thing was that we had a place to sit while waiting for a bus. These are gone now… most of us are back to waiting by the roadside,” said Lakshmi Das, 58, of Kasba.

Dark and dirty

The bulbs have been unscrewed and the tube lights nicked at almost all bus stops from Southern Avenue to Central Avenue. Commuters, especially women, used to feel safe at the brightly illuminated shelters. “Empty sockets hang there, now. After dusk, I feel uneasy waiting at a dark and dirty bus stop. Women have little option but to wait under a streetlight and on the road for their safety,” said Disha Saha, 23, of Selimpur.

Squatter shelter

Once the seats and lights disappeared and people started avoiding the bus stops, the squatters moved in. Many bus stops in Golpark, Ballygunge Phari and Park Circus have been completely overrun by pavement dwellers.

The reason

Advertising agency owners said rampant theft had pushed up maintenance expenses. “We spend Rs 4,000 a month on each bus stop plus expenses on painting eight times a year because vandals keep damaging the paint. It’s difficult to keep up like this,” said Sudip Srimal of Display Service.

The agencies said thieves had stolen metal seats from 90 per cent of the bus stops. The chairs often fetch Rs 20 to Rs 22 per kg at the scrap market.