Stress, traffic and tight schedules put pressure on MTC staff, say officials

The image of the toppled bus beneath the Gemini Flyover is still fresh in the minds of Chennaiites. Though there were no casualties in the June 27 accident, it sent shockwaves through the city. At least, three more accidents involving Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) buses have happened since.

So far, this year, there have been about 35 fatal accidents involving MTC buses. Drivers involved in such incidents are sent for a month-long training at the Institute of Road Transport (IRT), but stress levels remain unchanged, they say.

“The drivers face intense stress. Sometimes, have to work a full shift of 16 hours,” said K. Natarajan, general secretary of MTC Employees Progressive Union.

Generally, a driver begins his day at 4.30 a.m and is expected to work eight hours. He is also entitled to a day off after that “But, often he is asked to work till 10 pm. Due to shortage of drivers, he is asked to come in to work on his day-off too,” said Mr. Natarajan.

According to him the required driver strength is 5,800, but the current staff strength at MTC is just 5,000.

Another problem that adds to stress is the duration of a trip. “The timing was decided in 1965. Now with ongoing Metro Rail work and traffic congestion, it is not possible to reach the destination on time. So they try to drive fast whenever possible,” he said, adding that the time allotted for trips should be arrived at in a scientific manner.

Drivers involved in accidents are given counselling and yoga lessons to help them cope with stress. “Often, the drivers go into depression after the accident. Hence, they need counselling. They are also taught basic driving skills again and given yoga training,” said an IRT official. The drivers are also advised to follow healthy food habits.

Senior MTC officials said steps were being taken to fill driver vacancies. “It is not possible to change the schedule of buses as office-goers and college students will be affected. But we do make changes on some routes during non-peak hours. Once, Metro Rail work is completed, such problems will be solved,” the official said.

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