No joy in this driver's seat
A Begur-bound Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) bus has been standing at Shivajinagar bus terminus for ten minutes to the impatience of some passengers as the conductor and driver wait for the seats to fill up. It’s early afternoon on a weekday. Some of the passengers, in a hurry, even call out to the driver to start up the engine. Five minutes later, the driver announces that the engine seems to have over-heated and hence the trip is cancelled.
“You knew that there was a problem, still you issued tickets and wasted our time,” accuses a man to the woman conductor Gangamma as she calmly tells him that the bus parked behind will follow the same route and will start in a few minutes.
The passengers troop into the other bus, complaining to the driver even as Gangamma tries to clarify on the situation. This leads to a brawl with the drivers and conductors of both buses trying to pacify passengers.
“How will they understand our problems,” says Gangamma. As if on cue, driver Ravi says, “The engines over-heat all the time. They’re absolutely unpredictable. You don’t know when the bus will refuse to move. Even when we leave faulty buses at the depot for servicing, they get interchanged, so you just end up with a different bus but with the same problems.”
Ravi’s list of complaints don’t end here. Nor does any of the drivers’ that City Express spoke to.
While most of them were a little apprehensive when this reporter struck up a conversation, they soon flood in with the perils of being a public bus driver and how there’s no one to listen to their story.
Driven mad by traffic
Most drivers jest that the issues they face could fill up a book. Ravi says of his daily grind, “The traffic is maddening. We have to cover a certain number of kilometres per day - for me, its 189 km. It’s impossible to do so in Bangalore’s traffic conditions,” adding that those who fail to cover the distance are not paid overtime duty charges. “We’re even issued memos, stating that we’ve failed to reach the stipulated distance per day,” he states.
Ramu, who also ferries passengers from Shivajinagar to Begur, says, “The conductor and I were assigned this route three months ago. Since we cover the second shift - 2 pm to 10 pm - we are forced to sleep in the bus.” He adds that those like them, who are under training, are not entitled to leaves.
He also hints at bullying. “If one day you’re late, you might be fined or transferred.”
Bad condition of buses
Continuing on the condition of buses and traffic, Ramu says, “Many parts of the buses are in terrible shape. So on crowded city roads, in bumper to bumper traffic, when autorickshaws and two-wheelers try to overtake all of a sudden, we don’t know if we can brake on time or if the brakes will fail. We drive with our hearts in our mouths.”
In accidents, bus drivers are the first accused. “Public sympathy lies with the autos and two-wheelers, regardless of whose fault it is. We are the ones who get beaten up,” adds Selvaraj.
They could complain to the higher-ups but the fear of transfers to ‘far off places’ silences all.