On Delhi roads, the more things change, the more they remain the same. In 2008, Blueline buses killed 121 persons in the Capital, forcing the government to work out a detailed plan to phase out the "killer" buses.
Fast forward to circa 2011. In the past eight months, the swanky new low-floor buses and the old and rugged buses in the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) fleet have collectively run over 58 persons.
Which begs the question: is the state-run transportation system going the Blueline way?
Ask Delhi residents - both those who travel by DTC and those who drive personal vehicles on city roads - and the reply is unanimous: DTC buses, especially low-floor ones, are the most recklessly-driven vehicles on Delhi roads, these days.
"While returning to the Millennium Depot at night, drivers violate all traffic norms," said Priya Singh, a marketing professional.
Overspeeding, rash driving, driving in the wrong lanes, overtaking, sudden braking and not stopping at designated bus stops are some common violations by DTC buses. Delhi Integrated Multi Modal Transit (DIMTS), the agency that operates the only BRT corridor in the Capital, has also written to the DTC several times about how its buses have often been found speeding beyond the permissible speed limit of 40km per hour.
While the traffic police have managed to bring down road fatalities involving trucks, cars and other vehicles - thanks to stringent vigil and prosecution - senior traffic police officers said accidents involving DTC buses are on the rise. According to statistics provided by the traffic police, DTC buses killed 58 people till August 31 this year. During the same period in 2009, they had mowed down 37 Delhiites.
Yet, when confronted with this reality, DTC officials argue that the number of buses in their fleet had gone up, from 3,000-odd buses in 2008 to 6,200 in 2011.
Meanwhile, the state-run transport corporation has added low-floor buses to its fleet, considered to be safer and easier to control. "Thanks to automatic transmission and electronic steering, the driver can control the vehicle better," said an official of Ashoka Leyland - which has provided DTC about 1,500 buses - requesting anonymity.
Which brings us back to the conundrum at hand. Despite all these apparent advantages, why is the number of accidents involving DTC buses on the rise? The DTC drivers have fixed hours of service and are not hauled up by the corporation for "poor collection", like Blueline drivers.
Even as senior DTC officials accept the fact that a number of contractual drivers that the corporation has hired in the past few months drove Blueline buses earlier and have the same mindset, some drivers have also been found tempering with speed governors.
"We sacked more than 200 drivers who were found tempering with speed governors," said a senior DTC official. Yet, all these assurances fall flat each time an overspeeding bus brings an innocent life to a screeching, untimely halt on the national Capital's roads.
(Inputs by Subhendu Ray)