Reckless driving, drunk drivers and now cudgel-wielding bus workers

Those traveling by buses in our state cannot miss the sight of school and college students chasing after buses that refuse to let them in. If they manage to get on, they should never have the audacity to park themselves on the seats. Instead, they should hang on to the iron rods and brace themselves for the free after-school education on dodging oglers, gropers and paedophiles. After all, they pay only a measly 25 percent of the ticket charges; so buses do not want them taking up precious space and we are ok with it.

Our apathy as a society has empowered the offenders so much that they now wield cudgels and knives at school and college students. They are punished because they have dared to assert their right to travel and get home at the earliest. The students of Government ITI in Maradu, Ernakulam were stabbed and hit with iron rods for insisting that they be allowed to travel in the one of the few private buses headed to Aroor via their college. Getting to Aroor will help students from Alleppey area catch a bus home before dark. Of course, we want to believe it is an isolated incident. But how safe are our children who intend to reach schools, colleges and homes by traveling on the buses plying on our roads?

When addicts double as bus drivers in Aluva

The Aluva Police was apparently not surprised by the recent attack launched by private bus workers on the students of Maradu ITI. Inspections conducted earlier by the Police had brought to light the alarming practice of driving under the influence of liquor and drugs. There is a small but significant number of drivers who do not think much about pushing a needle drug down their veins between driving a bus full of unsuspecting passengers. The increase in the price of alcohol has spurred the demand for illegal drugs which come cheaper than tobacco. These can be bought as injections or tablets which can be popped under the tongue to stay high longer.

Bus drivers inebriated from early morning

As many as 40 drivers, including KSRTC and school bus drivers, were nabbed for driving under the influence of liquor and drugs during a recent crackdown by Ernakulam Rural Police. The inspection was carried out early in the day, from 6 to 9 am. Evidently, bus drivers are high on drugs and alcohol right from daybreak. In a separate inspection, 15 drivers were arrested from Aluva for drunk driving. In the wake of these incidents, Motor Vehicles Department has issued a circular authorizing Motor Vehicle Inspectors (MVI) to prosecute bus owners if found to be employing drivers without a valid license and to submit the report directly in court. The MVIs and AMVIs have been instructed to conduct stringent and regular inspection of vehicles on the road.

Buses ply as and when it pleases the drivers

The practice of owners renting out buses on lease is widespread in many parts of the state. The owner will be paid a daily rent of around Rs 1500-2000. This is said to be most rampant in Aluva although bus owners claim that the number of such cases have gone down. Bus owners do not meddle with the trips or appointment of workers during the lease period, and have no control over who are given the jobs.

Slew of charges against bus drivers in Perumbavoor

In the wake of the attack on students, the Enforcement RTO cracked down on private buses in Perumbavoor. Buses sporting air horns were slapped with fines and the horns removed. As many as 50 buses were found to be flouting rules. Cases have been registered against drivers for drunk driving, not possessing driving license, and not wearing uniforms. The drivers who were charged had to find a replacement before the buses could resume service.

Two hoots to law

Since the Motor Vehicles Act imposes only minor penalties for traffic rule violations, reckless private bus drivers rule the roost on our roads. Either they or the bus owners pay up when penalties are imposed. Seat-belt and helmet rules are violated for the same reason that they are bracketed as petty offenses. Private buses plying on our roads make the most of this and lead the way in flouting traffic rules. For instance, the rule stipulates that the door keeper/checker in buses should wear blue uniform. But not many would remember spotting a blue-uniformed door keeper ever.

· As per rules, the driver should be in a cabin separated from passenger seats. But most buses do not have driver’s cabin.

· Bus drivers should be in uniform at all times. While most drivers of buses plying on city roads adhere to this rule, there are still many who don’t.

· The law categorically states that stereo should not be fixed in buses, but buses on the roads blurt out music from stereo.

· Motor Vehicles Department does not allow the use of air horns above 120 decibels in motor vehicles. Private buses openly violate permissible noise levels on roads outside the city limits and use air horns to startle motorists out of their way.

· The speed limit imposed on transport buses within city limits of 35 km/hr. Private buses give two hoots to restrictions on speed while racing each other on the city roads.

· All workers on a private bus are required to wear nameplates, but rarely do we see it on drivers, conductors or doorkeepers.

RTA chairman promises action to ensure safe transport for students

Mohammed Y. Safirullah, RTA Chairman and Collector

“The Regional Transport Authority (RTA) is considering canceling the permit of the private bus involved in the incident. The RTO has been directed to cancel the driving license of the driver and the conductor. Steps will be taken to ensure that students do not face difficulty traveling in private buses. An action plan will be developed after discussing with the Motor Vehicles Department.

The Enforcement RTO has been instructed to crack down on private buses and carry out frequent inspections. We will call a meeting of private bus owners and workers. All private bus workers in Kochi will attend a mandatory training programme on model code of conduct over the next two months.”

All we are asking for is a safe trip home before dark”

(Atul Krishna, student of Maradu ITI)

“Our classes get over by 5 pm. I live in Thaneermukkam and need to get on buses going via Cherthala. But very few buses going that side pass by Nettoor INTUC junction - the bus stop near our college. We almost never get home before nightfall. The one other option we have is to get down at Aroor and catch a bus home from there. ‘Mangalya’, a private bus plying on the Ernakulam-Poochakkal route, has a stop at Aroor. But they will not let us get on. If they spot us at the bus stop, they will not stop. In case there are people who want to get down at our stop, they will stop a long way away and speed off before we can reach.

Fed up of this cat and mouse game, some of us friends called out to the bus driver and conductor the other day that they must let us get on the bus. They showered expletives and made obscene gestures at us. So we decided that we will chase the bus down when it stops and ask them why they wouldn’t let us get on. The next day also, they stopped a long way away from where we were, but a group of us friends made a dash for it as soon as it did.

We asked them why they wouldn’t allow us to travel on the bus. We did expect a skirmish, but not this. They attacked us with iron rods and knives. Before I knew my hand was bleeding from a deep cut. Two of our friends were stabbed. All of us were left badly injured as we were not expecting them to carry weapons. My wound needed stitches and I haven’t started attending college yet.

Perhaps they don’t want students travelling the buses because we have a concession on ticket charges. But how are we supposed to get home before dark? How much time should we spend shuttling on buses? There should be some solutions to this.

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Nettoor incident unfortunate, never should have occurred”

(Abdul Kalam, district vice-president, Private Bus Operators Organisation)

“What happened in Nettoor is a one-off case and should never have happened. The students traveling by our buses should be treated like our own children. The bus drivers are under a lot of stress. The traffic slows them down by anything around half-an-hour on each trip. The normal running time between Vyttila and Aroor is 30 min. If they are late by even a minute, the buses plying from Aroor will get a head start. It means our buses coming in from Vyttilla will be almost empty on the trips starting from Aroor. The drivers are always in a rush to be ahead of these deadlines while beating the traffic.

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