DTC Buses: Rear-engined, Leap-forward

The rear-engined city buses of New Delhi are not the best, but a successful project of modern mass mobility. With improvements and essential learnings, a new hope to improve our public transportation.

Tata low-floor city bus

The day when I first stepped-on the capital territory, one thing that I found fascinating was those green and red DTC buses roaming around the streets with some dignity that most of our country’s state-owned city buses never heard of! I refer to those new Tata and AL buses that were hastily pressed into service during the 2010 Common Wealth Games and certainly not those ‘Sholay’ era buses which can also be found roaming around here.

Those low-floor, rear-engined automatic transmission, CNG powered buses are little unique, comparing to our country’s typical city buses. Following the Delhi’s project, few other cities have also inducted these new low-floor buses into their fleet. We do have Volvo city buses in some metros for quite sometime, but they are kept exclusive and are not used for mass utility, low-cost services. Conventional desi-made buses remains to be the real public mover; they are cheap-to-run, ‘okay’ for poor maintenances by state-owned agencies and ‘double-okay’ for the spirit of vandalism that is found in every Indian genes of ours!

Such challenges have always kept modernisation of our public transit systems in very slow pace. I was never convinced that such modern city buses would ever suit and work to our Indian standards, but those DTC buses have changed my perceptions I admit. Though not completely!

Also Read: Fully-Automatic Transmission in City Buses: ‘Shifting to ‘D’ Mode’

Rear-engined buses have greater utility for city conditions. Of course you can’t have a gear lever from driver seat to rear engine room, and so an automatic transmission becomes necessary. And so clutch-free driving, a big relief for city bus drivers who are cursed to cumbersome traffic, numerous stops and hard driving. Rear engine adding to low-floor design makes cabin spacious and aisle wider, and so ingress and egress easier. Heavy engine at the back ensures balanced centre of gravity, resulting in better road stability and cornering dynamics comparing to conventional buses. Rear engine also ensures low diffusion of heat into the cabin, which is advantageous especially to air-conditioned ones.

CNG-power is also unique, since it is literally unheard in South India and other class II cities. DTC boasts itself to be the world’s largest fleet of eco-friendly city buses. While considering the fact that a huge chunk of Co2 emissions in our cities account for diesel-powered vehicles, public transit systems must try to embrace ‘green’ as possible as it can. Only then it is right to advocate the use of public transport instead of private vehicles in cities to ease traffic and combat pollution. I do notice that CNG buses do not gush out visible black smoke unlike their diesel rivals.

DTC fully automatic gear buses

More and more State-owned metro transport corporations are opting for rear-engined, low-floor buses

These modern buses do posses an array of safety features including front disc brakes, ABS, seat belts for driver and passengers, door open warning, etc. However, the build quality and the materials used are no different than the conventional ones. There are improvements visible but considering the modern standards, there is still a long way to go for our desi companies in this regard. There are glaring differences in the construction, build quality, and reliability of these buses with that of the Volvos.

These buses are here around quite sometime, say 4 years, and are fairly successful. Delhi is the only city where these buses have been operationalised in large numbers, say more than 50% roughly, and with the uniqueness of CNG as fuel as well. We are discussing the relevance of a national public transit policy to suit every cities these days. Thus, it is certain that if we could learn from the Delhi’s experiences with the low-floor CNG buses, there is scope for an improved bus services in our metros. They are cheap to run, less polluting, much improved ride and service delivery. Surely something to bliss isn’t it??

Dhiyanesh Ravichandran

Editorial consultant (Automotive and Technology), academic, and blogger based in India. He can be reached at wagenclub@gmail.com

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