It’s not always our fault: Cluster bus drivers

NEW DELHI: “If an ant comes in my way, I will try to save it,” says Mukesh Kumar, a 35-year-old driver of a cluster bus. “We try to drive carefully but, sometimes, circumstances are such that accidents happen.”
Kumar may have a ready defence, but from the and show that the are the latest on Delhi roads. At 1,757, the cluster bus fleet in Delhi is nearly half the DTC’s (3,882) — but the number of violations is twice as much.

Under the scheme, different “clusters” — and thus the name— are assigned to private concessionaires, which can be companies or partnerships of different bus owners. The concessionaires run the buses and provide the drivers. They are paid by the kilometre by the government. The cluster bus scheme is managed by the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System.

The idea behind assigning an entire cluster to one private concessionaire was to avoid competition, which earlier led to rash driving (read Blueline buses). However, the rush to complete a trip has resulted in these buses speeding too, defeating the purpose for which the scheme was started.

Kumar, himself a former Blueline driver, said under the cluster system, the pressure to complete trips on time was immense. “We have to meet deadlines, or risk a pay cut. We face many hurdles, including traffic jams, slow-moving vehicles, encroachments and intersections. As a result, we speed on relatively empty stretches,” he said. Kumar said he made 26 trips every day.

Santosh Pal, another driver, said the concessionaires didn’t care much about maintainng the buses. “The brakes often don’t work and tyres are in poor shape, apart from other malfunctions,” he said. “The concessionaires are only bothered about their buses exiting the depot and completing the trip on time,” Pal claimed.

“We are daily wagers and a single day’s leave means a pay cut. I earn around Rs 15,000 a month,” said Om Prakash, who drives a bus to run his family. “The driving conditions are horrible, particularly in summer. The engines emit extreme heat,” he rued.

Private concessionaires claim that their drivers were well-trained. “Drivers had the motivation to drive rashly during the Blueline days to earn more. The cluster bus drivers are paid a salary and have nothing to do with ticket sales,” said HS Kalra, director of Indraprastha Logistics, one of the concessionaires.

“All our buses have speed governors and GPS devices and we take action against drivers who break speed limits. We don’t put any pressure on them to complete trips and they are counselled to follow traffic rules and drive in bus lane only,” he said. Khizaan Singh, director of Goverdhan Transport, claimed: “It’s not possible to tamper with speed governors in the new buses that we have acquired. We have senior officials deputed around the clock at depots who ensure maintenance of buses.”

MM Paul Singh, director, Metro Transit, said: “Our drivers operate amid unruly traffic, with e-rickshaws, bullock carts and hawkers taking up bus lanes. There are no facilities like restrooms for them near roads. We train them so that they don’t violate traffic rules,” he said.

*Names of drivers changed to protect identity

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