Bluelines are just the bad boys of flawed system

While the government blows hot and cold over phasing out the Bluelines, Hindustan Times finds out what ails our public transport system.
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Updated on Jul 20, 2007 01:41 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByRavi Bajpai/Sidhartha Roy, New Delhi

Like most other infrastructural projects, the Transport Department, too, is chasing the 2010 Commonwealth Games deadline. From the Integrated Rapid Bus Transit system and monorail to the High Capacity Bus System, the Delhi government wants to raise the benchmark on the transportation front and make commuting easier.

As of today, most of these promises seem like a distant reality, thanks to the contradictions within the system. To start with, private-run Blueline buses — a major part of the city’s transportation network — have snuffed out 64 lives this year.

While the government blows hot and cold over phasing out the Bluelines, Hindustan Times finds out what ails our public transport system.

Flawed privatisation process

In 1992, the Delhi government introduced a private Redline bus service to meet the city’s increasing demands. Blueline buses later replaced the Redlines after several fatal accidents. While the colour of the buses changed, there’s still blood on the streets.

Experts say the privatisation process was flawed. The government had followed the reservation criteria while distributing permits. For instance, about 30 per cent of the permits were given to women, said a transport department official. About 35 per cent were allotted to ex-servicemen. Some of them are dead, but their buses are still in service, the official added.

SP Singh of the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training said, “The government had its own agenda in setting up votebanks.”

Result: inexperienced permit holders found an easy way to earn money by renting out buses to contractors, said a transport department official. “In other words, drivers and conductors run most of these buses by paying Rs. 2,000-3,000 a day to permit holders. The owners of these buses are mostly politicians or their relatives and even Traffic Police officers,” said the official. “As a result, no one wants to touch them. The buses also flout rules easily by paying Rs 100 to traffic personnel at each traffic intersection on a regular basis,” he said.

In order to make profits, contractors stuff passengers beyond capacity, Singh said. “Drivers overspeed to make more trips and earn more profits, risking the commuters and pedestrians’ lives,” he said.

Most contractors do not pay adequate wages and do not have a proper work schedule for employees, said the officer. As a result, untrained, measly paid drivers get behind the wheel and the vehicle’s maintenance is also neglected, he added.

“We cannot ask operators to stop the services since they have permits. Moreover, if they are stopped, the commuters would face hardships,” Transport Minister Haroon Yusuf told the Hindustan Times. He said the government plans to phase out these buses in the long run and invite corporate houses and cooperatives to run bus services.

Transport Department clueless

Transport Department officials said before the Public Grievances Commission last year that they did not have a mechanism to check whether buses were plying on the designated routes, said NGO Chetna’s Anil Sood.

“The department, which has 223 enforcement officials, just feigns helplessness. They just lack the will to enforce the law,” said Sood.

Several bus operators openly flout permit norms by plying buses on profitable routes. “What’s more, in 99 per cent buses, the rear wheels are those used in goods vehicles that help increase the buses’ pick-up. This is not allowed. Last year, over 60 per cent of the buses were found unfit to be on the roads,” said Sood.

Enforcement drive toothless

Nobody seems to be able to tame the Bluelines, not even the Delhi government. Its recently-enforced crackdown has come a full circle, say transport department officials. Of the 327 buses impounded since July 9 for tampered speed governors and other permit violations, more than 250 are back on the roads.

“The fine usually varies from Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000, and buses are released within two-three days. This is not working out,” said the official. “The driver, too, is quickly released on bail, and he gets back on the roads.”

How would the killing spree end if the enforcement drives leads to this? “All of us are concerned. Action can be taken only in accordance with the laws — the Motor Vehicles Act and Rules, permit conditions and the Indian Penal Code. “We are in the process of sending a recommendation to the Centre to make road accident killings a non-bailable offence,” he added.

(with inputs from Amitabh Shukla)

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