Why Delhi's Buses Kill People

On his blog about living in Delhi, Dave Prager tries to figure out why 100-plus citizens are killed by that city’s blue buses each year: 1) The drivers’ salaries are dependent on how many fares they pick up, and thus the faster they drive the more money they make. 2) The drivers rent their buses, so they have no incentive to make repairs — and sometimes drive their vehicles until the wheels detach. Prager’s advice to Delhi’s citizens: “Invoke Ganesha for luck … look both ways. Or maybe just don’t cross the street.” [%comments]


Sounds like our banking system...


This isn't really worth out here.
Anyway, bad research, minimum tickets don't cost Rs. 2 anymore.
Also, its unfair to single out the Bluelines (as ruthless as they are and as badly driven). There is a whole bunch of drivers on the prowl, from cabs to self driven vehicles. In proportion (if we have stats now), it wouldn't seem that bad maybe. Its reprehensible that 115 die a year from 2300 plying buses.
Delhi is a massive region and these buses cover more distance than any other bus service setup in the world.

To blame are bad roads in patches, people standing on the roads at bus stops, people trying to cross the roads randomly etc. Its lawlessness of an awesome kind, not varied media melee.

Axel Molotov

lack of accountability


Let's also not forget to mention that getting a driver's license in Delhi has little to do with ability to drive or knowing the laws, and more to do with which strings you can pull and how much you can 'tip.'

Chan Kwok Huy

hah, now that i know there is at least one place where buses are worse than buses in my Vietnam :D
though our buses are not really good: usually late, skip the bus-stops (i dont know why they dont wanna pick up the passengers), rude conductors, dirty, bad smell...
the worst thing is that the drivers dont stop the buses for us to get off or get on but they just slow down. and they'll yell if someone is slow (especially old people, disabled, pregnant...)
there are some cases that some buses closed the doors and run while passengers were still getting off :(
people-dragging buses !


The disincentive for such actions is always in law enforcement. If only laws were properly enforced out there without the decade long delays and the blatant corruption...


Indiscipline. We Lack Discipline. I guess the attitude will change after generations!
Government is not powerful enough to enforce any system. It can enforce a system, in places where they find that enforcing a system will accrue profits to various government and other associated bodies.


@akshyat: The price of the ticket is not the point of contention. You seem to miss the larger point. The argument being made here is about the incentive-penalty system. There's large incentive and little penalty for private bus drivers.

Michael Marcus

On my last day in Delhi after about a week there three years ago, I saw a fatality (motorbike) lying the in the road, having been struck by a bus. Police were on the scene. It would have never occurred to me to single out the bus driver alone as responsible, though he may have been. Rightly or wrongly, I considered the accident as the result of what, appears, to myself as an average American driver and pedestrians, to be: routine congestion including not only multiple types of motorized vehicles of all sizes, but also non-motorized vehicles, weaving and the ad-hoc creation of new lanes by individuals, and the reckless and random disregard of the law on the part of many. Merely to cross the street of main drags was treacherous and to be avoided! But let's not single out India --- Cairo years ago (and perhaps still) was much worse. Drivers would routinely cross medians and drive on the other side of the road if they felt too inconvenienced by traffic jams. Horns honked constantly. We recently drove in Italy, and I am inclined to believe that even if there were an single, universally enforceable "driver's manual" and set of laws for the entire planet, driving is still very much influenced by the cultural and social expectations that people have of what they, as individuals, are entitled to do regardless of the presence of others in shared public space.



The drivers do try to maximise the ticket sales, as their salary depends on the volume of business that they are able to do. But, if you hand it over to the city completely, the same service will become lethargic. Once the Municipal Corporation starts handling things, there will be unions which will ensure that the employees cannot be reprimanded even if they cause harm to the organisation. Service will be lax as there is no incentive to perform. And, they might still mow down people and roam around freely, protected by their union.


Delhi buses are particularly bad as compared to other buses in the major cities of India, e.g. Mumbai, Pune etc.

The reason for this is the botched privatisation of the bus system a few years ago. The bus routes were privitised, but they were only sold to (shills for) high ranking police officers and bureaucrats.


I expect that American bus drivers are incentivized to avoid lethal accidents not by a direct correlation between performance and income or expenses, but because the American public is intolerant of lethal bus accidents. Americans will not ride on buses that "kill people", therefore bus companies will not hire drivers who "kill people." I would guess that a conviction of vehicular manslaughter is sufficient to ensure that a person will be unable to work as any kind of driver for several years, in addition to any fines or prison time resulting from the conviction.

I further expect that India's general public is neither as well informed nor as coherent as the American public, therefore unable to impose these kind of common-motive sanctions.

Therefore, I speculate that 3) the legal penalties for killing someone with a bus in India are either insufficiently harsh or infrequently applied, and that in any case the resulting criminal record has insufficient public visibility.



Never been to India but I travel to Japan a good bit and I am always amazed by how organized pedestrian traffic there is. They may not be a car for blocks but you'll never see a Japanese person cross the street with a "don't walk" signal.


Compare this with what happens in the southern city of Mangalore.
The buses between Mangalore and Udupi depart every couple of minutes, the drivers have exact same incentives, they DO drive at insane speeds on the highway trying to pass each other. The difference (AFAIK) is that most of the buses are owner operated or owned by very small companies. The buses are really well maintained, washed everyday (literally!) and the staff are courteous and generally jovial characters. It is really an experience!


Living in Delhi some years back, I was in a car on the passenger (left) side when one of those buses pulled abruptly away from the curb after a stop and squished us between it and the median. The bus driver sped off, but another car pursued and managed to stop the bus with a fancy cop-style maneuver. That didn't do any good, though: the driver refused to cooperate or admit any guilt, and although we got his information, license plate, and took pictures, we found that any legal effort was clearly going to be futile.
The drivers know that they won't be held accountable for anything, so there's no fear to encourage safe driving.


A fine example what free market can lead to.


I suspect the root cause is a culture that doesn't (from our perspective) value the individual enough, and especially the well being of the poor, the non-powerful. If there is solid evidence that the poor are treated with dignity and justice in general, then I am probably wrong.

Captain Mohan Ram

Not enough pedestrian crossings and bad design of roads. Even the much vaunted Golder Quadrilateral national highways do not take into account human and cattle movement across and do not take into account other users like cyclists, pedestrians and handcarts etc. Professor Dinesh Mohan of IIT Delhi is crying hoarse about defective road designs nut no one is paying attention.