In its two and a half years of chequered existence in Ranchi, the city bus has mastered one thing for sure ' the artful game of hide and seek.
Friday was yet another harrowing working day for commuters as the touted backbone of the capital's public transport system remained conspicuous by its absence. Insiders said the impromptu strike was in protest against vandalising of some buses after a young secretariat employee was run over at Birsa Chowk in Doranda on Wednesday.
But, ASK Security ' the private agency that provides manpower to Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation (JTDC) to run the city bus in Ranchi ' claimed that they were protesting against lack of support and co-operation from the district and civic administrations in ensuring smooth service.
Around 70 buses were procured under JNNRUM in June 2010 to streamline public transport in the city. Of this, around 40-45 buses are pressed into service, while the rest are either out of order or kept as reserve fleet. On Thursday, only a handful was spotted on various routes. On Friday, they vanished altogether.
"It is really frustrating to commute in a city with such poor transport infrastructure. Every now and then, buses go off roads and autos charge you extra," fumed Sandip Kumar, a medical representative who had to taken an auto-rickshaw from Jail Chowk to Hinoo on Friday after having waited over an hour for the city bus.
Ashish Jha, studying in his BCA third year at Ranchi University, couldn't agree more. "I am a student and my pocket money is limited. When buses go on strike, travel becomes expensive for me. I have to change at least two autos to reach the varsity campus at Morabadi from my home in Dhurwa," he said.
Dhananjay Singh of ASK Security said their members of staff were unwilling to work because of the administration's "lax attitude". "Yesterday, they were on strike. Today, we managed to roll out 10-odd buses. But, unless some basic problems are addressed, the city bus service will never succeed here," he said.
According to Singh, the capital lacks "supporting infrastructure" to run a bus service. There are no bus bays, no designated bus stops, traffic constables allegedly harass drivers and auto-rickshaws try to take the upper hand by blocking the way of buses.
"We have approached the administration several times with our demands, but in vain," Singh said, adding that another meeting had been scheduled with chief executive officer of Ranchi Municipal Corporation (RMC) Dipankar Panda on Saturday.
"Marked bus stops are the need of the hour. Just because they do not exist, traffic constables find an excuse to harass drivers. Autos too stop here and there, leading to tension. We will decide our future course of action after tomorrow's meeting," he said.
Singh's arguments may not be completely baseless. On Wednesday, social welfare department clerk Reena Mahli (24) was killed when a city bus overtook her and swerved left to pick up passengers from an non-designated stop.
Senior RMC officer Panda confirmed Saturday's meeting. "Let's review their demands first. We will do whatever is possible from our side."