The Telegraph
Tuesday , August 26 , 2014
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Bus fare hike & fuel price cushion

The Mamata Banerjee government on Monday raised bus fares by Re 1 across slabs and said it would form a “task force” to monitor diesel-price fluctuations and decide if and when fares needed to be revised.

This is the first attempt by the government to link changes in the price of fuel, the prime factor in the rise of operational costs, with the fare structure.

The composition of the task force has yet to be finalised but it has been decided that the members will revisit the fare structure every time the price of diesel increases or declines by Rs 2.

“The task force will meet on Poila Baisakh (next year) to take stock of the situation in the industry and decide what needs to be done in terms of pricing,” said education minister Partha Chatterjee, who is also chairman of the all-party committee on bus fares.

“While understanding the demands of the industry, the task force will also consider the passenger facilities and the demands of daily commuters,” he added.

Post-revision, the minimum bus fare has increased to Rs 6 for a journey of up to four kilometres.

The new fare structure will take effect the moment the government issues a notification. Sources in the transport department said September 1 was a probable date.

“The fare hike is Re 1 for each stage of journey within the city. For long-distance buses, the base fare has gone up by Re 1 but there is no change in fares for subsequent kilometres travelled,” transport secretary Alapan Bandyopadhayay said.

The hike comes nearly two years after the Mamata government last revised fares. Six unions of bus operators had threatened to go on a 72-hour-strike from last Wednesday but Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy convinced them to hold fire till Mamata returned from Singapore on Saturday. He assured the bus operators that the chief minister would hear them out on her return.

Private bus operators appeared less than satisfied with the fare hike but admitted that the increase of Re 1 across slabs would help bring the industry out of “ventilation” to the “general ward”.

“For the industry to come out of the general ward, the hike should have been Rs 2,” said Deepak Sarkar of the Bengal Bus Syndicate, the Trinamul-run union of bus operators.

Bhargab Maitra, professor of civil engineering who teaches transportation economics at IIT Kharagpur, questioned the idea of revising fares based entirely on fuel price. “There are several factors and all of them should be taken into account,” he said.

“A mathematical model should be arrived at considering different aspects like the number of buses, routes, length of routes, frequency and make of vehicles. For this to happen, the task force should have members who know how to work out such a model. Otherwise, any decision will be ad hoc,” Maitra warned.

One of the suggestions is for the task force to work out the per kilometre cost based on the quality of a ride on different makes of buses — Volvo, Janbus, Tata and others — and taking into account the demands of passengers. While this could be a time-consuming effort, such a model would help the task force in the long run, an expert in transport analytics said.

The government said it had kept in mind the burden of the commuter while restructuring bus fares.

Commuters said they wouldn’t feel “taxed” paying a little extra if buses were available in adequate numbers across routes.

Avijit Mukherjee of Behala can count the number of days he has found a bus from Shakuntala Park to central Calcutta without having to wait long for one.

“Most of us rely on autos to reach DH Road, then wait for buses or autos to reach the nearest Metro station, which is Kalighat. Our expenditure on public transport would be much less if there were enough buses on the roads,” he said.

Many buses have disappeared from Calcutta roads over the past year with their owners unable to keep their businesses viable in the face of stagnant fares.

While buses have disappeared, autos have multiplied across the city.

Industry sources said the first fare hike in almost two years might not be enough to encourage those who had withdrawn their buses to come back.

“Nearly 40 per cent of buses in the city and urban areas have gone off the roads. The annual loss incurred by a bus operator is around Rs 3.5 lakh,” said Tapan Bandyopadhayay of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates.