Guwahati: Slew of New Policies to be Implemented to Hem in Wayward City Buses
For Guwahatians, traffic snarls have become a daily phenomenon. Commuters face a harrowing experience not only on the major roads but also on the smaller roads networking the city.
G Plus spoke to commuters regarding the strain caused by daily traffic and the reasons behind it. As all modes of transport jostle for space, a major chunk of public transport in the city is borne by the city buses. Their haphazard parking, halting to pick up customers at random places and competitive driving often leads to blockages in road traffic.
A PIL (72/2016) was filed by Rita Das Mozumdar in the Gauhati High Court to ease traffic congestion in the city arising out of haphazard parking, ill-management of traffic, unscientific traffic control, etc.
In this regard, the court has been issuing directives to the concerned authorities for the installation of GPS system, to set proper bus routes as per scientific study of roads, to not allow any bus to ply without doors, installation of CCTV cameras at every traffic light point and outside shops and others.
In this regard the Regional Transport Authority, Kamrup has launched operations across the city against the violation of rules by the buses.
According to reports around 40 buses which had violated the newly imposed rules were fined and approximately Rs 32,000 was imposed for route violation, non-issue of tickets to passengers and keeping the doors open while plying.
No proper registration of city bus staff
Although the Regional Transport Authority (RTA), Kamrup has been repeatedly issuing guidelines to provide proper identification of the bus drivers and asked the concerned authorities to paste the drivers' photos on the front of the vehicle ensuring it is visible from a distance of at least 50 meters, none of these have been strictly followed.
Talking to the bus owners and the various city bus associations of Guwahati, it was found that none have any proper identity verification of the bus staff which includes the driver, handyman and conductor.
R Talukdar, the owner of a city bus said, “I don’t have identification papers of my staff, but that is not required as I know them personally. Even when my staff changes, the people working in this field keep on rotating amongst themselves, so we don’t have to worry about their identities.”
Similar responses were given by other owners. What’s shocking is that the city bus association and even the RTA authorities could not provide any proper data of the same.
It is to be mentioned that many a time a vehicle changes hands even during the duration of a single day. Although owners and authorities claim this happens only when a particular staff member has fallen ill or due to personal emergencies, it has come to notice that there is third party involvement in some cases. The driver, after taking the bus from the owner at a certain price rate that he is to pay at the end of the day, gives the bus to be driven by another party at a higher rate. He thus enjoys the extra amount as a brokerage. In such instances, there is no way of knowing the actual identity of the driver/handyman as their IDs and photos are not displayed.
This also becomes a factor of insecurity for commuters, mostly for the ones travelling at late hours and females as the staff may not be identified in the instance of any untoward event.
Nitul Gogoi, DIG (MPC) has also expressed concern regarding the matter when informed and said that although the matter is cognisable as an offence, neither the RTA has taken up any initiative for registration nor have the private agencies. He said, “We have asked the owners to keep their staff on salary basis rather than on contract so that proper documentation can be maintained.”
Pradip Das, President of Guwahati Transport Association (GTA) said, “We have pasted the photos of some drivers as ordered but the order is actually a violation of human rights as nobody would want their photo being displayed publicly.”
However, Kulendra Nath Khatoniar, DGM of Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC) said that ASTC has maintained proper records of each of its employees.
Installation of GPS in all buses
Guwahati has more than 1,200 buses for public usage. Of this, around 300 are registered under ASTC while around 900 to 1,000 others are with different private associations.
The ASTC buses have proper GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation and a private agency is given the contract of monitoring the buses, so that the routes and timing of each bus is maintained. Also the ticketing devices are controlled from this agency center set up at ISBT.
However, no such thing is done by the private agencies. Earlier there used to be time-keeper booths at different bus stoppages and any bus that does not reach on time was fined.
Pradip Das said, “These booths were removed long back by GMC in the name of beautification. Although we have been asking them to set up these booths again, they have not complied as of yet.” GMC Commissioner, Debeswar Malakar has cited ignorance in this matter.
It has to be mentioned that although every private agency has provided certain timekeepers at certain locations of the city like Jalukbari, Khanapara, Beltola, Panbazar etc, these do not serve the purpose as they claim due to severe traffic congestion, the buses cannot be expected to commute on time.
In January 2020, the Gauhati High Court had directed the State Transport Commissioner to install GPS in all buses within six weeks so as to enable tracking of their movement.
When asked about its implementation in private buses, Nitul Gogoi said, “The buses already have GPS devices installed in them. But the complete process is yet to be integrated, mostly due to lack of funds. A private agency has already been contracted and probably the private buses would be monitored alongside the ASTC buses by the same agency although things have not yet been finalized.”
Adil Khan, commissioner of transport said, “We have asked the central government for funds to set up an Integrated Command and Control System to monitor the buses, and such a trial center has already been set up at ISBT, and monitoring is being done.”
New bus routes to be set up
A division bench of the Gauhati High Court comprising Chief Justice Ajai Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saikia issued this directive that new bus routes be set up to control traffic in Guwahati.
For a proposal, there will be 32 bus routes within Guwahati City, instead of the existing 39 routes.
However, city bus associations like GTA, Guwahati Motor Transport Association (GMTA), and Greater Guwahati Mini Bus Owners’ Association (GGMBOA) have raised concern regarding the constant changing of routes by RTA.
Nitul Gogoi said, “We have directed the Transport Department to rationalize the route permits so as to ensure avoidance of traffic congestion on the arterial routes of the city. Further, directions have been given to every bus to carry a ‘Display Plate’ clearly indicating the ‘Route Permit Number’ and the route on which it is plying, on the front, back, and left side of the body, so that passengers conveniently know the route and buses violating the conditions can be proceeded against.”
Insufficient bus bays major reason behind traffic congestion
The Gauhati High Court has also asked the government to identify bus bays, preferably on the MG Road from Bharalumukh to Jalukbari, within three weeks. The concerned authorities like the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) and Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) are to set up bays wherever possible so that parking of buses does not necessarily block the ongoing traffic.
“Works are to be undertaken very soon of setting up bays wherever possible and new bus stops are also to be constructed where required. The process has been initiated but is moving at slow pace due to lack of funds,” said Debeswar Malakar.
Nitul Gogoi added, “The court has directed to set up bus stops at every 750 meters, so there are possibilities of certain bus stops being shifted from their current location.” However, even he has mentioned cash crunch to be a reason behind the slow pace of work.
It is to be mentioned that around 30 percent of the buses have been removed from the road to prevent traffic as per the directives of the court. Also, the long body buses under ASTC have been taken off the road as it was pointed out that the city roads were not viable for them.
Although existing buses are removed stating that they are in the excess, the Government have propose to launch 200 new buses under the Uberisation Scheme. Although authorities have said the buses would be given only in routes that do not have enough given the number of passengers, bus agencies have raised concern, claiming it to be contradictory to the High Court’s directives.
Khatoniar said that “RTA usually fines from the buses that are stopped or parked along the road. When I raised the issue and asked them to mention the allotted parking areas and marked them accordingly, they said PWD is the responsible authority.” However, the demarcations have not yet been made.
Lack of proper awareness among passengers
Although various steps had been taken by the authorities to prevent traffic blockage in Guwahati and also for the convenience of the passengers and other commuters, most passengers are not aware of the same.
It is seen that many passengers stand at random places along the road for buses and also ask to be dropped as per their convenience. Many are also seen misbehaving with bus staff when their requests are not complied with.
Concerned citizens have said that the government should put up proper guidelines in all the bus stop for passengers alongside the rules that are to be followed by the buses. Moreover route maps are also to be put up and fines introduced for passengers not following rules.
Lack of basic facilities for bus operators
Presidents of GTA, GMTA and GGMBOA have all pointed out that the city does not have provision for the basic necessities of the operators such as toilets and shelters to take rest. As such, in such circumstances, they have to be substituted.
They have also mentioned the lack of proper toilets and shelters in the parking areas at Adabari, Khanapara, Beltola and others.
Pradip Das said, “These basic facilities are mentioned in the Motor Vehicles Act, 1989. Yet the government has not given any thought to it as of yet.”
GMC Commissioner, Debeswar Malakar said, “I don’t remember the exact provisions available for them. But we have already asked for the construction of 10 toilets in Adabari for ladies, gents as well as handicapped people. Also, toilets are to be constructed at Khanapara and work would soon start.” He also mentioned that many toilets have already been set up in the city if not specifically for the bus operators.
Apart from the above-mentioned steps that have already been undertaken a few more are added to the list.
• Creation of two Facebook accounts and two WhatsApp numbers where passengers or any other public could complain if a bus violates rules. In this regard, two WhatsApp numbers have been provided by the traffic police – 6901269006 and 6026176755 - so that public complaints could be raised if the buses stop for over two minutes. Banners have also been put up behind the buses for public awareness.
• Officers not below the rank of DIG are to be deputed for monitoring these accounts.
• The Court has informed that most buses do not have doors. In such circumstances, when a passenger makes an attempt to alight or board a bus, the driver has to stop the bus, which causes hindrances in the traffic flow. The traffic police and the RTA have taken up this matter and police personnel are deployed at many bus stops so that buses plying without closed doors are fined up to Rs 10,000.
“The Government has taken up the issue of traffic very seriously and regular meetings are held with top officials of the concerned authorities. Issues relating to the city buses are also taken up and work on every directive of the High Court would be undertaken. However, we are short of sufficient funds, so more time would be needed.”
Guwahatians are of the opinion that although such initiatives have been taken up earlier and guidelines issued to city bus authorities, the same have not been implemented properly. They raised concern as to how long the steps taken at the present would continue.