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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 October 2007, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
Anger at Delhi's 'killer buses'

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Blueline bus in Delhi (Photo: Geeta Pandey)
Blueline buses have now been dubbed 'killer buses'

Commuters in the Indian capital, Delhi, are demanding that privatised buses be taken off the city's roads after a series of fatal accidents.

The Blueline buses - so called because the fleet is painted blue - have been blamed for the deaths of 96 people since the beginning of this year.

On Sunday, a speeding bus ran over and killed seven people and injured a couple of dozen others as the driver tried to squeeze between a bus parked in the middle of the road and a crowded pavement.

An angry mob gathered at the site of the accident, beat up the driver and tried to set the bus on fire.

Police who arrived on the scene were pelted with stones and bricks.

Indian media screamed blue murder. Many said it was not an accident - it was a massacre.

Newspapers promptly dubbed the Blueline fleet "killer buses" and an angry Delhi High Court ordered the government to spell out what measures it planned to take to make the city roads safer.

"Enough is enough. How long can we allow this blood-splattered run?" the judges asked.

The operators say they are not solely to blame for the accidents.

'Rough driving'

Delhi has close to 10,000 buses and official estimates say some 3,300 Blueline buses criss-cross the capital's streets, ferrying tens of thousands of commuters every day.

Commuter Dinesh Singh in Delhi (Photo: Geeta Pandey)
Dinesh Singh says Blueline buses are driven dangerously

In this city of 15 million people where a mass transport system like the Metro railways has just started its journey and covers only a short distance, most commuters are still dependent on buses for their daily travel.

Dinesh Singh, an insurance agent, has to travel many times during the day to visit clients.

"The Bluelines are known for rough driving, they stop wherever they please, they drive dangerously, they are always overtaking other buses. They are involved in so many accidents."

Mr Singh says he prefers to travel by the government-run DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) buses. "I take Bluelines only if there's an emergency," he says.

But many say they really have no choice.

Rakesh Kumar Singh who travels regularly by Blueline buses says: "We have no alternative. Whether they are safe or not, it doesn't matter, we have to travel by these buses."

Anil Sood of Chetna, a Delhi-based NGO, says the biggest reason why Bluelines continue to kill on Delhi roads is because there is no transport policy here.

"There is no co-ordination between the police and transport departments. No one knows how many buses are involved in fatal accidents and there is no record of ownership of these vehicles."

The Delhi Bus Unity Forum, which represents drivers and owners of private buses, says the fleet cannot alone be held responsible for the fatal accidents.

Its spokesman, Shyam Lal Gola, said motorists, cyclists and auto-rickshaw drivers also flouted traffic rules and drove into the lanes meant for buses.

This, he said, led to many of the accidents.

Accident-prone

But campaigners says much more needs to be done to make Delhi's roads safer.

Mr Sood says between 2002 and 2006, police recommended action in 1,529 cases involving buses to the transport department. Action was taken in less than one third of them.

Commuter Manish Kumar in Delhi (Pic: Geeta Pandey)
These buses must be removed... they are very scary
Commuter Manish Kumar

"There is no explanation for what happened to the rest. And not one single bus permit has been cancelled so far," he says.

India's roads have an awful reputation for accidents. More than 70,000 people are killed every year. In Delhi alone, more than 2,000 people die on the roads.

One reason, experts say, is that there are too many vehicles on Delhi's roads - the city has 5.5 million vehicles and 600 new ones are added every single day.

The other, more important, reason is the lack of basic driving skills and utter disregard for all traffic rules.

Following the recent spate of accidents, public anger against Blueline drivers has come pouring out, with many calls for stricter punishment for drivers involved in accidents.

But Rohit Baluja, president of the Institute of Road Traffic Education, a non-profit organisation dealing with road safety issues, says drivers alone are not to blame.

"The drivers are human beings too. They work under tremendous pressure - they drive for 12 to 14 hours a day. Sometimes they don't even have time to eat, there are no proper toilets that they can use."

'No system'

Instead, Mr Baluja holds the authorities responsible for the mess.

"There is no system of recruitment of drivers, no system of training, the buses are not maintained properly, there's not enough parking space for them. The whole system operates on the basis of profit," he says.

An overcrowded bus in Delhi
Most commuters in Delhi depend on buses

And what is most disconcerting for many Delhi residents is that many of the Blueline buses involved in fatal accidents return to the roads in no time.

Finding out who owns the buses is not easy.

Some reports have alleged that many of the buses are owned by influential people like MPs, state assembly legislators and policemen.

An incensed High Court has asked the authorities to provide the details of the ownership of these buses to fix the blame.

Experts say what is needed is better road infrastructure where bus lanes are standardised, bus stops are clearly marked and drivers are made to go through rigorous training.

But for that to happen, Mr Baluja says: "We need a comprehensive organisation to run the transport system which is accountable to public and the authorities."

Pessimists say that if past attempts to improve things are anything to go by, the people of Delhi should not set their hopes too high.



SEE ALSO
Delhi driver punishment suspended
11 Jun 07 |  South Asia

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