Pune road mayhem-waiting to happen?

January 25th, 2012 - 8:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Pune, Jan 25 (IANS) In a shocking revelation, it is learnt that a majority of the state transport public buses in Maharashtra are fitted with an auto-start mechanism, making them vulnerable to incidents like Wednesday’s bus hijack in which nine people were killed in Pune.

A top Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation Employees Union (MSRTCEU) leader, while expressing grief over the morning incident in which a mentally ill driver hijacked a bus and ran over nine pedestrians, admitted that “a majority of the ST buses, may be 40-50 percent of the fleet” are fitted with a button start ignition, like in some popular two-wheeler models in the market.

“There are no ignition keys for a variety of reasons. The buses run on auto-start ignition,” MSRTCEU general secretary Hanumant Tate told IANS. The union has a majority strength among the 100,000-plus employees of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC).

Top MSRTC officials, including the spokesperson, remained incommunicado all day despite several attempts by IANS.

A state transport bus driver in a northwest Mumbai depot said the auto-start ignition was fitted a few years ago, mainly for the sake of convenience.

“Many times, the keys get misplaced or lost, especially in huge bus depots or the remote ones in far-flung villages. Getting a duplicate key often results in massive operational delays for the passengers. So a few years ago, button start was introduced,” the driver explained to IANS, requesting anonymity.

When queried whether anybody could operate or drive away any such auto-start buses, he replied in the affirmative. “There is little or no security at most state transport depots, barring the very big ones like Parel in south-central Mumbai,” he added.

However, Hanumant Tate said that in view of Wednesday’s gruesome tragedy, the management could review the auto-start mechanism in state transport buses.

Though officially MSRTC came into existence in 1950, the first Pune-Ahmednagar bus service was launched in 1948 under the guidance of the Morarji Desai, then home minister of the erstwhile Bombay state.

Today, MSRTC has grown to a fleet of 16,500 buses, around 250 depots and six regional offices.

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