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Cheap-ride Metro eyes fairer fare

The railway ministry is on track to raise Metro fares, prompted by their widening gap with bus fares following the hike on Wednesday.

Ministry sources said on Thursday evening that a committee in Delhi was trying to come up with a new fare structure. The fares of the city’s fastest — and often most comfortable — mode of transport was last revised on October 1, 2001.

“Fares should be raised wherever it’s necessary for safety and smooth operation and Metro Railway is a case in point,” an official said from Delhi.

Metro officials have long been voicing the need for a fare hike, especially since a bus ride is more expensive in Calcutta than an underground ride. Esplanade to Hazra now costs Rs 7 on a bus but only Rs 3 on an AC Metro, if one has a smart card.

The latest hike in bus and minibus fares is likely to increase the rush of passengers in Metro, which has been groaning under the weight of 6 lakh passengers a day. During Puja, the daily passenger count had crossed 7 lakh.

“We are apprehending a 20 per cent increase in passengers if the fare gap is not bridged,” a senior Metro official said on Thursday.

If restricting switchover from competing modes of transport is one reason to increase Metro fares, providing proper service is the other, he added.

Metro earns 85 per cent of its revenue from passengers and the rest from rent and advertisements. It spends nearly Rs 3 for every rupee earned. Indian Railways, in comparison, spends 95 paise for every rupee earned.

“The motive has never been profit as urban mass transport has a social objective but one cannot sustain an operation if losses continue to mount,” said an official.

In the financial year 2011-12, Metro earned Rs 106.58 crore while spending about Rs 300 crore. According to the official, the low level of gate money is largely to blame.

In Bangalore, the minimum Metro fare is Rs 10 for a 3km stretch. In Delhi, a 2km ride costs Rs 8. “If the average fare in Calcutta increases by Rs 2, Metro’s earnings can go up by 25 per cent,” the official said.

Metro Railway’s expenditure has gone up with the increase of AC rakes.

“While each non-AC train consumes 400 units of power on a 50km round trip, an AC train consumes double the amount. So the cost of power is going up significantly,” said the official.

Metro spent Rs 49 crore on power — its biggest chunk of expenditure — in the last fiscal. “Salaries have also become a big burden with the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendations.”

The drain on resources has affected the quality of services over the years. “We are operating aged and ailing coaches, leading to frequent snags,” said the official. Because of frequent maintenance, the six-minute gap between trains cannot be maintained through the day.

Metro’s ongoing projects in the city might also take a hit without increase in earnings. Joka-BBD Bag, New Garia-Airport, Dum Dum-Airport-Barasat and Dum Dum-Baranagar-Barrackpore are four of the routes the railway is setting up in the city.