Calcuttans, accustomed to ever-spiralling prices of different commodities, are in for a pleasant surprise — a never-before reduction in public transport fares.
The transport department has begun an exercise for a downward revision of the existing bus and minibus fare structures, in view of the recent drop in diesel prices.
According to transport department sources, the minimum bus fare is likely to be brought down to Rs 2.50 from the existing Rs 3, and the minibus fare from Rs 3.50 to Rs 3. But there will be no change in fares in the subsequent stages. A decision is awaited on taxi-fare revision.
“The fare hike was justified in view of the diesel price rise. But when the diesel price is down, I must ensure that the transport fare, too, is proportionately reduced. I had assured commuters that bus and minibus fares would be reduced in the event of a diesel price cut. I had made a similar pledge in the Assembly, so I must keep my word,’’ transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said on Thursday.
The transport department has formed a permanent committee to look into matters and disputes relating to passenger transport fares. Headed by state transport authority vice-chairman Lakshman Bhattacharya, the 12-member committee includes the joint secretary of the transport department (member-secretary), managing directors of four state transport corporations and representatives of transport operators and workers’ unions.
Officials said Chakraborty will announce the names of the committee members next week. The committee is expected to start working on the revised fare structure shortly.
The transport minister held a meeting with his departmental officers and representatives of passenger transport operators to discuss the new fare structure last week. Transport operators did not raise objections to Chakraborty’s move, as they had earlier agreed to the transport department’s decision to effect a downward revision of the fare structure in the event of a cut in diesel prices.
Bus, minibus and taxi fares were hiked in April 2003 following an increase in diesel prices. “The diesel price was Rs 23.51 per litre when the fares were hiked. But the price of diesel was reduced to Rs 21.51 from May 2003. So, we intend to reduce the fare proportionately to enable commuters to enjoy the benefits of the drop in oil prices. We must protect the interests of both the commuters as well as those of transport operators,’’ said Bhattacharya.
Transport department officials said an alternative option for the government is to increase the travel distance without changing the present fare structure. “We can retain the existing minimum fares, but increase the travel distance, and thereby enable commuters to enjoy the advantage of reduced diesel prices,” said a senior official.
“We do not have any objection to the reduction of bus fares, but have urged the minister not to take any step detrimental to the bus owners' interests,” said S. Saha, president of the Bengal Bus Syndicate.