Delhi’s Killer Buses

My post on Express India Blogs:

The killer blueline bus issue is once again fuelled with the death of a CISF personnel after he came under a blue line bus. An issue that was about to be packed off to give way to more fresh news items is once again open to controversy. One of the blueline buses hit a CISF man on way to office. According to reports, this is the 71st murder carried out by the private buses being run on the roads of Delhi. In the extremely hot days of July, 2007, the Blue Line bus operators were an equally hot issue.

After creating a furore all over the city, with reports that the government plans to take the bus service off roads, and then resulting in those struggling Saturday and Monday when blueline bus operators decided to go off the roads as a mark of protest against government’s arbitrary policies; the issue was headed for the cold baskets now. Then this new killing happened. And I fear that the issue will once again come to the fore. I seriously don’t have any problems with whether blueline buses remain or go.

Thankfully never had a life threatening brush up with any bus, blueline or DTC (recently a DTC also killed a pedestrian). But I do have a problem when I reach the bus stop to find no buses to reach office. Reach office late and the boss is not ready to accept this as a valid excuse for delay. His take- hire an auto rickshaw. Now who tells him that even auto rickshaw wallahs have raised their bills to take advantage of the situation. I accept that I am acting a little selfish, but everyone is directed by some or other selfish motives. So my honest request to the government is: You can take the blueline buses off the road.

But do ensure that there are substitute buses running. We too are strained when the blueline buses over-speed or when they would drive recklessly or when they would simply stand at a bus stand for long while passengers are sweating. We surely are looking for better standard buses with better service. But don’t just take off the private buses until you have buses to substitute the existing ones.

And one of the COMMENTS from some Vaibhav Kapoor, who tries to show me that there is an other side to this blueline fiasco, though i must say i am not convinced.

The other side

Another major accident by a city bus and Bluelines gets all attention from media. The news will fade in a couple of weeks and so will the attention which leaves us with one thing: Wait for another accident so that we can have pages full with Blueline saga again. Why does this happen repeatedly? It is because no one addresses the real issues behind such accidents. To hold only one side responsible for their involvement in an accident and tag them ‘killer’ is the easiest and quickest thing to do in this fast-paced world. After all, everyone wants instant conclusions and instant results. But to solve this problem we will need to do some hard work by going in depth of the issues and facts which seem quite straightforward to the naked eye but there is a different side to this story. I have tried to uncover these issues and facts so that we have a better understanding of the ‘problem’ when taking those quick decisions.

Although I condemn every single life lost due to Blueline accidents but it is high time that we looked at some numbers. This year 1910 people lost their lives on Delhi roads out of which 96 were by Blueline buses. What about the rest 1814 lives? You will be surprised to know that trucks have killed more than 400 people this year but no one is talking about reining them in. Just because one class of vehicles is killing people in the night should not give them a license to kill. I am not escaping buses’ faults by trying to list other vehicles’ bigger ones but just trying to make a point that how hard it is to be perfect in a completely imperfect system. Having said that, I still believe that each human life is very important and we on our part should aim to reduce these accidents to zero.

Lets move on to another issue, that of the bus lanes. The bus lanes were marked by the order of the apex court so that buses can ply on the designated areas on the road. If however you have seen the actual condition on the roads you would know how difficult that is when all sorts of vehicles from rickshaws and tangas to three wheelers and sometimes even cars take up that space. The problem gets aggregated by the motor cyclists who always want to overtake some vehicle or the other on the road and when space gets too tight which happens all the time on Delhi roads, they take the easiest route of overtaking a bus from left side. Often, the commuters also stand on the bus box rather than standing at the bus-stand which makes the bus cross the line when picking or dropping passengers. All this adds up for a perfect recipe for disaster and subsequently the reason for majority of the accidents. The obvious question which then comes to the mind is that why do we always hear a Blueline bus getting involved in an accident when there are other buses too which ply on the roads that is DTC. It is a wrong notion that when it comes to buses, Bluelines kill the most. The point can be proven by a simple arithmetic argument:
• There are about 4500 Blueline buses on Delhi roads and 2500 DTC ones
• A large part of the DTC fleet (about 10 – 15 %) runs on interstate routes
• If you ever visited a DTC depot you would know that about 10-15% of the buses are standing there due to poor maintenance which understandably is not the case with profit seeking private operators. Still we can take 5 – 10 % of their buses being down due to some problem or the other
• DTC also supplies about 900 buses to the city schools for 4-5 hours. Taking a 16 hour duty for a bus, that number comes to about 250 DTC buses being off the roads per day
• If you don’t believe the above facts, you can ask any commuter on Delhi roads of how many DTC and Blueline buses they see on roads each day.
• This gives us about 4000 Blueline buses and 1400 DTC buses plying on Delhi roads at any given time. Considering the number of accidents, DTC killed approximately 50 people this year (0.036 fatalities per bus per year) compared to Blueline’s 100 (0.025 fatalities per bus per year). Clearly DTC kills more.

I am not trying to play a blame game but only trying to uncover what gets viewed by naked eyes. The point is not who kills how much but that if buses run under such conditions on the road, they are bound to get involved in an accident and we all know that when that happens it will always be the lighter vehicle like motor bike, rickshaw, car or pedestrian who will get more damage irrespective of whose fault it is.

It should be kept in mind that having presented the above argument does not make the bus drivers all good and other vehicles all bad. No body is denying that some of the bus drivers drive rashly and even after getting involved in an accident they come back to roads in 3 to 4 days. Reason: Rash and negligent driving is a bailable offence and as oppositely thought, it is always the owner who feels the pinch as he ends up paying the fine charged on the driver (around Rs. 5000 – Rs. 10000) because most of these drivers fail to furnish that big an amount and the owner’s impounded bus can not be released before driver gets the bail, leaving the owner with no option but to pay. The outcome is that drivers feel they are untouchable and can get away with anything. There needs to be change in the Motor Vehicle Act so that the person who is in the thick of things when an accident actually happens, that is the driver, should get maximum punishment. This would inhibit him and others to drive rashly even if he urged to do so by the conductor. It is simple logic: Everyone wants to save their neck.

It also clears a delusion that buses are not monetarily (or otherwise) punished once involved in an offence. Apart from paying for driver’s fine, the bus gets impounded for minimum of a day and then later serves a notice for at least 5 more days during which it can not be operated. This amounts to huge losses for the operator which works out between Rs. 25000 to Rs. 30000.

There is also a widely held misconception that most of the buses are owned by politicians and police personnel. There are a few buses (less than 15%) which are owned by such people and often these are the buses which flout the rules as they are safe-guarded by their masters. It is the common operator who gets the burns whenever a discipline drive is started by the traffic police as none of the politicians’ or police personnel’s bus ever gets impounded. It’s a well known fact in the transport department that the larger population of common operators ends up paying for the ill doings of these buses. Even if you see the numbers it’s the 2% buses which are involved in the fatal accidents for which rest of the 98% are punished.

This letter is in no way a justification but an attempt to bring out some of the real issues which are never taken up and the Blueline buses blindly held responsible. Such attitude of putting 100% blame on one party can never solve a problem but give rise to other problems.

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