The next time you buy a ticket to travel long distance by bus or take a package tour that involves journey by an air-conditioned luxury bus, get answers to these questions: (a) Does the tour operator have a valid permit? Does the bus have a certificate of fitness? If it is an overnight journey, is the transporter ensuring there are two drivers and they take turns to drive?
This is absolutely important because in a large number of accidents involving overnight journeys, the cause is the driver dozing off.
Also, does the bus have a speed governor to ensure that the bus does not speed? What is the age of the bus? Is it properly fitted with all safety gadgets including fire extinguishers, first-aid box and hammers to break the glass of the emergency exit?
Such questioning has become absolutely necessary in the wake of the horrific bus accident on the Bengaluru-Hyderabad highway on October 30, in which 45 passengers were charred to death.
Preliminary investigations into the accident have shown that the Volvo coach was speeding and there was only one driver for the overnight journey. As the bus hit a culvert and caught fire, the central locking system of the bus got jammed, preventing passengers from using the door. The emergency exits were of no use either in the absence of hammers to break the glass.
Following the accident, transport departments of several states in the country have suddenly woken up to the flagrant violation of rules governing these buses and have started cracking down on private transporters and tour operators.
They are also promising that in future, passengers travelling in all such air-conditioned buses will be informed of the location of the emergency exits and the hammer, before the start of the journey.
But from the past track records of transport departments in the country, one can be sure that this is only a temporary phase. That’s why consumers need to keep up the pressure on those who run these services and those who enforce the law, to pay utmost attention to safety.
The accident also focuses on the need for more mandatory safety features in these buses, such as an emergency exit door, in addition to emergency exit windows. Similarly, the buses should have a smoke detector/alarm to wake up passengers in case of an emergency during a night journey. It is also important to use fire-retardant materials for the interiors of the bus.
S.G.Mathur: Seven of us bought a three-day package tour from Delhi to Katra by a Volvo bus for R3,100 per person. The bus however was in a bad state and developed mechanical snags on the way. During the return journey at night, it broke down. We had to call for a cab from the hotel where we had stayed the previous night and go back there. It was only at 6 PM the next day that the operator got us on another bus to return to Delhi. Now he is not responding to our mails asking for reimbursement for hotel charges for that night. What do we do?
Answer: By deploying a bus which was unfit for such a journey, the tour operator was playing with the lives of the passengers. And even when the bus broke down completely, he ignored your calls and now he refuses to redress your grievance. This is a very serious matter. Please complain to the transport department and file a complaint before the consumer court, seeking not just reimbursement of all your expenses, but also compensation for the harassment caused on account of his negligence. The tour operator must be taught to take passenger safety more seriously.