Delhi fuels fare fight

Partial deregulation of diesel pricing has made it even tougher for the Mamata Banerjee government to get private transport operators to beef up Bengal's shrinking fleet of buses with a fare-hike compromise.

Sources said Delhi's decision had put a damper on backdoor negotiations with private bus operators to arrive at a fare structure lower than that suggested by them in the first round of talks.

"The negotiations are over for all practical purposes. The price of diesel has gone up and will continue to go up. It won't be possible to regulate fares and keep the business viable," said one of the transport operators who had responded to the transport department's advertisement for companies willing to roll out buses.

Since January 17, when the dual pricing policy was announced, the price of diesel has increased by around 48 paise in Bengal. A litre of diesel now costs Rs 51.51.

A section of transport operators said the 48 paise hike would translate into a Re 1 increase in overall costs per litre, factoring in expenses on ancillary lubricants such as grease, mobile and brake oils.

"The buses that the Bengal government is looking to introduce are 42-seater low-floor deluxe coaches. In the city, such a non-AC bus would consume 70-80 litres of diesel daily, which means an increase in operational costs by over Rs 2,000 a month," an operator said.

According to a document submitted to the state government and available with Metro, Warish Infrastructure Ltd wants a minimum non-AC fare of Rs 10 for distances up to 5km. Beyond that and till 7.5km, the company wants the fare fixed at Rs 15. To travel up to 10km, the suggested fare is Rs 20.

In the same segment, Silicon Travel and Resorts Pvt Ltd quoted a minimum fare of Rs 8 for distances up to 3km. The fare up to 6km is Rs 10.

For AC travel, one of the four operators that showed interest in the government's proposal quoted a minimum fare of Rs 30, applicable till a distance of 5km.

These proposals reached Writers' a month after the government had fixed Rs 5 as the minimum fare to travel up to 4km in a private bus.

"We had submitted our suggestions to the state government around mid-December, little knowing that partial deregulation of diesel pricing was being planned," said an executive in one of the transport companies. "Now that the deed has been done, there is no question of accepting any proposal to scale down our quoted fares."

Industries minister Partha Chatterjee, the chairman of the group of ministers on transport, said the government was willing to revisit the fares quoted by the transport companies. "The fare structure that has been submitted needs to be examined carefully. Apart from regular buses, the government is keen on running AC buses as well," he told Metro.

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