Thursday, January 24, 2008


BMTC should take urgent steps to improve its safety record, says Amit S Upadhye

Bangalore’s roads have become death traps. And statistics suggest that BMTC buses have played a big part in the worsening situation. Of the 910 accident deaths that occurred in Bangalore in 2007, 115 were victims of BMTC buses and 363 people were injured in accidents involving BMTC buses. This year, three people have come under the wheels and 19 people were injured in different accidents. The latest victim was three-year-old Tejas, who was killed in JC Nagar on Sunday afternoon.
According to BMTC’s chief traffic manager Dastgir Sharieff, the increase in population as well as vehicles is the immediate cause for accidents. “Compared to the routes and sectors added, the accident rates have not increased,’’ he said.
Ironically, the BMTC fleet bagged the
National Peacock Award for safe driving in 2006, a year in which 84 people were killed and 337 injured. Today, the traffic police and BMTC officials do not seem to be worried about the increase in the number of deaths caused by the BMTC buses.
Additional commissioner of police, traffic and security, K C Ramamurthy, said: “Since the traffic jurisdiction and bus routes have increased, there has been a marginal increase in the death rate. However, the traffic training programmes provided for the driver will be intensified. Once the transport corporation add more buses to its fleet, the pressure on drivers and commuters will automatically come down.’’
But these remarks do not help answer queries of the average commuter: Why are accidents increasing by the day? Are careless drivers being punished? Are working conditions of drivers such as to contribute to stress and accidents? For the authorities, these ought to be immediate concerns.
“Revisions of trip timings and educating BMTC drivers should be taken up on a priority basis. At present, the drivers work under duress and this leads to road rage, impatient behaviour, thus resulting in accidents,’’ said traffic expert M N Srihari, who is analyzing the increase in the number deaths caused by BMTC buses.
Apart from the burgeoning vehicular population, the present travel time has even more extended due to ongoing infrastructure construction, increased number of signals, road diversions, one-ways and growing human population.
“It’s essential to work out travel time based on a rational and scientific approach, which could bring down the accident rate involving BMTC buses,’’ Srihari added. BMTC drivers have their own version.
Despite bumper-to-bumper traffic and absence of a dedicated lane for BMTC buses, they say they are expected to do long routes about five times within an eight-hour working day.
They are forced to try keeping to time tables drawn up when traffic conditions were very different. Bus time tables were drawn up in 1985-86, when the vehicular population of Bangalore was a mere 10 lakh, against today’s 35 lakh. Sharieff disputes this argument, saying: “As and when required we revive trip timings. Recently, we extended the trip timing on Hosur Road, Malleswaram and Vijayanagar as there was major infrastructure construction going on. Drivers are not disciplined. They work according to their whims andfancies.’’ WHAT HAPPENS TO DRIVERS WHO ARE FOUND GUILTY?
If the case of accident is proved, drivers will be removed from service immediately. “Retired judges conduct an inquiry into every accident involving BMTC buses. If the driver is guilty, he will be exempted from the service,’’ said an official, adding that many of the bus routes were recently re-surveyed and trip times have been extended.
“It’s nothing but harassment. With traffic and roads opened up for repair work, how can one cover such distances in short period,’’ pointed out BMTC North Union general secretary Dayanand Sagar. There are about 20,000 drivers and conductors working in the BMTC fleet of 4,000 buses, which ply from 30 depots spread across the city. Even after a regular training programme, the problems continue to haunt the drivers. “We are not given enough leave and are made to work overtime without any extra wages which is our right. We have to shell out Rs 200 to the depot manager either get our leave sanctioned or get overtime wages,’’ said V Mahadev, a driver attached to Ulsoor Depot.
“Coolagi drive maadi,’’ (drive with a cool head) is the solution to avoid accidents on the roads, says Ashwath Narayan, a driver attached to Yeshwantpur depot. A native of Nelamangala, Narayan joined the BMTC in 1986 and won a gold medal for safe driving in 1993. He now drives between Basaveshwarnagar and Majestic, covering Malleswaram, Shankarmath and Modi Hospital. “While driving one needs to be extra vigilant. Since there are all types commuters on the road such as speeding autorickshaws, two-wheelers and crisscrossing pedestrians, one needs to be careful about other’s lives. If something goes wrong if it is not our fault, we are the ones who are blamed,’’ he said. “Ban cell phones for all BMTC drivers,’’ says Venkatesh Naidu, a driver attached to Ulsoor depot. A native of Malavalli in Mandya, he joined the service in 1986 and received the gold medal in 1995. He drives between Shivajinagar and Nagavarapalya. “It’s simple, you follow the rules and everyone is safe. There is no one to stop us from parking the buses at the dedicated bus bays, but many drivers do not follow it causing nuisance to fellow commuters,’’ he said.
BMTC officials refute the claim that drivers are put under unnecessary pressures. Also, trip times will be revised soon, they added. “We conduct regular workshops for drivers on traffic management and safe driving,’’ said a senior BMTC official.


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