A few days back BMTC Volvo crew went on a flash strike, inconveniencing thousands of commuters, against a new rule scrapping overtime when they fail to meet a target for the number of trips per day.
They cited bad traffic and road conditions for not being able to meet those targets consistently. When we look at it from a more sympathetic perspective, BMTC crew and Traffic police personnel do bear most of the brunt from fast-crumbling roads and the rains which have added an all new dimension to an already overcrowded, grid-locked city.
Given these conditions and the need to complete a set number of trips, one would expect BMTC buses to be speeding along all over the place and causing innumerable accidents like New Delhi’s ‘Killer’ Blue line services. But this post is not about the accident rate and comparison with another service to see who kills more. This is to look at another hidden, increasingly driven to extinction, side of BMTC, and by extension Bangalore.
Most of the buses towards far-off suburbs operate in two modes during peak hours. They get filled up at the start, usually KBS which still is the center for BMTC, keep getting filled up till some point, then they see more disembarking, until they reach a critical point where most of the bus empties out. The final destination might still be some 5-6 Kms away, but the critical mass is gone now.
These buses usually have female conductors. The logic might be that they wouldn’t have to endure crowded buses longer. These buses don’t even get digital sign-boards and have to do with scrawled bus numbers on boards most of the time. Needless to say, rickety tin-boxes at the twilight of their lives run on such routes.
The last leg is thus run with a nearly empty bus, and the commuters on this are mostly those who make only two journeys per day, one to get out of home and one to get back from work. They usually have fixed schedules and hence particular buses, and thus know the driver or conductor well. So much so that if you are new to the bus, the conductor repeatedly confirms with you where you want to go once he/she sees that you haven’t gotten off at the point where the bus empties out.
Most of the times, these routes also run only a few buses in the morning towards the City and a few back in the evening from the City with nothing in between.
But this last leg can also get delayed most times. In my case, in the outer suburbs of West Bangalore, I’ve seen these delays for all kinds of reasons. Once, the driver stopped by the side, to go to an ATM to draw some money. I slyly warned him that that ATM is notoriously out of order most of the time. Neither did he listen, nor did he return for a long time prompting me to get down and walk home.
Another time, the driver stopped the bus next to a vegetable vendor who had spread her wares on the footpath and the conductor got down to shop vegetables for both of them, while I sat there ready to burst like a volcano. Once the bus started, most of the commuters were mostly interested in the price the conductor paid for beans and carrots, and grimly tut-tutted about the rising cost of vegetables.
However, the most consistent has been a bus that stops next to a push-cart which serves Aamvadés. The bus stops completely on the side. Both disembark and go down to the shop while the commuters sit there waiting for them to buy Vadas for themselves, their families and other bus crew at the last stop. I take that as my cue and get down and walk.
There is a strange Mempi-hills-to-Malgudi feel to these buses as they stop at will for the crew to do their things while the commuters chat in the bus amicably and wait in no hurry to get home. In this day of collectioning, strict schedules, and traffic stress, it is a wonder that BMTC crew indulge themselves.
On one hand one could work oneself up over them not serving commuters best, but, on the other hand, if the commuters really don’t care and are willing to sit and chat about the day with others, maybe one just needs to accept them for what they are – as one of the last few vestiges of a laidback pensioner’s paradise.