Bus design may have played a significant role in reducing the number of accidents and fatalities on buses, but deaths as a result of ignoring bus safety rules still find their way into news reports: a month ago, Jalajakshi, a 27-year-old employee of HP, slipped while attempting to board a moving private bus and came under its rear wheel, and in July 2012, Saraswathi, an elderly bus passenger, was killed when the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Company (BMTC) bus on which she was travelling moved as she was alighting from the middle doors, and ran over her as she fell.
However, the exact number of deaths in this manner is difficult to establish: BMTC buses contributed to 86 deaths in 2012, but neither the BMTC nor the Bangalore Traffic Police record the exact manner in which the death was caused.
The most common offenses that occur are passengers travelling on footboards, and getting on and off before the bus comes to a complete halt. Bus drivers, on their part, sometimes keep doors open even when buses are in motion, and fail to stop at the designated bus-stop or come to a complete halt to let passengers alight. In 2012, police booked 148 passengers for footboard travelling during off-peak hours (buses are not stopped during peak hours so as not to hold up traffic) and 5,503 drivers for not stopping at the designated bus-stop.
C. Nagaraj, the BMTC’s Chief Traffic Manager of Operations, says it is mandatory for drivers to bring the bus to a complete stop at designated bus-stops, and for them to keep doors closed while moving. “Every week, around 100 to 150 drivers receive regular training on issues including safety,” he says. The introduction of pneumatic bus doors and the phasing out of older buses without doors has brought down the incidence of such accidents, he adds. Bus drivers such as Muniraju T. confirm that they receive safety training, but argue that shutting the doors at the front of the bus impedes visibility and delays their schedule.
However, keeping doors closed until the bus is stationary is an important safety measure to pre-empt such accidents, say experts. “The BMTC needs to enforce this rule strictly,” says adviser to the State government on traffic, transport and infrastructure M.N. Sreehari, who says people are especially at risk of being thrown off buses if the doors are kept open while taking a turn. Currently, he says, the decision to open or close doors rests with the driver, who doesn’t always follow safety rules.
A 2012 report in the Journal of Public Transportation points out that “unsafe passenger behaviour is amplified in crowded buses.” Assessing the impact of door crowding on operations and safety, the report says bus conductors have a large role to play in preventing people from boarding crowded buses and from engaging in unsafe behaviour, as do the police.
Additional Commissioner for Police (Traffic) M.A. Saleem says that although footboard travelling isn’t a major issue, it is at its worst during peak hours. “It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that the doors are opened only at the stops. Passengers should ensure they get on and off at the correct stop, and when inside, they should ensure they do not crowd around the doors,” he cautions.