A Metropolitan Transport Corporation bus on its way to Vadapalani terminus from Kundrathur went up in flames on Friday afternoon. No one was injured.

The bus (route no. 88) was carrying around 50 persons as it approached the terminus around 12.30 p.m., according to eye-witnesses.

“First there was smoke from the front end of the bus and the driver alerted the passengers. It was a deluxe bus with automatic collapsible doors. As more smoke billowed out, the driver jumped from his cabin and prised open the passenger-side doors to let the passengers out,” said J. Marimuthu, who is visiting a friend in the city.

Amos, another eye-witness said it was the driver’s presence of mind that prevented the loss of lives. “He jumped out of the cabin and ran to the other side to prise open the doors,” he said. Soon after the passengers had got down, the bus burned down.

“After all the passengers disembarked, the bus began moving. We panicked a little but some passengers and the bus driver and conductors placed rocks to prevent it from moving. It was completely gutted even before the fire engine arrived to put out the flames,” the eye-witness added.

Police however said that only 40 per cent of the vehicle was damaged. It took 20 minutes to put out the fire and traffic flow was affected on Arcot Road for more than half an hour, they added.

The bus, with the registration number TN 01N 4813 was driven by Thangavel. Virugambakkam police have registered a case of accidental fire. The fire from the bus also damaged the clothes displayed by a small readymade garment store, Cine-Style, on Arcot Road. According to K.V. Srinivasan, the owner of the shop, the fire had destroyed some of the clothes that had been displayed on the tree outside the 25-year-old shop.

K. Natarajan, general secretary of MTC Employees Progressive Union, said the vehicle was five years old and had clocked in 4.53 lakh km. “A full fitness check was done on the bus on September 28. The cause of the fire is believed to be bunching of wires near the engine. Damage to even one wire can cause a short circuit leading to fire. The wires should be replaced periodically but because the work was not supervised, it is possible that the wires were not replaced,” he said.

Lack of maintenance of MTC buses is a constant complaint from commuters. A resident of Villivakkam recalled that once he had been travelling by a bus (27D), which did not have functioning brakes. The commuter lodged a complaint with the MTC control room and then, action was taken. “It required a complaint from the public for the MTC to take carry out repairs,” he said.

According to sources in the Transport department, of the total revenue earned by the Corporation, only 20 per cent is allotted for maintenance. This is obviously not enough as most of the buses provide only bare minimum comfort. The life of a bus is around five to six years. And of the around 3,700 buses the MTC has, around 3,400 are on the road on any given day, an official said. “Each vehicle needs a different kind of maintenance. For instance, if in a vehicle the gear box is causing trouble then it must be changed. Others may require only regular maintenance such as wheel or grease replacement,” he said.

He added that the burnt bus would be sent for body-building, as its engine was still in good condition.

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