Wednesday’s crackdown by the Transport Department comes barely days after a Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) bus caught fire while ferrying schoolchildren on a picnic. The RTO’s allegation that safety guidelines were not being followed puts the focus on BMTC buses being used to transport students.
This is not the first time RTO has undertaken such an exercise. Last year, 10 BMTC buses were stopped and seized temporarily when officials said they had discovered safety violations. These buses were also on contract with a popular private school in the city. However, BMTC officials say it is not feasible to follow the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court for vehicles ferrying schoolchildren. These guidelines include painting the bus and writing the words ‘school bus’ in large font. “The guidelines apply for vehicles that ferry schoolchildren exclusively. We use these buses on regular routes after school hours. So we cannot make these permanent changes,” a senior BMTC official said.
While acknowledging that safety is paramount, BMTC said the issues highlighted by the RTO would be addressed. “This question of whether BMTC should follow the Supreme Court guidelines was taken up around two years ago and an advisory was issued in this regard. We cannot paint our buses yellow and follow the text scheme, but we are concerned about safety issues and will certainly address them,” said Ekroop Caur, managing director of BMTC. School authorities said they have had a tie-up with BMTC since 1996 and many students and teachers has in fact opted for these buses. “A total of 850 out of the 4,320 students use these buses and 23 buses are deployed for this duty. BMTC is our choice as they have a huge fleet size,” said Vijai Krishna Rajagopal, principal of Vidyaniketan Public School.
Because of the economical prices offered by BMTC, several educational institutions opt to strike up a contract with it. Every year, on average, seven to eight new institutions sign up for the BMTC’s school bus service. “We can provide cheap service as we don’t keep our buses idle and use them on normal routes. A lots of schools are not able to afford private school bus services,” Ms. Caur said.