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Route rejig for state buses

The Bengal government will synchronise the functioning of three transport undertakings to ensure they do not run buses on the same routes at the same time and lose passengers in the unnecessary competition.

In the new system, the Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC), Calcutta State Transport Corporation (CSTC) and West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation (WBSTC) will be assigned separate zones where each will be the “primary operator”. Each undertaking will “surrender” its routes in a zone not assigned to it to the primary operator.

“The new system will kick in on August 16, after the zones are worked out,” transport minister Madan Mitra said on Thursday. “The idea is, apart from generating more revenue, to establish accountability, which is sadly lacking.”

The route rationalisation, based on the report of consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle, will benefit passengers.

Citing an example of the overlap, an official said the CTC and the CSTC both run buses on the stretch between Tollygunge and Ruby hospital, via Anwar Shah Road. The WBSTC buses between Taratala and Ruby run through the stretch, too. “In the absence of co-ordination, three government buses ply down the Rashbehari connector in six minutes from 9.30am. For next 20 minutes there are no buses,” said an official.

“Once this convergence takes place, such problems of commuters would be addressed,” said a senior transport official.

A special committee comprising three senior officers of the transport department has been set up to work out the route rationalisation process and suggest ways of increasing the fleet strength on different routes to increase bus availability on roads. One official said it would take around two months to work out the different modalities involved in achieving this integration.

So how will transport department work out this synergy?

According to the proposed plan of operations, the CTC would be responsible for running buses between Calcutta and North 24-Parganas while CSTC would be accountable for buses plying within Calcutta.

“The CTC, for instance, would surrender its Howrah-Garia route to CSTC. Similarly CTC would give up the Tollygunge-Chakdah route to CSTC,” said a senior transport official.

If accountability is the main driving force, transport insiders said, the other imperative was to cut down on the subsidy component to the five transport undertakings.

The annual subsidy allocation for CTC, CSTC and WBSTC for 2014-15 collectively stands at around Rs 325 crore. More than half the subsidy goes to pay salaries and pensions.

The decision on operational integration comes at a time when the state government has decided to purchase 874 buses under JNNURM scheme for a whopping Rs 435 crores. Out of this, Bengal government would have to shell out around Rs 305 crore and unless the new buses are utilised profitably, the burden would only keep adding, transport insiders said.

“The idea is to bring down this component by forcing the corporations to pull their own socks and stand responsible for their actions,” said a senior transport official. “Each of these corporations would have to assess the demand, work on routes and evolve a business model to run efficiently.”

While operational synergy would be worked out, there is no possibility of integrating the staff of each of these three corporations.

Since the change of guard in Bengal, the Mamata Banerjee government had been struggling to find ways of cutting down on subsidies to the five transport undertakings, which collectively attracted around Rs 700 crore back in 2011. The transport department realised that the undertakings were most ill managed and roped in an international consulting firm, Jones Lang LaSalle, in 2012 to draw up a report on how to bring about integration of these three undertakings.

“The move comes on the basis of the report submitted by this agency. The idea is to bring about transparency in operations and reduce unnecessary losses due to inefficient competition,” said Alapan Bandopadhayay, transport secretary. “Each of these transport undertakings would be now responsible for ensuring there is proper frequency of buses.”