Transporters in the Darjeeling hills are against the government’s directive that wants all taxis to fit a speed limiting device apprehending that any device that limits acceleration of a vehicle could pose problems to hill drivers to negotiate steep roads.
Under a Union ministry of road transport and highways directive, all taxis have to fit the device by December-end.
Pramod Srimal, the secretary of the All Transport Joint Action Committee that is a conglomeration of taxi syndicates, said: “From September onwards new vehicles are coming to the hills with the speed limiting device. A few days ago, a pick-up van could not negotiate a steep gradient near St Paul’s School.”
Srimal added: “We want the government to exempt hill vehicles from fitting the device.”
In the notification, taxis with seating capacity exceeding eight have to fit the device which will ensure that the maximum speed limit of the vehicle is 80kmph.
School buses, dumpers, tankers and transport vehicles carrying hazardous goods will have to pre-set the speed limit to 60kmph.
“In the hills, vehicles have to accelerate to negotiate steep gradients. Even though vehicles in the hills ply on average speed of 40-45kmph, at times acceleration of the engine is needed to negotiate steep roads. We fear acceleration which is linked to power generation of the vehicle could probably be hampered by the new device,” Srimal said.
The Darjeeling hills are lined with steep roads. Pankhabari Road, the Lopchu-Peshok Road and roads leading to Sandakphu, situated at an altitude of 11,900ft above the mean sea level, have steep spiralling roads and hairpin bends.
Binay Rai, a driver with the Kalimpong motor syndicate, who plies the Lopchu-Peshok road, said: “While negotiating a steep gradient it is not that we have to ply our vehicle at high speed. On first gear the car is obviously slow. However, if we have to stop uphill and then pick up, we need accelerate a lot to get the car moving uphill. If the device stops this acceleration, it will be fatal.”
Just before climbing a steep gradient, one also needs to accelerate even in first gear though the speed might not be high. “We fear that any device that stops acceleration of the engine will be fatal. Also, most vehicles that we use for public transport do not come with a four-wheel gear and hence a good engine power is a must,” Srimal said.
“We cannot roll down the hill on a neutral and let the vehicle’s momentum take over as this would lead to overheating of the brakes. While going down and with the load in the vehicle, we usually ply on first or second gear,” Gurung said.
Rajen Sunda, regional transport officer, Darjeeling, said: “This is a policy decision of the government. I have no role to play but if vehicles can’t run smoothly after fitting the device, I can always place the matter before the technical committee of our department.”
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