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Fleet of 300 to fix bus pain

The government will issue permits to private operators to run 200 buses on 15 new routes and 100 more on 10 existing ones in an attempt to pump up the city’s shrinking bus service.

Saddled with more and more buses going off the road because of the government’s refusal to let them revise the fare rate in line with the frequent diesel price hikes, the transport department had come up with the idea to deploy reinforcements through the private sector.

Transport officials said the routes have been drawn up with an eye on profitability so that these could attract even those bus operators who had stopped plying their vehicles because of poor or deficit profit margins. The profit magnet would draw a sizeable number of permit-seekers, they added.

New routes, such as Shalimar station-Ruby and Kolkata station-New Town, will connect the city with the outskirts. “These are long-distance routes, deliberately kept so to attract more commuters,” an official said.

Similar thoughts went into the selection of the 10 existing routes.

The cap on the number of buses on these routes has been raised to accommodate the 100 extra buses, a source said. “These routes are already packed with their quota of buses, but the government feels more can be pushed in to ease the burden of daily commuters,” he added.

“The routes were decided after assessing the demand in areas where bus connectivity was poor,” transport secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay said. “Private operators have expressed interest in these routes… accordingly we have decided to issue permits within seven days from the date of application.”

Private buses account for nearly 72 per cent of the transport pie in the city. According to an estimate, nearly 30 per cent of the 8,000-odd private buses have either gone off the road or have become irregular.

The new fleet would help the government battle the shortage of buses without foisting an unpopular fare hike on the electorate ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, a source said.

“Private bus operators are struggling to break even and many have already stopped paying their EMIs,” said Tapan Bandopadhyay of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate. “If the government refuses to see the real picture, more buses would go off the road.”

The government has been concurrently working to augment its own service with transport officials deciding to divide the city and its fringe areas into various zones in which state undertakings would “primarily” run buses.

If the proposal gets approval, the primary onus will be on the Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) for the Calcutta-Howrah route while Calcutta State Transport Corporation (CSTC) will look after the buses between Calcutta and North 24-Parganas. The West Bengal State Transport Corporation (WBSTC) will be responsible for the government bus service between Calcutta and South 24-Parganas.

“This will do away with competition among the state transport corporations and help us fix responsibility in case of a bus shortage,” said Bandyopadhyay.”

The transport department has set up a three-member committee to find ways to make routes for private buses more profitable and drive efficiency into the state-owned fleet.