New Delhi: Sleek low-floor buses of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) were supposed to be a gift to Delhiites, offering a smooth ride from the time of the 19th Commonwealth Games. But just a year after the event, their rickety old cousins are back from the boondocks.
The official line was that the old buses - poorly maintained, unsafe and ill-fitted - would be completely discarded by the time the October 3-14 Games ended. However, they are far from being phased out. The DTC puts the blame on the delay in introduction of cluster buses, meant to be privately operated contract services.
The DTC fleet carries a load of around 4.5 million people every day.
According to Delhi Transport Minister Arvinder Singh, DTC has a fleet of around 6,500 buses, including 3,775 low-floor buses which were introduced prior to the October 3-14 Games - so the remaining are still the old ones.
"Mostly, we get the old type of DTC buses, some of them are in really bad condition, not at all worth travelling in," says Archana Kaul, an employee of Indian Railways who commutes daily from Sarojini Nagar in South Delhi.
Commoners, including children, are bearing the brunt.
"Most of the school buses (for those schools that hire from the DTC) are the old ones; this is bad because the old buses are not so safe. Doors don`t close automatically, some even have metal pieces jutting out. I don`t know when they will update these," says Rajiv Shankar, a resident of east Delhi.
Vijay Kumar Dev, the corporation`s chairman and managing director, says DTC is forced to ply the old buses as the new privately operated cluster buses are still not plying in sufficient numbers.
"We are compelled to ply the old worn out buses which are 8 to 10 years old. They are in a bad shape and not commutable," Dev admitted.
During the Games last year, Delhi`s roads were totally rid of the old DTC buses as well as private buses.
However, after the Games, the old DTC buses still ply in large numbers along with the new low-floor buses.
"In order to present a good picture during CWG, the city was plying only new buses. However, those were only 3,000 in number. After the CWG, we had to include the old buses to meet the demand," he says.
Dev says according to the orders of the Delhi High Court, nearly 11,000 buses are needed on Delhi`s roads.
"There should be 6,600 cluster buses, and 4,400 DTC buses. But only 100 cluster buses are plying on the roads as of now. Hence we are forced to use the old DTC buses, even though they are not economical and not so safe anymore," he admits.
Moreover, as with the old buses, some grouchy drivers and conductors too are back. DTC had a special training drive for its drivers and conductors during the Games, but some of the crew are back to their gruff ways.
"In a drive, DTC is checking on adherence to the time schedule, violation of traffic rules by drivers, behaviour of the crew, frequency of the buses and cleanliness," minister Arvinder Singh said at a meeting of the Delhi cabinet.
Maintenance of the buses is also a major complaint.
"In many buses, the windowpanes are broken, they are not clean and they don`t have first-aid boxes," admitted Dev.
However, he said Delhiites too needed to be more responsible.
"Ticketless travelling is a problem, seen mostly on the outskirts of Delhi like Bawana where conductors and drivers are thrashed if they ask passengers to buy tickets," he said.
But he added that DTC, which runs the world`s largest fleet of environment-friendly CNG buses, is still a highly popular mode of transportation.
"DTC is highly popular and we are not in competition with the Metro. The DTC passenger load has increased in three years, from 30 lakh to 45 lakh (3 million to 4.5 million)," he said.