Last week, the two-decade-long run of the Blueline buses on Delhi roads came to an end. Except for a few odd bus contractors, nobody complained. After all, these buses had, in their red and blue avatars, killed at least 100 people every year.
Since the Delhi high court ordered phasing out of the Bluelines in 2010, the government strengthened its existing standard-floor fleet with the red air-conditioned, the green and orange low-floors. But like most sarkari services, DTC buses are low on efficiency. At least 800 of 5,727 DTC buses, mostly the old standard-floor ones, remain off the road on any given day. Due to frequent breakdowns, another 425-450 buses fail to complete their trips, putting too much pressure on the new low-floor fleet.
Even the low-floor buses have developed snags. Every day, at least 300 of them stay put in depots for maintenance and servicing. The swanky air-conditioned buses, rolled out in the run-up to Commonwealth Games in 2010, are not very effective in muggy weather. On long routes, the air-conditioners often give up. There is a severe shortage of drivers. Many call in sick on evening shifts leading to fewer buses during the rush hours.
Safety is another issue and the traffic police blame inexperienced, untrained drivers for DTC's messy performance. In the first two months of 2012, DTC buses had killed 11 people. At least 500 of its bus drivers were prosecuted for traffic violations, 200 buses were impounded for serious offences.
According to a report released by Centre for Science and Environment last month, bus ridership in Delhi has already dropped from 60 per cent in 2000 to 40 per cent now. As a result, Metro is already overloaded during the peak hours. RITES, a government-owned engineering consultancy, forecasts that even after the full completion of the Metro project, its ridership will still be at 20 per cent of the vehicular trips, including non-motorised transport in 2021. Therefore, it recommends, the bulk of the public transport services will have to be bus-based.
Investing in buses is anyway cheaper. Spending R1,950 crore on 3,775 buses, the government can cater to four million passengers daily. The Delhi Metro with its R30,000-crore investment on the 190-kilometre track carries two million passengers per day. The bulk of Metro commuters anyway depends on feeder buses for last-mile connectivity.
The government's own Master Plan targets 80 per cent public transport ridership by 2020. For several years, the government has been promising the use of Global Positioning System on every bus to update the commuter waiting at the bus stop on the expected time of arrival of buses. The expensive LED display boards provided for this information at all new bus stops that were built during the Commonwealth Games, have either been vandalized or run random trial messages. The kiosks to display bus routes and timetables lie vacant because no such map has been prepared yet.
An efficient bus service is the backbone of public transport systems in metropolises across the world. There are lessons to be learnt at home. The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) started revamping its bus system much after Delhi and now runs 5,800 buses. The Vajra buses were well received on the so-called IT sector routes and are now popular across the city. BMTC will soon roll out longer Volvo buses that will carry 110 passengers against the present capacity of 70.
Fittingly, Bangalore observes the fourth day of every month as Bus Day when BMTC runs 3,000 extra trips for commuters and pollution records a 10% dip. Wonder what a dependable, safe and popular bus service can do to the clogged roads and sooty air in the car-capital of India.