Taken for a ride?
Many commuters have harrowing tales to tell about travelling in buses run by private operators. What can be done to protect their rights?
“Last month, I travelled from Bangalore to Chennai in the night by a private Volvo bus where I was charged three to four times more than the normal rate. I dozed off and on waking up, noticed it was after five in the morning. The bus had stopped and believing we had reached Chennai, I alighted. I was shocked to find we were in Tirutani. Most of the other passengers had woken up by then and when we questioned the driver and conductor, we were informed that the vehicle had developed a problem and we should find our way to Chennai. When we asked them why we should spend money again as we had already paid the fare, and how the bus could reach the Tirutani bus stand, which was away from the main road, they had no answer. They were quite rude when we asked for the phone number of their office/owner. However, I forced them to accept the situation by putting it in writing. Since I had to be in office by 9 a.m., I took another bus to Chennai. Later, when I wrote to the bus company asking for a refund, they did not even bother to reply and I didn’t know to which authority I should prefer a complaint. Left without option, I have filed a complaint with the District Forum seeking compensation for deficiency in service.”
This was my neighbour Laasya’s harrowing experience with a leading bus company.
In another recent incident, the complainant had travelled from Chennai to Thanjavur by a private bus. The seats were dilapidated, though the charges were high. The passengers were not allowed to leave their baggage in the luggage cabin and were asked to keep it inside the bus leaving little leg space. The conductor was loutish and the driving rash, making the journey hell. The complainant’s account of the episode was received with silence by the company. We have sent a notice to the company seeking an explanation and are yet to receive a response.
There are many such complaints against bus companies about the huge difference in rates for the same distance, the quality of service provided, extra charges in the name of limited stop service, when the buses stop at all places like any other normal service, over speeding, absence of a proper medical kit and so on. It is learnt that many private operators, whose sole motive is to earn a huge profit, announce incentives for drivers and conductors for doing the maximum number of trips and carrying the maximum number of passengers in a day. This often results in tight operating schedules and buses running at breakneck speed, with least care for passenger safety, as the overenthusiastic crew’s focus will be on earning more.
Today, the Regional Transport Authority, established under the Motor Vehicles Act, is the body that has the powers to inspect, grant and cancel licences in a given situation. However, this is not proving to be effective because of the complexities involved.
What are the ways to improve the scenario and protect the rights of the consumers? First, an upper limit on the fares should be fixed in an objective manner for the different kinds of services provided in various areas. A benchmark for the quality of service provided by the transport operators should be determined. There is an urgent need for an independent regulator, with statutory powers, exclusively for this purpose, who should ensure that the standards fixed are properly followed. He should be entrusted with the task of conducting surprise checks and taking stringent action against erring drivers, conductors and bus companies. An effective in-built redressal mechanism should be put in place to decide on compensation for deficiency in services. It is vital that the public from even the remotest areas of the state have easy access to the regulator. This will guarantee improved services. With buses being the main mode of transport in our state, it is crucial that quality, efficient, reasonably priced and safe services are made available to commuters.
(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details/queries contact 24914358/24460387 or email@example.com)
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