Ranchi's Kantatoli bus depot was abuzz with activity on Friday as buses hit the roads of Ranchi after being allowed to resume services, but after the state government's late night directive on Thursday asking operators not to hike fares, it is doubtful if full-fledged public transport services can continue for long.
Buses have been allowed to run with full seating capacity, provided all other Covid norms, like wearing of masks and carrying proper route permits, are adhered to.
But the no-fare hike order of the state transport department is a concern for majority of bus operators who called it "impractical". Krishna Mohan Singh, president of Ranchi Bus Owners Association, said that the price of diesel had risen by at least Rs 30 in the last three months.
“Today, diesel price in Ranchi is about Rs 94 a litre compared to Rs 64 when we shut operations temporarily. How can bus operators sustain themselves with old rates? Few days back, we had met with the state transport department secretary K K Soan with our demands,including logical consideration in hiking the ticket fares. But it did not help," he rued.
He said that even though the government had allowed buses to run with full seating capacity, no owner could run the business without hiking ticket rates by at least 10-15 per cent.
“We will be forced to cut down on the number of buses on the road because besides fuel price, there has been an increase in other accessories such as engine oil and the likes,” he added.
A manager of Chanchal Travel, which runs buses in several routes including Ranchi and Jamshedpur, said, “We have a 45-seater AC bus on the Ranchi-Tata route. On an average, we calculate operation costs of a trip based on at least 30 passengers. As per the estimates, we are now incurring an increase of Rs 3000 in operation costs per trip on this route, taking into account the current rate of Rs 300 per ticket. After a few days it will be difficult to manage. We want the government to reconsider its decision.”
While transport commissioner Kiran Kumar Passi didn’t respond to calls, another senior official in the department said, “People, mostly poor or middle class, travel by bus between different districts. The government doesn’t want to further burden them with higher ticket rates. The last time, the state government provided waivers in road permit taxes to all commercial vehicles. Once the situation normalizes, the transport department will certainly look into the demands.”