The number of Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses plying in the Capital is at its lowest in a decade, a Right to Information (RTI) query has revealed. The DTC, in fact, was plying around 1,500 more buses five years ago than it is now.

The RTI reply revealed that the fleet strength of the DTC, till June 23 this year, was 3,882 — around 35% of the judicially mandated figure of 11,000.

Before this, the DTC’s lowest fleet strength was recorded in 2008, when it had a total of 3,934 buses.

At a time when the Delhi government is aiming to create a futuristic fleet of an estimated 1,000 electric buses, the 70-year-old public transporter is on the brink of losing — mostly to wear and tear — a part of its history: the distinctive standard-floor buses.

Standard-floor buses, revealed the RTI reply, have been scrapped in large numbers over the last decade — at an average of 323 buses annually.

The transporter junked 3,232 standard-floor buses between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2017.

Sources in the DTC said the remaining fleet of the standard-floor buses is expected to be junked en masse by the end of the current calendar year.

The DTC’s current fleet includes 2,506 non-air-conditioned low-floor buses, 1,275 air-conditioned low-floor buses and 101 standard-floor vehicles.

Backbone of service

Data provided by the DTC showed that standard-floor buses used to be the core of the transporter’s services despite the advent of the low-floor variant and the expanding network of the Delhi Metro till the end of 2010.

They used to outnumber the low-floor vehicles in the DTC’s fleet till 2009 — 3,278 to 656 in 2008, and 2,934 to 1,074 in 2009.

Sources in the DTC attributed the gradual decline in number of standard-floor buses to failed attempts at creating a dedicated, in-house maintenance cell.

“We neither had the training nor the facilities beyond the basic ones available at our workshops for the maintenance of standard-floor buses. No efforts were made by any government over the last decade to develop in-house maintenance capabilities,” claimed a source.

“Besides, more preference was given to ensure the schedule of maintenance of low-floor buses after their induction into the fleet than even basic maintenance of standard-floor buses,” the source added.

The number of low-floor buses, both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned, have remained static at 3,781 for eight years. The buses are owned and operated by the DTC but are maintained by the private vendors from whom they were purchased.

‘24-25 buses by 2024’

Old hands from the DTC warned that low-floor buses too will start being phased out starting 2019.

“Urgent procurement is required when it comes to low-floor buses,” said K.C. Malik, an office-bearer of the Delhi Parivahan Mazdoor Sangh, a union of DTC employees.

“The low-floor buses have an operational life too. Many will be scrapped in 2019. If no new buses are added, the DTC will be left with only 24 or 25 buses by 2024," he added.

The Delhi government had earlier proposed to procure 2,000 standard-floor buses — a thousand each for the DTC and under the Cluster Scheme — but the move was disapproved by the Delhi High Court on the grounds that such buses were neither disabled-friendly, nor easily accessible to the aged and the children.

In February this year, the government issued a fresh request for proposal to purchase 1,000 standard-floor buses, but this decision too was panned by the court.

“If things continue this way, that is, if no new buses are added to the [DTC’s] fleet soon, the corporation will have to be shut down in the next five to six years,” said Mr. Malik.

Failed tenders

Delhi Transport Department records show that on January 30, 2008, the DTC floated its last successful tender for the procurement of 1,875 non-AC low-floor CNG buses and 1,250 AC low-floor CNG buses.

The first successful tender for the procurement of 625 low-floor non-AC buses and 25 AC buses had been floated in September 2006.

Over a dozen similar tenders floated since 2008 have failed.

In an attempt to turn things around, the DTC, for the first time in its history, now has a political appointee in the form of Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot to head its Board. Government sources said this was done to ensure a “more hands-on approach” in increasing DTC’s fleet size.

Last month, the DTC Board, resolved to procure additional 500 low-floor buses, including 80% non-air-conditioned and 20% air-condition vehicles, keeping in mind the availability of parking space at depots for the proposed fleet.

The specifications of the plan, however, remain unclear.

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