Of “Killer” Buses and Car Lobbies: The Coincidental Death of the BRT
The sustained campaign by the elite press to jettison Delhi’s first mas transit bus system has been remarked upon and documented on Kafila. Today morning’s newspapers carries news of an accident in which 32-year old Poonam Sharma was killed as she tried crossing the road and was hit by an oncoming bus. Delhi’s record when it comes to road safety is abysmal and this is yet another instance of the the terrible and tragic fate that befalls many pedestrians every year on Delhi’s roads. What is interesting though is the way in which accidents on the BRT are reported compared to the reportage of other road fatalities. Here are some headlines from the recent past:
This is certainly not the first time that an accident on the road has been atrributed to some uniquely malevolent quality in the BRT. This opposition to the BRT is a focussed version of the antagonism that extends to buses in general, even when its clear that private cars kill many more people every year. And yet the accidents on the BRT are presented as a result of inherent flaws in the structure of the road (it is the road itself that “claims” its victims), whereas car accidents, on other roads, are caused by human failure. So while BMW’s might have received some bad press, we don’t hear anyone saying private car ownership is a continuing and rising health hazard for the city’s residents, when in fact statistics show that in 2001 cars regularly mowed down over 2 and a half times as many people as buses, and in 2005 1,1717 people were killed on the road. Of these buses killed only 106 people. So who killed the rest? Well, Pajero, Skoda, Safari and BMW to name only a few.
But do we hear the Chief Minister calling car ownership a “menace” even though clearly the blueline “killer fleet” is not a patch on the mayhem caused by cars every year. One would be excused for wondering if its safe to step out of doors at all with 4 million killing machines on the rampage on Delhi’s streets, and 963 being added everyday. At 6,500 in 2007, buses are an endangered species which still provide 60% of the city’s transportation.
It is no one’s case that steps do not need to be taken to stop the deaths caused by reckless buses. Road safety needs to improve drastically across the board. An appallingly large number of people are killed on the roads every year by cars, buses and motorbikes. But surely we must not confuse the solution with the problem. Buses are not the problem, cars are. More buses will mean less cars, less accidents and less pollution. And yet from the mid-nineties the image of the killer bus running amok on the streets of Delhi, mowing down terrified pedestrians in its path has been a staple of the mainstream press. The middle-classes were enraged when the BRT prioritized, as any sensible and sane transport system would, mass transport over private cars. One editorial in our favourite paper even asserted that the BRT was a nefarious leftist conspiracy to bring socialism to Delhi’s roads, worthy of Mao’s China no less, to “Ensure equal distribution of traffic and road space by “taking away” lanes from private vehicles to persuade (read force) car-owners to shift to public transport.” Wha..? We’re as bemused by this extraordinary statement as you are.
As we have had occasion to note earlier on Kafila, unless we all wish to be killed by asthama or insanity, this city desperately and urgently needs an equitable public transport system. There has to be a democracy of the roadways and we need to reclaim public transport for the public! Already the powers that be, having buckled to the petrol-guzzling-car-driving-screeching-middle-class are getting ready to axe the dedicated cycle lane in the next phases of the BRT. If the next CM doesn’t display some muscle and throw his/her weight behind the one project which might actually go some way towards solving the crises, I suppose they will have long hours to ponder the consequences of their pusillanimity as they hack into their respirator, nursing the arm some lunatic broke because they took his parking slot.