Virtual trip on Delhi's DTC buses

 
By Anupam Mishra
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Virtual trip on Delhi's DTC buses

-- Some years ago, Delhi Transport Corporation (dtc) launched the Namaskar Seva. Under this the driver and conductor were to greet passengers with a namaste. The signboard in front of the bus did not have a route number; it only said Namaskar Seva. Without being too sure of where such buses would take me, I boarded them. Though I greeted the drivers and conductors, not one returned the greeting. The scheme then disappeared.

I've read about several other peculiar 'services' announced in press conferences where journalists are well looked after. My wife recalls special buses only for women, accessorised with curtains and carpets. Redesigns included steel rods, cement slabs, iron rods, repaints in several colours. Crores of rupees have been spent on such 'services' for 50 years, but not one of these provided a modicum of comfort.

Switching Delhi's bus fleet to cng has definitely helped clean up Delhi's air. It will be a great service if they now turn their attention to the environment inside the buses. Most people who take the critical decisions on Delhi's buses, do not travel by buses. In the new lingo of the development sector, 'stakeholders' in Delhi's public transport include those using private transport.

In folk tales, we hear that kings used to roam around their kingdom incognito to get the pulse of the polity on matters of concern. If today's powers do the same, they'll see how flawed their decisions are. They'll see that if there are norms for what the vehicles emit, then there should be some on the bad language (tobacco and assorted narcotics) the drivers and conductors use. They'll think of a standard for the upholstery, which is never changed after the bus is bought. The music is a nothing short of violence. How would Delhi's finance minister like it if his driver played the same music at comparable volumes in his car?

This techno-centric approach is the root of the problem. I'm quite sure if somebody comes up with a quixotic research proposal on how nanotechnology will improve our buses, they would actually be taken seriously; some agency might even be willing to fund the research. Common sense tells us that if Delhi were to have Skybus, high-capacity buses, Monorail and several other 'mass rapid transport systems' (to add to the Metro), Delhi's public transport woes still wouldn't go away. The problem is not technological in nature. If there is a solution, it would have to address and rectify the existing bus system.

The crisis began with a systematic disinvestment and destruction of dtc. This allowed in hundreds of private buses, mostly owned by small operators -- single bus owners account for about two-thirds of Delhi's buses. All these private buses pay hafta to the police, which provides them the protection to violate every law and norm.

The home ministers of the state and the centre only need to open their eyes to watch traffic policemen standing at roadside, checking each bus number with the list of people who have paid up. Who will reign in drivers, when everybody knows that this money travels right up the tall building of the police headquarters?

There is no point wondering why the city's buses don't have speed governors. I don't remember the last time I saw a conductor using a whistle. dtc buses used to have a bell next to the driver with a string that ran back to the conductor. The sound of that bell is now only a sonic archive for the long-standing commuter. Talking of standing, only people of a certain height can reach the overhead handle rods.

Setting Delhi's bus system right doesn't need another committee. The chairperson of dtc needs to learn from Mumbai's best bus service. That shouldn't be a problem given how cheap air tickets are today. As for regulating the private bus owners, Delhi need look no further than Uttaranchal. From the 1970s, the Garhwal Motor Owners' Union has been running buses on roads built by the government, which are so treacherous that the government didn't ply its buses on them. Small-time bus owners have organised their bus timing, created uniform ticketing, and has a fleet of organised drivers. Small wonder there are fewer road accidents on the dangerous hill roads, than in Delhi, which has the country's best roads. But why blame Delhi's bus drivers. Its political top brass can't sort out bus disputes with Haryana, which has the same party in power, and Uttar Pradesh. The Congress might call itself a national entity, but it works like a district-level party.

Anupam Mishra, secretary of Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi, has always used public transport

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