By bappaditya paul
Call it an irony that Mamata Banerjee government’s refusal to hike bus fare is proving to be a double whammy for the commuters in Kolkata! While people are already in the lurch due to withdrawal of buses by private operators, Kolkata’s lifeline Metro Railway has now delayed its plan to increase trains on Saturdays till the time the state government revises the bus fare.
This is despite the fact that Metro trains are witnessing higher crowd on Saturdays, in turn making the ride into a real ordeal for commuters. With 204 trains, Metro Railway carries an average 5.10-lakh passengers on Saturdays; on weekdays it transports 5.50-lakh commuters with the number of trains being 274. This comes to around 2,500 passengers every Metro train on Saturdays as against the 2,007 persons a train on weekdays.
Kolkata Metro train that run with eight coaches are designed to carry a maximum 2,558 passengers.
Metro Railway authorities however are of the view that the high passenger density on Saturdays was the result of a drop in number of buses and the scenario might change once the bus fare is increased. At present, the minimum fare for both Metro and bus is Rs 5.
“A hike in bus fare is likely to have any of the two implications. First, this may prompt private operators to run more buses and in turn result in a fall in Metro passengers as people will have more option. The second scenario can be that if the bus fare becomes almost equal to that of Metro, there will be a surge in Metro commuters,” said a senior Metro Railway official. “This is why we have decided to delay our plans to increase trains till the time the government revises the bus fare. For a moment, we are not looking at a huge drop in Metro passengers after a bus fare hike; what we are foreseeing is that in the changed scenario there may be a higher crowd on weekdays. In that case, we shall have no other choice but to increase trains on weekdays,” the officer said.
At this point, Metro authorities are averse to increasing trains on Saturdays, as they will not be able to reduce the number of trains even if there is an increase in weekday demand later. Metro Railway has 27 rakes, which the authorities say is not sufficient to increase trains on all seven days a week.
Metro at present operates 274 trains daily from Monday to Friday, 204 trains on Saturday and 96 trains on Sunday.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 10 June 2014.)