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CM voices commuter woes, quiet on fare hike

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday voiced the anguish of commuters who have to wait for hours every day and stressed the need for more buses and taxis on the road .

The chief minister was speaking at a programme of the transport department to mark the addition of 30 air-conditioned Volvo buses to its fleet. She, however, remained silent on the private operators’ demand for a fare hike.

“While travelling I see several people standing on the road and waiting for buses. We have to take the initiative to meet the demand,” Mamata said. “I am told 800 new buses will be out on the roads in the next few months. This would benefit Calcutta and rural areas as well. But there should be more taxis. The number of (white-and-blue) taxis should rise from 4,000 to 10,000.”

The new AC buses will be operated by state transport corporations, which together account for about 28 per cent of the buses that ply in the city and its suburbs.

Commuters have been facing a shortage of private buses for several months with private operators withdrawing from several routes citing non-viability owing to high operational costs and poor returns from ticket sales.

Operators said 20-25 per cent of the buses on various routes have stopped plying since the last fare hike — which, the transport lobby had dubbed “unfeasible” — in November 2012. During the last revision, the fares had been increased by Re 1 after the chief minister ordered rollback of a stage-wise increase.

Senior members of organisations of private bus operators argued that the diesel price had gone up by at least 16 times since the fares were last revised and with no returns, most bus owners were struggling to pay EMIs to banks.

“In the next few months, 150-200 buses will disappear from the roads. If the government continues to remain blind to our problem, this trade will collapse soon,” said Tapan Banerjee, the joint secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate.

Mamata refused to answer a question on whether the government would consider increasing bus fares.

“It is not that I am unaware of the rise in diesel and petrol prices. But we have certain limitations. The new government is now in place. Let’s see what it does,” she said earlier at the programme.

The transport department needs an annual subsidy of around Rs 700 crore to run the show and department insiders said the induction of new buses were aimed at bringing down the subsidy by ensuring better returns.

“How much subsidy will I pay?” Mamata wondered on Monday, transport minister Madan Mitra by her side. “The Centre is taking away most of our money. We don’t need 50 organisations. The thrust should be on better management with lesser money.”