The joys of a bus ride.

All my regular readers (admittedly, a small number), would know that I love public transport, especially our city buses. Of the multiple advantages of using them, one stands out. The fact that almost every bus ride makes for a great story.
It’s the 7th of November 2013. Just this morning I got back home after two 12 hour long train journeys separated by 8 hectic, family visiting hours. Extremely sleep deprived, in part thanks to the journey, in part thanks to the 4 cups of coffee early in the morning and in part thanks to the coke ( the soft drink ) I had at a friend’s party, I still had a spring in my step.
In that mentally asleep, physically very awake condition, I went out to buy a few groceries. I waited at the bus stop, earphones plugged in, playing ‘This is the life’ by Amy macdonald. In a couple of minutes, a bus toiled along the pot-hole filled road and stopped a couple of feet away from me. I ran to the back of the bus to check where it was headed but there was no board. Adventurously, I decided to get on anyway. The conductor was busy writing down the final accounts of the day’s collections, obviously the bus was close to its destination. I asked him if it was headed towards the mall and he nodded and put his hand out for the money. I placed a 10 rupee note in his hand ( the ticket cost 9 ). He dumped the note into the bag in which he carried money and proceeded to take out a 100 rupee note from it. I was still waiting for both my change and my ticket, but seeing that he was busy accounting, I patiently waited. Then, a small miracle happened. He casually put his hand, the 100 rupee note still safely inside it, under the seat and a few quick seconds later when his hand reappeared, the note was gone.
Incase you’re unfamiliar with how bus conductors work, I’ll take you through a quick tour. Very often, if they’re getting close to their depot or are sure that the higher officials won’t be waiting to check on the way, they won’t give you a ticket. Instead, they’ll offer you a small discount on your ticket charge ( say for example, they’ll charge you Rs 5 without a ticket instead of Rs 9 with a ticket ). This way, they don’t have to account for the money for which no ticket was issued and hence they pocket that amount. If you travel by bus often, you would’ve invariably noticed this.

This particular conductor was accounting for all that unaccounted money, and found that he had made Rs 100 in the process. That money was now safely under the seat, from where he’d probably retrieve it later, when he was done handing over the accounted  daily collections to the concerned people.

One stop before mine, I politely interrupted his busy illegal calculations and asked him for a ticket once again. He handed me a 5 rupee coin and carried on with his work. Ticket-less travel is an offence.   One that I, like many others, are guilty of atleast once, if not more times by not forcing the conductor to issue us a ticket.

Today, in my boredom and given how mentally asleep I was, I surprised myself by holding out the coin and asking him for a ticket instead. He sniffed with contempt and assured me that no one would come to check. I persisted.He explained to me that I was making a profit by paying just Rs 5 instead of 9. Surprisingly, I still didn’t back off. I removed the right earphone so I could hear him better. I asked him for a ticket again, this time telling him that I didn’t want his money and that he could keep the entire Rs 10 but only if he gave me a ticket. I was now offering him 1 rupee more than the ticket charge to give me a ticket. He still refused. This was obviously a battle that neither side was willing to lose.

The bus stopped at a signal barely 100 metres from my destination. The other passengers were getting ready to get off. One of them, probably as bored as I was, sat next to the conductor to get a better idea of the epic battle that was happening. He reassured me that the bus was headed for the depot and so no one would he waiting to check for tickets. I ignored him, wondering what business he had interfering in my battle. I turned my attention back to the conductor and stood up, removing the other earphone as well so I could focus all my attention on the conversation ( I had been, until that point, humming ‘ this is the life’ in my head ). I asked him for the ticket again. He pointed at the stack of tickets he had and told me that he had already written down the details of the tickets he had issued so he couldn’t issue anymore. I retorted, pointing out that I had been asking him for the ticket ever since I got on the bus. He asked me what I would do with a ticket anyway. I felt that I was under no obligation to explain it to him. That, and the fact that I really had no answer to that question except that it was ‘ the right thing to do’. I had a quick look at the signal which was now counting down the last 5 seconds. I knew that I didn’t have too much more time to argue so I asked him once more, with little hope.

At this time, the gentlemen who was unnecessarily seated next to the conductor decided to play tie-breaker. By my assessment, he thought, that for some extremely important and unavoidable reason, I desperately needed the ticket and without it, I would suffer greatly.
He also thought, that the conductor was a very honest person who had no logical reason to deny me a ticket. He took out HIS ticket, and with a big smile on his face, handed it to me and told me to keep it and walked out of the bus.
Inside my head, I burst out laughing. Wasn’t that the most obvious solution or what. The conductor didn’t have to part with his tickets. I got a ticket. Everyone was happy.

I walked out of the bus, a little grin on my face. What an unnecessary argument, I thought to myself. But that ten minute bus ride just had to have some entertainment in it. It’s just one of the joys of a bus ride.

Run Bus . Run .

Using public transport can , apart from saving a lot of money , throw up a lot of interesting stories to tell . What may ,from the outside , seem like a monotonous , boring ride , actually is a very entertaining journey ! You’ll see lots of different types of people. Old , young , new born , loud , shy , funny , serious , suspicious and so on ! You may find nothing in common with them except for your destination , but you might actually have a lot of similarities . You just don’t know what yet !

It’s about half past 7 on a pleasant wednesday evening . An old rickety bus squeaked to a stop in front of me . It’s almost full . There are a couple of vacant seats at the back  . Vacant seats are a rarity in the late evenings , so it’s probably my lucky day,  I thought to myself .
The conductor walked up to me as soon as I got on to the bus , not allowing me enough time to claim my seat before someone else did . I forced my way to the seat and the conductor followed me . With a subtle shake of his head , he asked where I wanted to go . “B.P.L” , I proudly replied . He ripped a ticket from the bunch and asked me for the exact change of Rs 7 .I handed him a ten rupee note . He looked up and frowned , as though I’d asked him to sit through an entire season of  The bold and the beautiful . He wasn’t an intimidating figure . He was about 5’6” , slightly bulky with unkempt hair but he made sure that everyone knew he was incharge . He turned the ticket around and scribbled 3 on it and slapped it on my hand with some sort of contempt .
You know how they say technology can be misused ? Well , there was this one bloke blasting bad music from his phone and that , for me , figures in the top ten misuses of good technology .
There was the frail old man sitting with the support of a stick . His face was wrinkled and his hair , or whatever was left of it , was grey with a few traces black here and there . He was trying to fall asleep but the shuddering of the bus made that close to impossible .
There was an energetic flower-seller speaking so loudly over her phone , that even my best attempt to not eavesdrop , failed .The lovely smell from her basket of flowers created an atmosphere of pseudo-calmness in the rickety bus .

At every signal , the bus choked , spat and stalled . Forcing the driver to open the engine box and quickly set everything in order . And then , at one signal he failed . The adamant bus refused to respond to the frantic  revival attempts by the driver . The conductor walked over to the engine box and tried something himself . By now , all the passengers in the bus are  craning their necks over to see what was happening . The music stopped , the old man smiled ( I’m pretty sure he did ) and tried to catch some sleep and the flower lady had rushed up to the front of the bus to give her opinion to the driver ( or so it seemed ) . Then the conductor turned around and declared that his attempts had failed . There was an air of disappointment in the bus . Everyone had been anticipating a last minute recovery , much like in the movies  . He then announced that the bus would start if everyone got off and pushed the bus . There was a sudden increase in the buzz in the bus . We all looked at each other with excitement ! Everyone wanted to be a hero and save the grand old bus and get it running again .
The conductor got off first , followed by about 10 young men . And then they pushed . And pushed . And suddenly the bus gasped and shivered and started once more ! A spontaneous round of applause went off for the “brave” young saviours and soon , the atmosphere was back to normal . Slowly , the excitement wore off .
Couple of signals later , the bus choked again , and a couple of hundred metres later , rolled to a standstill . The conductor and driver got together again . Trying to recover the bus . I stood up and slowly moved up to the front to see what exactly they were doing .All of a sudden ,  I sensed some activity behind me and turned around . Only to find that the bus was empty . This , my friends , is not a horror story . Everyone had just run away . Apparently , no one wanted to be part of the rescue anymore ! Not wanting to be left behind , and besides , I doubt if I could have helped too much in moving a bus ( I’m not the perfect definition of strong )  , I left too .
I was quite close to my house , so I walked along , recalling the sequence of events that had just unfolded . Was it the fault of young men like myself that the bus lay there now , screaming silently for help ? We saved it once and could have done it again but maybe the grand old bus had run his course .

Maybe next time , I’ll lend a hand and single handedly save the bus . Yeah Maybe..Next time….

Public(‘s) Transport woes – Solutions to the problem of the solution !

Fuel prices around the world are rising . That is a fact . That is how it should be . A precious natural resource that is running out will..actually HAS TO be costly . We can complain all we like , shout at the government , the oil company bosses or the TV news anchor trying to “bring the people’s voice to the government ” . None of them can do much about it ! Frankly , none of them should be able to anything about it becasue I for one am disgusted , shocked , annoyed , saddened and disappointed with inability of this so-called technologically advanced world to make  alternate sources of fuel available to everyone . Earthlings are SO reliant on fossil fuels today that people today are ready to upturn whole governments for “over-pricing” fuel . I have already spoken about this earlier so I’m not going to dwell on that too much . What I do want to dwell on today is the solution to this problem and the problem with the solution .
The easiest way out of this situation is not to car-pool . 10 years ago that was the most convinent option . 4 people in one car will make a difference but the situation is so bad today that , that will hardly change a thing . 30 people in one vehicle on the other hand can make a difference ! It’s not some new prototype developed by audi . It’s that humble monster known as a bus .

Public transport . THAT is the answer to our problem . If we all decided to travel by bus , we would not only not have to drive through the maddening traffic ( firstly  because the bus driver will do that and secondly because there will be fewer cars on the road so no traffic ! ) , we can also save on fuel and on maintainance !

Some hypocrites say that travelling by bus is inconvinient since the bus stops are rather far from their destinations . Two things I would like to mention here . Firstly , if more people used buses , the number of routes will increase and therefore the stops will get closer to where you want to go . Secondly , Whatever happened to that healthy habit we all had called walking ? Lost in time ? The world would be a healthier place if people decided to walk more often . Walking half a mile to the bus stop won’t kill you . Leave home 15 minutes earlier than usual , you’ll reach on time too .

I use the bus while going to college and have done so for about 3 years now . It’s convinient , cheap ,safe and gives me that sense of satisfaction of having saved that little much of the world .

Having said that , there is a problem to this solution . And that is  upto the government to rectify . Our buses are old , dilapidated , leaky and give out more smoke than a crowd of italian mafia bosses smoking . That needs to change . You need to make buses attractive. Make people want to travel in buses . Phase out the buses that have run longer than  my generation of homo-sapiens has been alive . Service the buses regularly and make sure they stick to the pollution control norms . Publicise public transport . A group of shutter-happy ministers travelling in a volvo bus once a month is not publicity . Calling that sad event as bus day is not publicity either . Publicity comes when your buses look good and run on the roads efficiently . Publicity comes when these buses don’t jump signals and have smart well dressed drivers and conductors. Publicity comes when people say “I dont need to spend 4000Rs on petrol for my car every month when I can use a bus for hardly 1/40th of that amount per month . Publicity comes when these buses have a fixed schedule that does not change every 10 days and which is available for everyone to access easily , say at bus stops , or through phone alerts on request or on the internet . Publicity will only come when you make using public transport uncomplicated . That is the advertising needed .
 The volvo bus fleet is the best example of a brilliant public transport system that is poorly advertised and hence runs empty for most of the day . If more people are made aware of the exact timings of these buses , more people will use them ! These buses do infact stick to a schedule . Only problem is that, to know what this schedule is , you need to observe for about a week and make a note of when it actually  comes to your stop . I really appreciate the software-engineer crowd working at big business parks and tech-parks here . I see so many of them go to work in these volvos and comeback home in volvos too . If only more people would do the same !

A good example of badly maintained buses are the older model buses that are running . One drizzle and the water will leak from windows , the roof , a hole in the floor , through the gap near the gear box and from other places you did not know existed in the bus ! These buses leave a smokescreen behind them too . They look rickety , frail , brittle and ready to fall apart . Nobody wants to uses buses like that !

That is where the government needs to step in . Revamp the public transport system . Update it’s website often ( Yes BMTC has a website . ) , buy new buses , phase out the old ones ,make people want to use buses !

I keep coming back to that phrase . Make people want use buses . But for that people should have it in their heads , their conscience to uses public transport . If that will power is not there , this is a campaign not worth starting . We need to promise ourselves that we will not discard the option of public transport without even giving it a chance , maybe two . Trust me , the volvo buses are comfy and on time . Give it a try for a week . Lets do our bit first and then tell the government the problems WE faced . Don’t dissuade yourself or others by listening to or telling other people’s bad bus-ride experiences  . Find your own problems and try to get it solved . Saving the environment is not just a subject in a text book . It’s something we have to do . It’s a fate we have brought upon ourselves by irrational usage and unthoughtful wastage . Set it right . Do your bit . Fuel prices are bound to increase . You can’t do anything about it . You can do something about this though . So just do it .