On Perilous Paths: The Shocking Story Of Private Bus Operators In India

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Seedy “berths” which look like a crime scene, vehicles which look like they could come apart at any joint, and a driver who would be more at home at a shady country bar. Sounds familiar? Then you too, are a helpless victim of the private bus service sector of India!

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Representative image. 1080plus

The last few years have seen a cancerous growth of this largely unregulated sector. Milking the opportunity of unavailability of train seats, or entire trains in some regions of the country, a surprising number of these bus operators charge passengers outrageously, especially during peak season and claim no responsibility for the quality of the journey or even the basic safety of passengers.

Amrita Rout from Hyderabad had one such nightmarish experience with a bus operator which she has shared in her blog:

“We were off to Goa and booked bus tickets via Kaleswari travels , a Hyderabad based agency. Being the Aug 15th weekend prices were skyrocketing and we got tickets for a whopping 3k per head per way. We felt a bit fleeced but what the heck we had to take this trip right!!!  So we reached the bus stand sharp at 10 PM on Friday Aug 13th which was the official reporting time and waited almost an hour before we could establish contact with the bus cause which self respecting bus service provides customer care numbers that work… When we boarded the bus (registration number- TS12UA6161) we realized it was from Neeta travels and not Kaleswari which we had originally booked. The bus was in shambles and there was rain water leaking in couple of places. With the cost of a flight ticket guess we were expecting something a tad more “habitable” but when you are travelling on a long weekend I guess it’s wrong to expect too much service.

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This is how our harrowing bus journey began. The bus kept breaking down every hour till we reached Goa and the staff was terribly rude. No explanations offered! Finally, 30 kms from Goa the bus gave up completely and all the passengers- several women and small children included had to go standing in another bus for a whole hour. The best part was the backup bus they had arranged for us also broke down which is why we had to go standing in a packed bus. :)  We reached Goa about 5 hours late and it almost ruined our whole day but guess what the Indian consumer is super resilient so we put the incident behind us and got along with our trip. After an awesome weekend when we came to the bus stand on Monday (15th Aug) for our return trip to Hyderabad we were greeted by smirks and unapologetic faces of the staff of the best ride on earth (TS12UA6161). 2nd time lucky eh!!! Most of the passengers were repeat customers from the Hyd-Goa trip so we all confirmed that the bus had been repaired and was in a working condition before boarding.”

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Representative image. telegraph

She also writes on how buses operate on long hauls with zero regard for basic provisions:

“... Busses hardly stop in places where women can go pee in private in India and so was our experience on the Hyd-Goa leg. We had to fight to make the driver stop at a decent petrol pump in that trip. So before starting the journey from Goa to Hyd we thought it wise to go relieve ourselves. We went to 3 hotels in front of the Goa bus stand and begged them to let us use the washrooms but guess what! We were turned down every single time. So finally we had to walk almost 15 mins to get to a public toilet and that too with constant pressure from the bus guys threatening our friends in the bus to leave without us. When we finally came back to the bus we realized they weren’t in any hurry and the bus actually started 30 mins after we came. They were using pressure tactics just to intimidate us for fun I guess and show who the “daddy” really was. I am sure you can sense the anger and sarcasm in the humor. Completely intended…..”

And if you thought this was the limit of insanity:

“Finally, the bus started at around 7:30 and thus began our epic trip back to Hyderabad. The bus did the same routine again where it stopped every hour but this time we weren’t that lucky. 30 kms from Belgaum, in a blind curve near Chorla Ghats( one of the most dangerous ghats in the west coast) the bus came to a complete standstill at around 10:30. It was pitch dark and the bus had no parking lights so any car coming from behind could practically collide with us anytime! We even saw a car which came really close and took a sharp turn to avoid collision. For almost 2 hours we were made to believe that things were under control and after we made couple of calls to local police authorities and they spoke to the drivers did we realize that the same problem in the hyd-goa leg which was a leaky pipe connecting the coolant system to the engine had recurred and the bus wasn’t going anywhere. Apparently they had used mseal to repair the pipe last time around which wore off during travel from Goa. Heights of craftsmanship! We also realized that if the bus had not stopped and the engine had become hotter, the whole thing could have caught fire risking the lives of the 40 odd passengers quite like this Jabbar travel’s fire incident. Anyhow after we exerted a bit of pressure via police the travels guy finally called for a backup bus which reached at around 4:30 AM after around 6 hours of frustrating wait time without food and water. For God’s sake there were kids and toddlers on the bus!! And all this because of the sheer negligence of Kaleswari travels which risked the lives of so many sending them back on a bus which was already in a precarious condition. Wonder what the crew was doing for the 2 days the bus was in Goa- getting high on Feni???? We checked the bus’s papers and realized it had unpaid challans worth 7k for rash driving etc. and the bus was probably not even safe to ply for such long distances…”

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Representative image. indexpress

And it doesn’t end here:

“...Here’s another fun side story from this incident. When we realized how futile it was trying to get the real situation from the bus staff at 12:30 AM and saw that our fellow women passengers were scared for their safety,  I messaged Hyderabad police on Facebook with details of the travels and our situation . They immediately messaged back and checked where I stayed. Super proavtive right!  I was impressed.  When I said it was Kondapur they mentioned it was outside their jurisdiction and asked me to contact Cyberabad police. Cyberabad police also immediately responded and mentioned we should file a written complaint against the travels when we were back but for now asked me to contact Belgaum police for immediate help, so I called them. They said the bus is standing in a place which is outside Belgaum jurisdiction and asked me to call 100. I called 100 and it connected me to Bangalore police control room. The helpful lady on call immediately contacted the local police authorities to send a police patrol vehicle to make us feel safe and also help us if we needed something. Finally after 5 calls I finally reached the local authority, a guy who was clearly woken up from sleep and did not like it! He grudgingly asked me- “Madam apka gadi kharab ho gaya to isme police kya karega”. When I mentioned where exactly the bus was standing and how unsafe we were feeling he finally spoke to the bus driver, asked him to arrange a backup vehicle and that was the end of it. No one ever came. I wonder why police in India only becomes super responsive after an incident has happened? When they get a call from a worried woman how can they keep routing her to different numbers? What if something had really gone wrong in that pitch dark ghat road in the middle of nowhere. The only person who genuinely seemed to care in this whole episode seemed to be the woman from B’lore control room. Guess it takes a woman to realize the plight of another in this country…”

You can read the entire post here.

With this story, we hope to create the tiniest ripple and generate awareness among consumers of these services at large. Share this story and do your bit in shaking complacent travel operators out of their indifference!

Suffered a similar experience with a bus operator? Let us know in the comments below.

Title image: farbound

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