Far fewer buses plied in the city on Sunday, compared with other Sundays, leaving passengers harassed.
Private bus operators said the situation might remain unchanged on Monday, a holiday declared by the Bengal government to mark the birth anniversary of the Rajbanshi leader and social reformer from Cooch Behar, Thakur Panchanan Barma.
“Most operators have decided against rolling out buses today because it doesn't make much business sense to run buses on holidays, when the passenger count remains low,” said Pradip Narayan Bose of the West Bengal Bus and Minibus Owners Association.
“Many owners are making arrangements to take their vehicles for the fitness test and have released their staff for the two-day holiday window.”
The 3,000-odd private buses and minibuses in Kolkata comprise nearly 72 per cent of the city’s bus fleet. The rest are government buses.
On Sunday, only around half the private buses and minibuses had rolled out of garages. A good number of them withdrew by afternoon.
“An owner has to pay 14 per cent of the day’s sales to the driver and eight per cent to the conductor. When they realise the day’s sales would be poor going by the passenger count, they stop plying the buses,” said Saurav Das, a private bus owner.
“Usually, a bus driver and a conductor set a target of Rs 1,500 and Rs 900 every day for themselves. When this amount seems improbable, they stop plying.”
High operational costs prompt a large number of bus owners to save on fuel on lean days. But there would still be a considerable number of buses on the roads on holidays.
It was different this Sunday because the majority of the owners remained busy making arrangements for the mandatory fitness test, which some of them have been avoiding for two years.
The Bengal government has recently decided that commercial vehicle owners who have been avoiding the fitness test, and have run up fines totalling thousands of rupees, can get the penalty waived by paying Rs 1,500.
Once that is done, an owner can get the fitness of the vehicle checked by paying Rs 850, the cost of the test.
The fine for plying a vehicle without a valid fitness certificate is Rs 10,000.
The owners of several private buses, however, said that before undertaking a fitness test, one needs to clear the insurance dues, which vary between Rs 55,000 and Rs 60,000 annually.
The return on investment for the last two years have been so low that most have avoided paying their premiums and appearing for the fitness test.
With buses remaining off the road, commuters stood waiting for one for over 40 minutes across the city.
Vidyasagar Setu undergoes assessment test
Movement of vehicles on Vidyasagar Setu was suspended for six hours, from 8am to 2pm, on Sunday to facilitate an assessment of the stability of the structure by engineers from the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners. The bridge was inaugurated in 1992.
Police teams were deployed on either end of the bridge to make motorists aware of the closure and suggest alternative routes to them. Vehicles headed for Vidyasagar Setu from AJC Bose Road and Red Road were diverted through St George’s Gate Road and Strand Road towards the Howrah bridge. On the Howrah side, vehicles headed for Vidyasagar Setu from Durgapur Expressway were diverted towards Dunlop.