A Subash Transport passenger coaster bus parked at the Road Safety and Transport Authority’s (RSTA) bus station in Phuentsholing has left trails of mystery after it is claimed that the bus was in motion without a driver and hit the RSTA building ablaze on the morning of December 1.

The incident occurred between 1 -1:30am. The fire completely razed the bus. The fire also damaged the ground floor’s ceilings and glass doors of the RSTA building. No one was hurt.

Kuensel met with one of the three eyewitnesses, Pemba Tamang, the caretaker of the station’s luggage room. “The bus was on fire and it was moving itself,” he said.

Pemba Tamang claimed that he heard the sound of bus engine starting thrice. But he saw nobody behind the wheel, he said, adding that by then, the bus was already on fire and in motion.

The bus travels between Dagana and Phuentsholing. According to RSTA officials, the bus had arrived early on November 30 from Gelephu. As there was a strike on November 29, the bus had halted in Gelephu.

Bus driver Lobzang Sherab said that he had parked the vehicle around 11am on November 30. “I parked it after washing it,” he said.

Lobzang Tshering has been driving the coaster bus for the last three weeks.

The coaster bus, according to RSTA officials, was registered on March 10, 2010. The bus was still roadworthy as a coaster bus’s lifespan is 14 years.

Phuentsholing police and firefighters had a hard time containing the fire as it had already spread to the RSTA building. Smoke has partially burnt the ground floor’s ceiling.

RSTA building in Phuentsholing does not have a functioning CCTV camera to retrieve footage of the incident. The building had undergone a major renovation last year.

Meanwhile, it was learnt that the entire body of the bus had been fully painted about two weeks ago at an automobile workshop across the border. The bus engine had also undergone some maintenance.

To understand if there were any technical glitches, the police have also sought assistance from the State Trading Corporation of Bhutan Limited (STCBL) as it deals in Toyota coaster buses.

Later in the evening yesterday, STCBL officials said that they could not give any confirmed findings on the burnt bus as it was an old vehicle. However, STCBL officials hinted that the problem could have been caused due to the vehicle being taken to local workshop across the border.

STCBL’s director for Toyota, Chador Wangdi said that Toyota coaster buses are designed in a complex way with latest technology.

“Bus owners must understand this,” he said, adding that owners take buses to local workshops that do not understand the complexity of the IT-driven electrical aspect of the vehicles. “Local workshops do not have the expertise.”

In taking for repair at local workshops, while trying to save on costs, Chador Wangdi said that the electric settings are compromised. Even if the bus owners took their vehicles to local workshops, Chador Wangdi said that they should still bring the vehicle to STCBL to do the electronic settings for safety.

Bus owner Subash Biswa was on the way to Phuentsholing yesterday evening.

“My bus is insured,” he said.

However, the owner could not provide exact details of insured amount as he was travelling away from his office.

Police is investigating the case.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing