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The great Blueline farce

Every 2nd bus fails fitness test. You’ll have a terrible time travelling. And a Blueline might just have killed another Delhiite, the 9th this month, A Shukla, S Roy, A Bhalla tell more.
Hindustan Times | By Amitabh Shukla, Sidhartha Roy, Abhishek Bhalla, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 23, 2007 01:37 AM IST

The Blueline story is turning into a grotesque joke on Delhi. After two days of hyped-up checking that pulled most buses off the road and pushed the city to extreme inconvenience, the government declared that half the 3,800-strong fleet was unfit to be out there.

Within half an hour, one of the buses it cleared for plying hit a motorcyclist who is now fighting for life in hospital. If the man dies, he will be the ninth Delhiite to have been killed by Bluelines this month.

Ram Kishan, 50, was hit from behind at Samaipur Badli around 6.30 pm by a Blueline on route 131. The bus was among the 712 that passed the fitness test over the weekend. Inspectors checked some 1,300 buses, and issued red ‘fitness stickers’ to those they found to be roadworthy.

The checking will continue on Monday. Which means that on the first day of the work-week, there’ll be just about 700 Bluelines on the road. Transport Minister Haroon Yusuf said, “Only buses with stickers would ply on Monday.” What he did not say is that Delhi’s 65 lakh bus commuters should brace for complete chaos — especially in the morning and afternoon, when 1,100 of DTC’s 2,800 vehicles will be busy with ferrying schoolchildren.

There is another aspect, and this is far scarier. The Bluelines have lost a lot of business over the weekend, and will probably try to make up now. So expect dangerously overcrowded buses, driven very rashly.

Operators know tricks of the trade

Sidhartha Roy spoke to operators at six bus depots to learn how speed governors are tampered with. Most hope to manipulate the system yet again.

The transport Department’s special drive to check the fitness of Bluelines has revealed that most operators had tampered with the mandatory speed governors. Only those buses cleared the test that had working speed governors or fitted new ones overnight, but do not think these would comply with the 40 kmph limit set by the transport department.

The speed governors are tampered with in most Bluelines so that drivers can outdo each other and make as many trips as they can in a day. Transport Department officials themselves admit that though they have either repaired the governors or fitted new ones to pass the test, there is no surety that theywould not be tampered with again.

“The buses go for an annual fitness check where the governors are checked. They then either tamper with them or simply remove or cut its wires and overspeed the rest of the year,” said a motor vehicle inspector of the transport department. “This whole thing is an eyewash, they will simply go out and remove the wires again,” he said.

The inspector said the special drive has managed to catch many offenders but without a sustained campaign, there is no stopping the buses from overspeeding again.

The price matrix

A new speed governor costs about Rs 15-16,000 apart from the fitting charges. The income from one Blueline bus is about Rs 5,000 per day, shared by the owner, the thekedar (operator), the driver and the helpers.

When so much money can be earned by overloading and overspeeding, who minds paying Rs 15,000 for a new speed governor or Rs 5-10,000 for a repair?

“Blueline buses would never run within the speed limit and governors would be tampered with as soon as the drive is over. The governors are sold and fitted by only three companies at their authorised centres and they do not repair tampered governors but one can always buy a new one, which everyone is doing now,” said a bus operator.

Need for speed

Most Blueline buses in Delhi are not run by original permit holders — the owners rent them out to thekedars (operators) for Rs 3-4,000 per day. The operator has to make enough profit to keep something for himself after paying the owner.
“We speed and overload because the operators force us to earn enough to pay the owner every day. Also, we keep at least Rs 100-200 for ourselves every day,” said a driver. “The operators knows about this but do not mind as long we earn enough every day,” he said.

Anil Sood of NGO Chetna said with a speed limit of 40 kmph, drivers cannot make extra trips. “Blueline drivers make more than their sanctioned trips to make more money, so they tamper with the governor,” he said.

How it works

Speed governors were made mandatory by the Supreme Court in 1997, but private buses hardly follow the guideline. If a governor functions properly, a driver cannot accelerate beyond 40 kmph. The speed would automatically come down.

The governor is linked to the gearbox where sensors capture the pulse movements. The pulse is recorded in the Electronic Control Unit (ECU), a major component of the governor. If the speed crosses limit, the ECU sends a signal and activates an actuator that disengages the accelerator. The speed goes down to 38 kmph and again comes back to 40-42 kmph.

How it is tampered

Though there are many ways to tamper with the governor, the easiest one is to just cut or remove its wires. “This way, the circuit is bypassed and you can accelerate as much as you want,” a transport department official said.

Blueline bus hits motorcyclist

A Blueline bus rammed into a motocycle in Samaipur Badli area of north-west Delhi on Sunday evening, critically injuring a 50-year-old man.

The victim, Ram Kishan, sustained serious head injuries in the accident. The driver of the bus, plying on route number 131, fled from the spot, the police said.

Blueline buses have killed eight people this month. On July 1, a Blueline bus rammed into a scooter, killing an 11-year-old boy and damaging four vehicles at a traffic intersection in Rajouri Garden. After the incident, the traffic police had cracked down on reckless Blueline drivers. In the first week of July, they prosecuted more than 4,000 Bluelines. But the traffic drive has clearly failed to check incidences of rash and negligent driving.

Student dies in Dwarka mishap

A class XII student came under the wheels of a minibus in Dwarka on Sunday morning. The victim, Vikas Yadav, was standing on the footboard of the bus, when the driver applied brakes at a traffic intersection in Sector 8. Vikas fell from the footboard and came under the wheels of the bus, when the driver moved forward all of a sudden, the police said. The driver has been arrested.

Traffic police to face the heat

The traffic police will be facing the pressure of prosecuting reckless Blueline bus divers from Monday after the transport department has given clearance to 712 Blueline buses. These buses will ply on the roads with a red sticker. This means traffic police will have to prosecute buses only for traffic violations and discipline reckless Blueline drivers. Traffic police will be out to crack down on Blueline buses violating rules but they realisetheir task will be cut out. The strength of traffic police is about 4,000 and not more than 2,500 personnel are posted for field jobs, making enforcement a hard task. The police will keep an eye on violations like red light jumping, wrong overtaking, lane jumping and dangerous driving.

The traffic police say they are short by at least 700-800 employees and to make up for it, they have sought help from the police and home guards. “There will be special teams out on the roads to keep a check on Blueline buses violating traffic rules. We have asked police and home guards for assistance to keep a strict vigil on the reckless drivers,” said HPS Virk, DCP, Traffic, northern range.

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