ON Monday evening, around 7.30 pm, a jampacked PMPML bus heading from the PMC headquarters to Bhosari broke down at Wakdewadi on the Pune-Mumbai Highway. For the next one hour, the passengers, including children and the elderly, were forced to wait for the next bus in the sweltering heat.
At 8.45 pm, when the next bus to Bhosari reached the Wakdewadi bus stop, there was a mad rush to get on board. Though the tired passengers managed to catch the bus, their ordeal was far from over, as the second bus also broke down. Thankfully, the driver managed to restart the bus after a while.
This was not a one-off incident, as breakdown of PMPML buses across Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad is becoming a common occurrence. “Of the 20 days I took the bus in April, it developed problems on at least nine days,” said K Dhanavate, a resident of Gurav Pimple.
The malfunctioning PMPML buses also add to the traffic woes of the city, said traffic police personnel. “We are already struggling to tackle the increasing number of vehicles on Pune’s roads. PMPML buses are adding to the chaos,” said a traffic official.
“On an average, 172 buses owned by PMPML as well as by private contractors are breaking down daily. The figure was around 150-52 during Munde’s tenure,”said PMPML spokesperson Subash Gaikwad. In January, on an average, 154 buses broke down every day. The figure went up to 162 in February, 167 in March and 206 in April, said PMPML officials.
The number of breakdowns has increased after Tukaram Munde was transferred as the chairman and managing director of PMPML. During his tenure, Munde not only monitored the ‘breakdown chart’ on a daily basis, he had also issued strict instructions about bringing down the number of breakdowns. He had transferred and even sacked a few employees, including the transport body’s chief engineer, for failing to reduce the breakdown of buses, “During his tenure, the breakdowns had come down from 300 to 60-65 daily,” said PMPML spokesperson Subash Gaikwad.
As per information from PMPML, as many as 20,743 breakdowns took place in the last four months. These include PMPML-owned buses as well as buses owned by private contractors. In January, when Munde was in charge, 4,796 buses had malfunctioned. Munde was transferred in the first week of February. At the end of February, 4,560 buses broke down; the figure went up to 5,196 in March and 6,191 in April.
PMPML officials said as many as 80-85 PMPML buses and nearly 90 buses owned by private contractors break down every day. Jugal Rathi, convenor of the PMP Pravasi Manch, said after Munde’s was transferred out of PMPML, the breakdown of buses has increased. “…the mechanical staff is known to be sloppy… the bus contractors seem have a free run,” he said.
Naina Gunde, who succeeded Munde as the PMPML chief, said buses broke down frequently due to the transport body’s ageing fleet. “Of the over 1,400 buses plying every day, at least 746 buses are 10-15 years old. These buses are reporting frequent breakdowns,” said Gunde.
She said the transport body needed 3,000 buses to cater to Pune residents and was in the process of buying new buses. When queried on the alleged lackadaisical approach of mechanical staff, Gunde said she had ordered some transfers and taken some steps to improve the professionalism of the staff. She said she was monitoring the breakdown of buses and added, “these measures will soon start showing results”.