Friday, September 25, 2009

A Bus Service That Changed Things

It was sometime in the beginning of this summer. I was out for work at the usual time, talking to my friend while I walked down to the main road to catch the bus. It’s a ten minutes walk from my house. I was engrossed in conversation when suddenly two guys on a bike pointed to a white bus behind me, coming down the road. They said something about the 2nd bridge. To take this further, I need to acquaint unfamiliar readers with a few facts so they know what I’m talking about.

I live in Howrah, a suburb adjoining Kolkata, across the Hooghly river. The ten minutes walkway I talked about had no buses coming in. We had to walk to the main road and then take a bus. I have to cross the 2nd bridge, officially called the Vidyasagar Setu, to get to Kolkata. Every day is like a battle waiting to be fought. Some days you win and the transport is easy. Some days you reach office, too exhausted to be on your feet, forget working. You can refer to an earlier post I wrote about surviving on these buses.

To get back to the story, I saw this bus which clearly had ‘Ruby Hospital’ stenciled across the windshield on one side, in bold, red letters. This clearly indicated, coupled with what the guys told me, that it was crossing the bridge. I noted that the other side of the windshield was blank and on the side, 'K7' was painted in white with a red halo. According to convention, the other terminus should be written on the other side of the windshield. My doubts were confirmed when I boarded the bus.

This was a new service. They had fixed Ruby Hospital as the terminus on the Kolkata side. They had experimented with other areas on this side of the Ganges, but couldn’t hold fort anywhere for more than a couple of weeks because of resistance from local transport authorities. No body wants a new service cutting into their business. Anyway, so there it was. Passengers on board were an excited lot. They wanted this service to work, come what may. Some of them were eager with their suggestions on how to grab market share when it came to passengers. Some were busy advising the conductor and driver on how to drive in a competitive way and elbow out rival bus services. It was all a happy family.

Then people began to complain. They were not happy with the time this bus took to get them to office. They complained about the fare. They alleged that the bus authorities cooked up the fare charts and the chart on display, framed in wood and nailed to the inner walls of the bus, was not the one approved by the government. They complained they were not being able to avail the bus on their way home. Some of them reportedly waited an hour for the bus to come and then took some other bus, disgruntled and disillusioned. It’s not always easy to accept change, especially when you are cynical.

But you are too powerless to resist change for long. The service picked up after the government took off all buses that were more than fifteen years old. Our greenhorn flexed its muscles and grabbed its place under the sun. People thronged the buses and silently thanked the driver and the conductor for saving their neck at the workplace. Local passengers took to the bus eagerly, braving the daunting task of pushing through their way through a bus packed with Kolkata-bound people. Middle-class housewives, who had to depend on male support to take them across the Ganges, could now get to the city in happy, chirpy groups. They could also avail a concession on the ticket if the conductor was a local guy they knew.

It’s nice to see that people embrace change when it happens, though they sometimes need to overcome their inhibitions initially. As we go deeper into the Pujas, the bus is the one people around here are looking at to pierce its trident through the demon of transport problems and chaotic confusion of traffic. Happy Pujas!

1 comment:

Yu Yu said...

After being months away from Kolkata I realized that somethings will never change -- bickering aunties and uncles will always be bickering, and the shiny shirt syndrome will always be rampant. K7 on the other hand is quiet a pleasant bus. I wish a working public transport like the one in Kolkata really worked in Delhi NCR. I love hearing the democratic voice of the people telling the drivers and bus conductors to move on. And the whole thing about lifting up your hand and stopping traffic -- even little magazine's editor wrote about that in TimeOut Delhi last week. Some things in West Bengal will always remain in West Bengal.