Saturday, May 21, 2011

Public Transport – I’m sold.

Of all the cities in India that I have lived in, Delhi by far has had the best public transport infrastructure. I was a regular user of the city buses during summer vacations in class 8th and 9th when I had joined a computer programming course out of my personal interest. Following this the next major phase of my life when I used city buses came in class 11th and 12th. I would take a bus to travel from school to my coaching classes and also back home. Back then, I had no choice. There was a car at home, but I neither had a license nor did I know how to drive. Also at that time, most buses were Bluelines. These buses never ran with a motive of serving the public. Money making was the only motive. Given the helpless circumstances back then, I was definitely not fond of the buses or the public transport.

Things changed as I joined college. I regularly travelled along the Delhi-Chandigarh route on buses and trains. At the same time, I learned to drive and got myself a driving license. I did drive around the city for sometime, but soon Metro operations expanded in Delhi. From the day Metro connected Dwarka to other parts of Delhi, I realised the convenience of driving only up till the closest Metro Station. Following my graduation, I moved to Mysore and Bangalore. I had no personal vehicle. Autos in Bangalore (and Mysore) are a nuisance. As a result I always favoured the buses and often had to fight the reluctance of my friends in order to take the buses. And now that I am back in Delhi, I have been making the most of the public transport over the past four months.

Over this time I have had a change of mindset and my attitude towards public transport has changed a lot. I no longer perceive it as the cheap, painful and poor-man's mode of transport. At the same time, I am far from considering myself as a socially responsible citizen who takes public transport to help save fuel, lower pollution, lessen traffic on the roads. While I do support these causes, they are totally unrelated to my ever-growing fondness of the public transport.

One of my reasons for preferring public transport is that carrying around your own personal vehicle is slowly turning painful. Traffic is too slow too often. Parking has always been a problem (at least since the day I started driving). Petrol is burning bigger holes in your pocket. And then there are these occasional unpleasant cases of breakdown (I recently had a flat tyre). All these add to the pain.

The primary reason for my attraction is the experience in itself. This tweet by Rungta sums it up: “Never a dull moment on the public transport crush— err, systems of India.”

Truely, there is never a dull moment. Unlike the monotony of driving your vehicle through slow traffic, switching gears between 1 and 2, and finally searching for that non-existent parking spot; there is some spark in almost every ride on the public transport. The joy of boarding an empty bus, the competition for a seat in a jam-packed bus, the funny comments in the air, the sigh of relief at the end of the journey. In addition, the noticeable (as well as subtle) traits of individuals coming from diverse backgrounds (regional, cultural, economic etc) add to the exuberance; imagine a Haryanvi letting out his frustration in a crowded bus. Somehow these tiny highs and lows makes the entire experience worth it. And when I think back, and recall all these experiences there is a sense of achievement and satisfaction.

This post is a consequence of the same feeling, and I decided to share some of those moments. Even if they don't convince you about the beauty of the experience, at least they would humour you.

  • One of the important difference between the buses in Delhi and Bangalore is the ease with which people start a conversation. Maybe because language is a lesser divide among the people in Delhi as compared to people in Bangalore. For some reason there is a “general assumption” that the people around are eager to talk to you. So don't be surprised if the guy next to you strikes up a random conversation with you. The topic can be, well, anything depending on the day, the mood, the person, the co-passengers, the weather, the cricket match; as I said, it can be anything. Some of the topics I have come across in the recent past: overcrowded state of public transport; the Government not functioning well; the distressing traffic situation; lack of trees; the performance of the bus driver; the insignificance of the Metro Airport Express Line; or a one-sided monologue where a random “enlightened” guy decides to spread some gyaan.
  • While there are no shortage of frustrating moments, more often than not you will find some humour being born out of those situations. For example in a bus, every now and then you will discover newer (and funnier) ways of stealing seats. If your happen to be the unlucky victim who gets beaten in the contest, you can either humour others by letting out your rage, or simply learn from it and outsmart your fellow co-passengers the next ride onwards. Sometime back two of us took a metro from HUDA City Centre. Since the train originates at this station, people usually scamper for a seat the moment the metro door opens. We did not participate in the scamper as we were making a very short trip. Just as someone was taking the seat right next to where we were standing, a guy runs in and manages to force his potli onto the seat (under the other guy's half-seated posture), which obviously gets crushed by the butts. What followed was this huge argument - one claiming that he sat first, while the other claimed that his potli was kept on the seat before the other guy sat. The argument concluded with both adjusting themselves on the seat.
  • On another occasion I was travelling in a jam-packed metro from Rajiv Chowk towards Dwarka wearing a backpack. Having no control on my movements due to the rush, I happened to accidentally give an old man a slight nudge with my bag. Incidentally the old man was travelling with an elderly companion, and both happened to be in a drunk state. The nudge made this old man start talking (actually, more like announcing) to his friend “Ek to duniya mein samasya yeh hai ki logon ko apna basta sambhalna nahi aaya”. A third aged co-passenger (no, this guy was not drunk) participated in the conversation and blamed the Government for not doing anything about the helplessness of the passengers. The conversation took wild turns as more people got interested. For quite some time the three old men kept talking and conversation nearly turned into a meaningless argument. After a little while the sober old man got off at this destination. Following that the drunk old man decided to address his co-passengers “Aap kahin bhi jaoge aapke aas paas zyadatar log murkh milenge aur bohut kum samajhdar milenge. Hum sub mein bhi zyadatar murkh hi honge. Bus ye batana mushkil hai ki kaun murkh hai aur kaun samajhdar.” The pravachan continued as everyone listened to the old-man-on-a-high with a smile on their faces. When it comes to carrying bags in public transport, I now have a golden rule – “keep it below the belly”. From that day onwards I converted my backpack into a sling-bag.
  • The roof of the bus stop near my house was blown away by strong winds quite sometime back. Only a small piece of the roof still remains stuck. On a peak summer afternoon as I waited for a bus, two persons came in from different directions and sat alongside me. They realised that the sun was too strong, and so decided to look for a shade. Eventually both ended up cramming themselves under the little shade provided by the broken piece of roof. And this initiated another fun conversation, and as expected they pulled me into their conversation. They went on to criticise the DTC, the Government and even the MCD for not planting trees on that side of the road.
  • Most of the new buses procured by DTC are an engineering marvel. These busses run on CNG. Have the engines at the back of the bus. They are low floor. Automatic doors. Automatic gears. The manufactures did almost everything right except that the engines generate very low power. You can distinctly hear these buses scream with pain as they try to pickup from a dead stop or climb up a flyover. The situation worsens in an AC bus, when the AC is turned on. Often the bus drivers turn the AC off when the buses need more power for pickup. And almost immediately you can hear a comment or two from the crowd – “AC chala do. Paise to hum poore dete hain, AC chalane mein aapka kya jaata hai.”
  • Even though the bus route I usually take has a very good service frequency, there have been times when I have had to wait a lot, specially at the Nehru Place Terminal. About a week back I was at the terminal at about quarter past seven in the evening to catch an AC Bus plying on the same route. There is no fixed platform at the terminal from where the bus might originate. If you need a seat, you have to be attentive and look out in all directions. Whenever a bus moves, or starts, or shows any other signs of departure the crowd would rush towards it. The key to get seats is very simple; win the race. If you are lucky, the bus would be plying on the route you're looking for. On that day we had been running around without luck for about half an hour. After some more time, as we all started our sprint towards another bus, someone among us shouted aloud “Itne mein to Dilli Police ka physical clear ho jata.” Even that bus turned out to be on a different route.

Public transport rides are a mixed-bag of emotions – fun, frustration, humour, exercise, excitement, anxiety and more. Most importantly it is a break from monotony. The person facing the music enjoys as much as the person observing these moments. While there are many more incidents worth sharing, I'd rather not make a long blogpost even longer. Instead let me point you to some tweets by me and my friends:

As pointed before, hopefully these anecdotes have at least humoured you, if not convince you about the beauty of using the public transport.


Shamail Tayyab said...

I definitely has completely different point of view on the public transport thingy!

When I joined industry, my office was at Janakpuri (24Kms).
The nearest metro station was Inderprastha (10Kms).

And the way metro is designed, it was 51 Kms from IP to Janakpuri in its snake like track.

Now, the journey, which otherwise could be completed in 40mins, makes me go 2hrs.
Plus, after working for whole day, you first travel standing from Janakpuri to IP, then ditto in Bus to Maharani Bagh (might be a 30 min waiting time at Bus Stop), then RTV to Okhla, then Rikshaw to Home? Sane? No!
Then you remain aware the whole way, if you are being pick pocketed or not?
Plus you've a 3.2 Kgs laptop on your shoulders.

So I bought a car for myself. From that day, I don't know what metro is.

And believe me, Traffic Jam is just your imagination, if you are an explorer, then you'll always know your alternate way out. And traffic condition is far better than Bengluru/Mumbai/Kolkata any way!

No I travel to Dwarka these days, it takes me 50 minutes using Bike, and 1hr 05 mins in Car, which takes 2hr 30mins if I chose metro. And I am pretty happy with it.


Souvik said...

I think Traffic Jam is a valid problem, but it may not effect all areas at all times. Sure there may be a way out in some cases, but you will find those only if you are a regular traveler in the same route. I would say that the Traffic condition in Delhi is pretty bad in spite of being better than other cities in India. Parking is a much bigger problem than jams.

I never said that Public Transport is faster. Personal vehicles would almost always be faster (unless you are travelling on Airport Express Line of the Metro). So if you are in a real hurry, public transport is not suggested. But in many cases, travelling in Public Transport _may not_ be a waste of time. Since you are not driving, there are plenty of ways to utilise your time, eg reading newspaper, doing stuff on your phone, sleeping etc. Many a times it has provided me the best idle time for thinking... etc

Another common mistake people make is to not look beyond metro. I am not certain, but it looks like you are making the same mistake. eg if you have to travel from say Okhla to Dwarka, probably the route should be to reach Nehru Place (By Bus or Metro or RTV/Gramin Sewa) and then take a direct bus to Dwarka. There will be plenty of other alternatives *If you are an explorer, then you’ll surely find out a better way* :p

I do understand your preference for using your own vehicles, and I do admit that after a day’s work travelling on public transport is annoying. But I’d say that it is more of a mindset problem - the same thing that has changed in me over the past few months.

BTW, Don’t you find driving 25-30 Kms up and down everyday utterly monotonous?

PS: You got one of your facts wrong. The entire length of the Blue Line of Metro from Noida till the last Station in Dwarka is under 50 Kms. I don’t think, IP to Janakpuri would be more than 20 Kms.

Shamail Tayyab said...

Cut 1. Its definitely utterly boring to drive same route, same time. I even meet few vehicles that I see daily on road. Music helps (a lot). You need a very good bluetooth headset for rest of it. ;-) Just select a random number and waste his/her 1Hr ;-) why suffer alone?
Secondly, I am passionate about driving. Just love it. So any distance is cool for me. Can go 300Kms in a stretch ;-)

Cut 2. Yaar I know about 5 different routes to home. I also know at what time, which road is blocked, something I learned with time. e.g If I leave office at/after 7:30, I know outer ring road is safe. Its pretty rare that you stuck in traffic, and even you do, its even rarer that the time you are stuck exceeded usual time to travel in public transport.

Cut 3. Definitely, I had also tried DTC from Nehru Place. It takes 2Hrs. Even more than Metro.

Cut 4. Ya, it could be mindset problem, but I am surely OK with the mindset that I can use an hour that I save somewhere else ;-) (tunesdiary might be). Indeed personal vehicle is pretty costly, but then you set up your mind, this much part of salary is never mine ;-) I also use bike some times, its even better than car, but mom doesn't allow me to go this long on bike :(

Cut 5. Yes, I might be wrong with actual values, But the metro track that I saw once on Google Maps was pretty pathetic. Consider, By the time I would be at IP metro station, I would have crossed Delhi Cantt.

P.S why not enable email notification for the comment followups?

Souvik said...

I think you are lucky, cause you drive into Dwarka when everyone is driving out, and vice-versa.

I find the metro map to be very good. The purpose behind the project is to cover maximum area. Public transport should always increase coverage. Metro passes through some of the most congested areas of Delhi.

But I realise that for you the biggest pain point is time of travel. Fair enough. That is where our opinion differs, cause I do not mind that.


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