The buses of the state-owned Kadamba Transport Corporation (KTC) have been involved in 182 road accidents over the last three years (2015 to 2017), claiming 11 lives. As many as 110 accidents were major: 34 of them took place on the interstate routes in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in which four people were killed. The KTC management has paid a total compensation of Rs 28.39 lakh to families of those who died or were seriously injured in the accidents.
In the preceding three years (2012 and 2014) the KTC buses met with 161 accidents cases in which 22 people were killed. Of the 161 accidents, 135 took place on the state roads and the rest on interstate routes. The accidents are one of the reasons for KTC being in red for most of the time since it was set up in 1980. The total losses suffered by KTC due to the accidents and breakdowns of its buses were to the tune of over Rs 22.20 lakh in the last financial year. Each bus involved is taken off the road following accident; according to the statistics provided by the KTC management, around 48,000 kilometres long trips were lost following involvement of buses in accidents.
The KTC management blames bad roads and negligent driving for the accidents. The drivers say accidents were due to them not getting proper sleep, extended working hours behind the wheels and poor maintenance of the buses. Breakdown of KTC buses on the state’s roads and people being stranded is a common sight. Poor maintenance is the cause of frequent breakdowns. It was only recently that KTC entered into annual maintenance contract with private operators, including bus manufacturers. Neither the KTC management nor workers’ associations would reveal how many of the accidents were owing to drinking.
The drivers complain that the increasing traffic congestion on roads, rising number of bus stops, frequent breakdowns pose a challenge to them in completing their trips on time, forcing them to often resort to speeding which might cause accidents. The drivers also complain about shortage of staff due to which they are forced to drive buses continuously on long routes on interstate routes without getting proper rest.
The drivers do not have fixed duty hours; their working hours depend on the routes they ply the buses. According to an established practice, drivers can drive for a maximum of 4.5 hours without taking a break. Thereafter a minimum break of 45 minutes must be taken, which can be taken in a block of 15 and 30 minutes over the course of the 4.5 hours. According to the best practices, the regular maximum driving hours per day is 9 hours over a maximum 13-hour working day, which includes waiting time and breaks from the time the driver takes charge of the vehicle till he parks the vehicle at the end of the day or shift.
It is a practice in many countries that a bus driver should take a daily overnight rest of 11 consecutive hours away from the vehicle so as to be totally fit for driving the next day. The grievance of the KTC drivers is that that they are often forced to drive upto 16 hours daily and sleep in buses for nights as their management has not made any adequate arrangement for rest at the places where the journey ends even on interstate routes. Leave aside distant places, even at the KTC depots there are no proper resting facilities for the drivers.
The KTC has a fleet of over 545 buses, which carry over a lakh of passengers per day. There are also private buses which carry almost the same or more number of passengers on daily basis. The lives ofpassengers lie in the hands of the drivers plying these buses. It is necessary that the state enforces all regulations and ensures that drivers get the minimum rest and facilities required so as to be fit enough to drive and take passengers safely to their destinations.
If the drivers of the KTC have complaints against their management despite it being a government entity, the plight of those in private sector could be even worse. Rather than engaging in a blame game over accidents, the best way out would be to work towards preventing them and saving lives of the passengers. The government should set up an agency to regulate the functioning of the bus transport system and guarantee the best practices for drivers’ adequate rest and according of proper sleeping and other facilities.