What the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) gained by acquiring new buses, it lost to lacklustre maintenance. In the past couple of years, DTC underwent a complete transformation. From operating rickety standard-floor buses, it moved to a swankier set of wheels.
But all this was undone by insufficient maintenance, leaving regular commuters of the fleet annoyed.
Be it non-effective air-conditioning in the cherry-coloured low-floor buses, poor ventilation in the non-AC green ones or ragged upholstery in old, standard-floor buses, commuters feel DTC needs to do away with technical snags to make the system truly 'world-class'.
"There have been several instances when the AC stopped functioning or the driver fiddled with the AC switch to pick up speed. If the new buses are so efficient, why does the AC not work properly?" asks Sudarshan Gaba, a resident of RK Puram and a central government employee.
Of 3,770 low floor buses that DTC bought in the past three years, 1,200 are air-conditioned.
Although commuters do not mind paying a little extra for a ride in a more comfortable bus — especially during the summer and the monsoon — most AC buses are overcrowded throughout the day.
No wonder, DTC's daily revenue increased more than four times in the past three years — from Rs 75 lakh to Rs 3.5 crore.
But the complaints keep pouring in. "The fans in AC buses do not work. The heat becomes unbearable when the bus is crowded. These buses do not even have an alternate ventilation system," said Rajni Kathuria, a housewife who takes an AC bus to pick up and drop her school-going children.
And it's not just the airconditioning. Complaints of door jamming, loud noise from the engine and faulty display boards are common, too.
Which is not surprising. DTC's tryst with modern low-floor buses has been shaky since these buses were introduced in 2007.
The first set of six ultra low-floor buses had to be grounded within a few weeks due to poor maintenance.
It was then that DTC decided to sign an annual maintenance contract with the manufacturer for regular maintenance of its buses.
Initially, Tata Motors' buses billowed smoke due to poor maintenance. Later, DTC refused to take delivery of 230 buses from Ashoka Leyland because of faulty air-conditioning.
Ashoka Leyland was in trouble again when 114 buses were grounded due to a wiring problem. They were only allowed to ply after the manufacturer submitted an indemnity bond in the Delhi High Court.
Senior DTC officials say they penalise manufacturers if the low-floor buses are not maintained properly.
"So far, we have collected more than Rs 15 crore from manufacturers on account of poor maintenance. When it comes out of the depot, each bus has been checked on 12 parameters," said Vijay Kumar Dev, DTC chairman and managing director.
"There are indeed some old buses which have torn upholstery. We are working out a plan to refurbish them," Dev added.
The 40-minute daily commute he dreads
It's the most tiresome part of the day for Anant Kumar (28).
An event manager with a central Delhi-based company, Kumar dreads the 40-minute-long commute in a bustling green-coloured Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus. He feels that the swanky buses don't have enough standing space for passengers. "There's very little room as tyre panels and steps at the back take up a lot of space. The old buses had enough space to stand as the area occupied by seats was less," says Kumar. Kumar, who undertakes a 40-minute journey from his Lajpat Nagar house to his office in Connaught Place also feels that ventilation is a problem in these buses, as adequate space for window panels is missing. "In peak hours, the buses are filled to capacity and there isn't enough space to breath. The low-floor buses appear classy and have comfortable seats but travelling in a non air-conditioned bus in summer is a pain," adds Kumar. After travelling in non-airconditioned low-floor buses, Kumar feels travelling was much easier in rusty Blueline buses. "Those buses atleast had proper ventilation and more seating capacity," says Kumar.
Major irritants: Scant space, overcrowding
For Pragya Singh, travel in bright red, air-conditioned (AC), low-floor buses is as much of a pain as it was in rusty Bluelines.
Singh feels that the swankier buses, which look spacious from outside and are supposed to be cooler, fail on both counts. She says that most often ACs don't work. To top it, the buses don't even have enough seating capacity.
"With the low-floor AC buses, I thought travelling would become easier and more comfortable. But often the AC doesn't work and when it does there's not enough cooling," says Singh. "The drivers have a habit of switching off the air-conditioning, specially on long routes."
Both the red and the green buses have their own share of problems. From seating capacity to standing space, everything is an ordeal for commuters.
"When these buses were introduced, I thought the problem of seating would be solved. But in fact, it has only increased. Also, getting a ticket is almost always an impossible task, as the buses are always overcrowded," says Singh.
As told to Rajat Arora