Why Delhi's buses are so deadly: an economic analysis

At least 115 people were killed by Blueline buses in 2008. The Blueline's grim numbers stem entirely from two perverse economic incentives: the driver's salary is wholly dependant on how many fares he picks up, and each bus is in direct competition with every other bus on the route.

Blueline buses are not typically driven by their owners. Instead, thousands of drivers rent their buses from a smaller group of owners at a cost of three or four thousand rupees a day plus maintenance. With passengers paying between two and ten rupees a ride, drivers are forced to pick up a few hundred people before they can even begin to consider buying lunch.

[...] But with an estimated 2,200 Blueline buses careening across Delhi on any given day, it's no wonder the newspaper reports are almost identical every day. After an accident, the driver tries to flee, an angry mob beats him, the police impound the bus, the driver is thrown in jail, the owner of the bus is not mentioned. Sometimes the driver escapes, in which case the mob finds its release in setting fire to the bus.

And while the Delhi government has pledged to replace the Blueline with modern city-run buses in time for the Commonwealth Games, newspapers report of a cabal of "powerful people" who own the majority of the Bluelines, and who aren't going to let the city cut them out of the transit racket quite so easily.

This is essentially the same racket behind San Francisco's taxicab industry, except that apparently our local taxi drivers are shiftless and lazy, with no work ethic to speak of.

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16 Responses:

  1. teferi says:

    New York's taxi industry as well, with the additional factor of being able to swerve over to pick up fares anywhere (unless SF has official street-hailable cabs too).

    • jwz says:

      SF's cabs are allowed to pick up fares anywhere, except that instead what they all do is queue up at the train stations and hotels, waiting for the once-an-hour fare to the airport. That way they don't have to actually troll the streets and work for a living.

      • That doesn't really align with my experiences; I've never had much trouble finding a cab in any business-y neighborhood in SF provided I'm willing to walk a block or two toward a well-trafficked street. In Bernal Heights where I live, yes, the cab-finding is crap.

        The $3.10 initial fare would seem to provide some incentive towards looking for short-hop fares.

    • dmlaenker says:

      DC's as well, with the added caveat that most taxis in Washington are poorly-maintained gypsy cabs.

      IIRC the only geographic prohibitions are the neighborhoods they refuse to enter and Adams Morgan, where they're banned to three curbsides due to a tendency to run over (even more) pedestrians in a quest for fares (in the case of Adams Morgan, mostly sorostitutes who admittedly are too drunk and/or self-absorbed to know how to use a street properly).

      • logic_lj says:

        And yet, when I was in DC a couple of weeks ago, the public transit option was disgustingly good. I mean, carpeted subway cars! You know how long that would last here in Chicago? ;)

        Apparently, it's a good thing I didn't try the cabs while we were there.

  2. __marcelo says:

    This is essentially the same racket behind San Francisco's taxicab industry, except that apparently our local taxi drivers are shiftless and lazy, with no work ethic to speak of.

    Your comment was probably the most horrifying (and funny) part of it all.


    Some quotes :

    Those responsible for the death of South African National Taxi Association (Santaco) deputy chairperson Mthuthuzeli Molefe are still at large. Molefe was gunned down in cold blood while riding his motorbike at the weekend.
    Meanwhile, Gauteng MEC for transport Bheki Nkosi today said the killing was not linked to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
    The multi million rand BRT has been plagued by problems since its launch last week. Security measures had to be beefed up after gunmen attacked one of the buses. Johannesburg metro police, the SAPS and the army have been roped in to protect passengers.

  4. leolo says:

    This is essentially the same racket behind San Francisco's taxicab industry

    I was under the impression that all taxi services worked this way.

    • ultranurd says:

      I had a taxi driver in Boston once explain to me how he'll get paid to idle at a construction site all day; apparently there's some weird billing trickery the contractor can do with regards to "employee transportation", and he can take his cut and then kick that rate down to the driver (who then doesn't have to do anything all day).

  5. that_xmas says:

    To be fair, nothing is safe on the roads in India...

    A friend of mine was in Bangalore, he described being in the passenger seat of a car as this...

    "We were driving down the road and there were two sets of headlights heading towards us. [The driver] sped up and zipped between the two oncoming cars. I'm not certain, but I was pretty sure we were on the correct side of the road."

    • pavel_lishin says:

      I think there are some places where there isn't really a correct side of the road, per se. I mean, sure, there might have been a line painted there, and some laws in some books somewhere stating that you've gotta be on the left or on the right, but in practice it works much the way that you describe.

  6. inoah says:

    I suppose setting the taxicabs on fire would be counterproductive.

  7. shandrew says:

    These folks should do an analysis of our neighborly bringer of death on wheels, Caltrain.