Only 10 per cent pvt buses have emergency exits

Only ten per cent of the roughly 1,000 Volvos run by private operators have managed to get emergency exit doors fixed - which amounts to around 100.

There’s just one and a half months left for the operators to get all buses readied with emergency exit doors. Will they do it? A few bus operators this paper spoke to said they hadn’t yet begun work on their buses as there was adequate time to do so.

Private Bus Owners Association secretary N K Ramesh told Deccan Herald that private operators had begun following the regulations framed by the Transport Department. “”Operators have been given three months time to overhaul buses and fix emergency exits. Typically it always starts on a slow note and when deadline is nearing operators will get the exits fixed.”“

But why the delay? Ramesh says bus operators were not very clear about the design of the exit door. The operators are waiting for Volvo’s plan for KSRTC buses. Once KSRTC buses have the fixed exits, the bus operators have decided to follow KSRTC’s example. Since there is adequate time left, operators are willing to wait. Most bus operators will get exit doors fixed, says a confident Ramesh.

There are some tricky matters, however, to be dealt with before the bus operators get the exit door fixed. The Transport Department has said that curtains along the bus windows are to be removed, to which there is mild disagreement. Private operators say the curtains lend privacy to passengers and would be of help during peak summer. The curtain cloth is made of cotton in some cases, but linen is also used. The cloth is vulnerable to fire and may aid in spreading the fire a great deal. The transport department has also said that inflammable materials should not be loaded on to the buses like silk, rubber, paper bundles and garments. The bus operators are apparently not clear about what should go inside the bus storage and what should not, which is a cause for the delay.

Private operators however offer justification for carrying parcels other than passenger luggage. The Bus Owners Association secretary says private operators pay huge taxes every quarter - Rs 1.25 lakh in Karnataka and Rs 1.50 lakh in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. “If we carry only passengers, we will lose major revenue and will have to run on losses. The heavy tax we pay is made up by money we get for the parcels we transport other than luggage.”“ The parcels are samples of leather belts or other leather products, steel items, cloth items and hardware products. Transport department officials however are clear that such parcels are not to be transported. An official brushed aside talk of high taxes and parcels other than luggage. “The rules are very clear that you are not supposed to carry anything other than luggage. There is no ambiguity. So private operators can say what they want, but everything has been laid out formally.”“

The association contends that the emergency exits would not be of use if seats are fixed next to the exit. How will passengers alight during an emergency, they ask. But offcials shoot down this concern saying the emergency exits should not have  seats along them. While bus operators say their worry is loss of revenue caused by absence of two seats, the government says safety is top priority and the exits should be free.

While the body design will change with addition of the emergency exit door, no changes will be made to the engine or deisel tanks. The pivate operators themselves admit that Volvo is an international company and would have global designs. “The volvo buses are produced as per international standards. They have proven buses and we cannot question their design. The accidents are not due to design problems, but carelessness. There should be no mistake on anybody’s part,”“ says Ramesh.

The transport department is in the process of approving design changes introduced by Volvo to the body. Two designs have been forwarded and one of them will be finalised. KSRTC buses are already running with exit doors. Private operators say once the KSRTC fully changes, they too would follow the same. Officials say private operators dont have a choice. Those who don’t comply will be penalsied. Already a number of buses have been stopped and booked for violating regulations and more action will be taken once the deadline ends. But private operators say barring one meeting, the transport department hasn’t called for another meeting to sort out concerns of the operators particularly over carrying parcels other than passenger luggage. They suggest that if taxes are reduced, they will not carry the additional loads as it would become financially viable for them.

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