On the congested roads of the city during rush hour, it is not uncommon to see public transport buses jumping traffic signals or violating stop lines. While public carriers must be setting the precedent for safe driving, experts say that factors such as inadequate driver training, an explosion in the number of private vehicles and overcrowded buses have affected the quality of driving.
There have been 1,521 traffic violations by Metropolitan Transport Corporation drivers till June 30 this year, with 450 of them recorded last month alone. The traffic police send weekly summons to the MTC that contain a list of offenders, instead of stopping the violators on the road, says M. Ravi, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic).
The most common violation, almost 60 per cent, is jumping of traffic signals by buses. Other violations include lane and stop line violations.
Many violations, however, go unrecorded, says a senior traffic police official, because unions are strong. “Even at the operational management level, emphasis is on collection. If safety is considered important, the MTC has to evolve a safe driving squad, similar to its ticket checking squad,” he adds.
Making the driver pay Rs.50 for every traffic violation is not the solution to address the problem, says K.N. Krishnamurthy, president, Indian Roads and Transport Development Association. “Public transport operators should set an example. What actually happens on the road is a bunch of motorists following an MTC bus and violating a red signal.”
According to Mr. Krishnamurthy, the problem of inadequate investment on driver training has been exacerbated by issues such as overcrowding and pressure on bus drivers to finish each trip within a fixed time. “Overloading is an everyday reality. There is inadequate communication between the driver and the conductor and it severely reduces the driver's field of vision.”
MTC buses have a capacity of 73 passengers (48 seated + 25 standees).
However, the average peak-hour occupancy ratio of buses in the city is 115 per cent, according to the detailed project report submitted for procurement of buses under the JNNURM scheme in 2009. The average maximum loading is close to 100 passengers.
The report goes on to say 4,366 buses are required to meet the demand, whereas only 2,990 services are under operation.
P. Bagawanth, an MTC driver with 27 years of experience, admits that many drivers resort to violating rules because of the pressure to complete eight single trips in every shift.
“Buses have been upgraded but the route chart still belongs to the 1980s. If an MLA wants, a bus stop is arbitrarily created without taking into account the increase in travel time. There has to be a scientific evaluation of routes.”
Some drivers “do not obey signals,” a senior MTC official said, adding that repeat offenders are put through a training programme. “In some extreme cases, disciplinary action has also been initiated. In case of fatal accidents, drivers are suspended for a month and mandatorily sent for training. Legal proceedings against the driver take place simultaneously.”