Till a few years ago, their strength was nearly 4,000 and they catered to almost four million people every day. Come Friday and they will become a part of history. But no one is complaining.
Blueline buses, which earned notoriety and a 'killer' tag, were being phased out by Delhi government in batches since 2008 and Thursday is their last day on Delhi roads.
With their permits valid till June 28, Blueline buses will never be seen on Delhi roads, thus bringing an end to an era for the fleet that became synonymous with indiscipline and brashness.
Bluelines, or Redline as they were previously known, were introduced in Delhi in 1992 when the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) staff went on a sudden strike against non-implementation of the recommendations of fourth pay commission.
The state transport authority gave permits to a large number of transporters who wanted to run buses in Delhi. Soon Delhi's roads were flooded with red-coloured private buses, which gave daily commuters much-desired relief from the unreliable DTC buses. But the relief was short lived.
In absence of any direct control from the government, the Redline buses soon turned into a nuisance. The operators started plying buses only on routes which had more number of passengers. While there were more buses during peak hours, operators preferred to keep their fleet off road in the afternoon and late evening, when passengers were less.
And since more rounds meant more sale of tickets and more money, there was competition among bus drivers, resulting in speeding, rash driving and fatal accidents. "The Red line buses killed 8-10 people every day. Not just pedestrians, even the passengers on board were not safe. Accidents became a norm," said SN Mishra, whose wife and son were injured in two separate accidents with Redline and Blueline buses and are still nursing the wounds.
Mishra's daughter, however, was not that lucky. She came under the wheels of a Blueline bus in 2007 and died.
But after a lot of hue and cry, Delhi government changed the colour of these buses from Red to Blue. It later became clear the change of colour meant nothing as the Bluelines killed almost 120 persons every year.
Though the government promised to phase out Blueline buses several times, it was only after 2008, when low-floor buses started hitting the city roads in phases, that the government fulfilled its promise.
"It is indeed a very sad day for us. More than 50,000 lives were associated with these buses. We want the government to rehabilitate us," said Shyam Lal Gola, general secretary, federation of private bus operators.
The pahse out, however, fails to make Mishra happy. "The Congress government is trying to rehabilitate the Blueline buses. We just don't want them. We want these buses to go into the oblivion, forever," he said.
Delhi transport minister Arvinder Singh spoke to Hindustan Times on the phase-out of Blueline buses. Excerpts from the interview
What were the challenges you faced while phasing out Blueline buses?
The biggest challenge was providing an alternative transport system. In 2008, there were about 3,600 Blueline and 2,800 DTC buses. Though we had promised the Supreme Court that Delhi will get 11,000 buses, the immediate need was to arrange 6,500 buses to ensure there was no shortage of buses on the roads. Getting supply of low-floor buses from bus manufacturers, setting up depots to park those buses, hiring more drivers and conductors, everything was a challenge.
Delhi's public transport may not be the best or the most ideal but it is far better than what we had during the Blueline era. To get feedback, I travel on buses and people tell me that they took Blueline buses only out of compulsion. Those buses had disturbed the traffic on Delhi roads. I am told it is much better now. There is some problem in rural areas but in the next few months, as the condition of roads improve there, we hope to have better service. To fill the gap, grameen sewa is catering to rural passengers.