"To err is human, to blame it on someone else is politics."
In the past one year, Blueline buses in New Delhi (the local public transport system) have been involved in many accidents. The media all along has been blaming the bus drivers and conductors for the accidents and asking the government to implement stringent measures to curb the 'menace'. Blueline bus drivers and conductors, not being of the 'English' speaking variety have been unable to get their side of the story across. I have been traveling by Blueline buses for a long time now and here are details of some incidents I have witnessed -
- A senior passenger in a Blueline suddenly learns that he boarded the wrong bus. As the bus is maneuvering a roundabout outside Parliament house, he rushes to the back door of the bus and jumps off. His head smacks into the ground. The bus driver stops the bus and runs away. Police refuse to let the reserve driver start the bus. Angry passengers yell at the police saying it is not the drivers fault.
- Two youths are sitting on the pavement near Central Secretariat and arguing. The signal is red. A bus is approaching. One youth runs and lies down before the wheels of the bus as a threat to his friend. The signal turns green and the bus driver is unable to break in time. Headlines in the paper, 'The Blueline menace continues."
- Ring Road - There are plenty of underground crossings, however, two boys decide they want to dodge speeding cars. They carelessly run across the road and jump over the central barricade. They are fortunate to escape.
- Okhla - The buses are overcrowded during office hours - 9.00 am to 10.00 am. Police have impounded many buses, making the situation even worse. They are challaning (giving tickets) to every bus that has people hanging from the doors. The conductor keeps yelling to folks hanging from the doors, "andar khali padi hain, bhai, gate par khada mat hona, challan tum bharoge." (stand inside, don't hang from the door, brother, you will have to pay the challan.) People don't bother, they have to reach office on time at any cost. Suddenly, one guy gets smacked on the back as the bus passes another stationery bus.
- Lajpat Nagar Crossing - Even though there is a subway, people prefer to cross the road dangerously rather than walk the extra meter. They also get off at the signal from a moving bus to avoid the walk from the bus stop to the office. At the bus stop, people are standing right till the middle of the road so that they can spot the bus number as it arrives. A junior cop tells them to move back. They refuse and start arguing.
- Paharganj - Two middle aged men are having a blast hanging out the back door of the bus. They are chest banging each other and yelling. The conductor shouts at them to get in and behave. They refuse and continue. Suddenly, the branches of a passing tree smacks them from behind.
- Safdarjung Madarsa - A motorcyclist is driving alongside a bus. Suddenly, he decides to take a u turn. The driver swerves and brakes to avoid the biker. Lots of insults are exchanged.
- A beggar with a bottle runs and lies down under a stopped bus at a signal. The conductor gets off, drags him from under the bus and gives him two slaps.
- My real fat friend and I sprint across the road wearing high heels in front of a Blueline bus. Reaching the other side we start laughing and saying, 'Bach gaya, jaan hatheli pe rakh kar." (We escape, by the skin of our teeth)
The point I am making here is that not all accidents are the fault of the Blueline bus driver. Accidents are a statistic and they are bound to happen. In fact, road accidents are the single largest cause of deaths worldwide. People, whether drivers or pedestrians are bound to make errors in judgment once in a while. Luck also plays a major part in this.
A Blueline bus driver should be held guilty only in cases where he was clearly at fault such as -
- Drunken driving
- Hitting a stationary vehicle at the signal
- Hitting pedestrians who were on the pavement
- Driving on the wrong side of the road
- Speaking on the mobile phone while driving and other such cases.
Recently, there was an accident at Badarpur, where a Blueline bus ran over a group of village women. These women were crossing the road to catch another bus at an undesignated bus stop. The Bluelines faced widespread condemnation in the media. The government was forced to pay 1 lakh compensation to each of the accident victims after the outbreak of violence in the area and the resulting media outcry.
I listened to the comments of fellow commuters and realized that most people were not that sympathetic towards the accident victims. This is some of what I heard -
- "Yeh ladies jo bahar se aati hain, inko road cross karna nahin aata. Unka dimaag hi nahin hain" (These village ladies don't know how to cross the road. They have no brain)
- "Chalo ungli kaat lete hain, phir wahan jakar muavza claim karenge." (Let's cut a finger and later claim compensation.)
- "Sari musibaton ka jad, yeh media wale hain." (The media is the root of all problems.)
Two years ago, when I enrolled myself in a car driving school, the first thing that the instructor told me was, "Agar kabhi kisi ko thok diya, toh wahan rukna mat. Bhag jao. Logon ka gussa itna garam hota hai, ki woh aapko udhar hi peetkar maar denge. Inko pata hain, ki chod diya toh tumhara kuch nahin hoga. Baad mein police station jaakar surrender kar lena." (If you ever kill someone while driving, run away. The people at the accident site get so angry that they will beat you to death. They know that if they let you go, nothing will happen to you. Later on, you can surrender at the police station if you wish.)
As I practiced driving I realized that it was too risky to drive a vehicle on the roads of Delhi. Pedestrians just keep coming out of nowhere. I took to traveling by bus as the most safe and economical way of transport. Being a regular Delhiite, I have also been guilty of many of the offenses I listed above. Every time I escape, I plan to change my behavior, but still end up repeating the very same mistakes. (mostly road crossings, hanging from buses, getting off at signals, jumping off a running bus etc.)
Why do only Blueline buses get into trouble ? Why not DTC (government Delhi Transport Undertaking) buses?
There are fewer DTC buses than there are Bluelines. As Bluelines are private buses, many people either do not buy a ticket or buy a lower priced ticket for a longer distance. DTC buses are routinely checked by ticket checkers, so people are afraid to do the same here. If caught, a person has to pay a fine of Rs.100 or face a jail term.
The Solution To The Issue
Many media organizations have suggested better quality buses, more experienced drivers and new transport systems as a solution to this problem. However, this will never work if Delhiites continue to live dangerously by misbehaving on the roads.
The government has repeatedly been putting public service announcements in local dailies telling people to cross roads carefully and use buses properly. Messages on road etiquette are also being played though loud speakers at a few public intersections. However, much more needs to be done.
The only solution to this issue is that people in Delhi should be forced to behave by making jaywalking punishable with a fine and/or a jail term. Currently, pedestrians and bus passengers face no penalty for misbehavior. Most people have the 'Sab Chalta Hain' (Everything goes, who cares) attitude. The government should take a brave step and blame the people directly. We all know that we are at fault. The fear of losing cash is the best motivation towards sensible road behavior.
Impounding buses and canceling permits only makes the transport system in the city worse. People are forced to catch the remaining few crowded buses. This makes for an uncomfortable journey and an increase in accidents. Until then, the Blueline madness continues......
Mrs. Shiela Dixit, Chief Minister of Delhi, are you listening ???