With most private buses continuing to stay off the road because of the Mamata Banerjee government’s refusal to allow a fare hike, the state administration is banking on tram and ferry services to somewhat ease commuters’ problems. It is also planning to bring in state-run buses from other districts.
On Monday, commuters again complained of inordinate delays in getting to their destinations as fewer private buses operated compared to last week. Most private bus owners have rejected Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s offer of Rs 15,000 subsidy for 6,000 buses for three months, saying it is not a permanent solution. A private bus owners’ organisation said there would be even fewer vehicles on the road from Tuesday.
“We demanded a fare increase to survive in this situation. It is impossible to make profits with present fare as we have to maintain social distancing and follow other Covid-19 protocols. The price of diesel has also increased to almost Rs 80 per litre. We have told the government about our problems many times. But, instead of a fare hike, the government announced a Rs 15,000 subsidy for only 6,000 buses. This is not the solution,” said Joint Council of Bus Syndicates General Secretary Tapan Banerjee.
He pointed out that there were far more private buses across the state than what the government has accounted for. “How will the government choose 6,000 buses from among them? So, we decided not to take out our buses,” said Banerjee.
An organisation of minibus owners also said its members would soon stop their services.
Meanwhile, ferries started operating on 14 routes on Monday. The vessels have a passenger limit of two-thirds their capacity, and are following the standard operating procedure governing inland water transport. The ferries would be disinfected and sanitised from time to time, said the transport department.
Expediting the restart of tram services, however, is a more difficult task, according to officials. During last month’s Cyclone Amphan, many tracks were damaged by uprooted trees, and the overhead wire system was crippled.
“Since then [Amphan], restoration work by the WBTC is underway. Teams of engineers are working to restore the tracks. Of the six routes that were operating before the pandemic struck, one route has been restored. The trial run of route no. 24/29 [Tollygunge to Ballygunge] was conducted on June 13, and services resumed on June 14, with safety protocols and social-distancing norms being followed. The trams are operating at 25-minute intervals from 7 am to 8 pm,” said a senior official of West Bengal Transport Corporation.
The tram route from Howrah bridge to Rajabazar may be reopened in the first week of July, said the official.
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