If there is an opportunity to ride the public buses in Mumbai, I often seize it, even though the thought of getting into a sometimes packed, damp bus, scares me. I have come to realize that, when taken at the right time, a lot of places and things can be discovered in the city; a lot of things and places can also be re-discovered. Today was such a day. By the way, it is 9 pm on a Wednesday night and I am surrounded by not only my own thoughts, but the street noise of the small by-lane on which our house rests. I don’t even want to imagine the cacophony on the main road!
I had some time to kill before getting to my destination today, and as usual, I toyed with the idea of taking a (relatively) comfortable cab versus the crowded public transportation. Today I felt brave and took on the B.E.S.T buses. These are the public buses of the city and boy, do they need some TLC. Nothing has changed about these buses from the time I lived in Mumbai 10 years ago (Discovery #1). No, that’s not true. I did notice some changes. But, I’d like to first speak to the changes that have yet to be made to the buses of the bustling city by the bay.
As much as the B.E.S.T buses function and serve their purpose, despite there being a gazillion people on them and in them, these buses are a far cry from the efficient and technologically advanced buses of San Francisco. With the ability to comfortably hold a significant amount of people, the infrastructure to accommodate one to two wheel chairs at any give time, and with the capacity to lower its self if there is an elderly person trying to climb into the bus, the MUNI buses of San Francisco are one of a kind. On the other hand, with the buses of Mumbai, I have often been greeted by the tattered, spongy, green seats of the bus, its dented metallic frames and by the faded red color of the exteriors.
Small and crammed do not do justice to the description of the interiors of these metal boxes. These buses must be a 100 years old. Heck! They look and feel a 100 years old, and a 100 years ago, one can safely assume that these buses would have accommodated a much smaller population that once existed in Mumbai. But alas, this is not so in 21st century Mumbai. The throngs of people that try to get into these buses, especially during peak hours, can barely fit in them, let alone comfortably ride in them. Folks, see for yourselves:
One can see the chaos on a regular day, when Mumbai is not faced with any environmental elements, such as heavy rains or winds. But what happens when one does have to get onto a bus when it is pouring outside? What happens when the bus can barely accommodate people, let alone people and their soaking wet umbrellas? From what I have experienced myself, it is a nightmare, details of which I wish to avoid!
However, the changes that I do like are the fact that a lot more seats are sectioned off for the women folk – old and young alike. So, if there was a vacant seat and there was a man and woman standing, the seat would automatically go to the woman. This is great, considering that the art of chivalry is slowly dying out in the mega metropolis. Second, the bus conductors are now all equipped with a ticket machine that is metered so that once you tell them your destination, they electronically print out your ticket and hand it to you. In the past, the conductor would have to look at tickets pertaining to your travel zone, punch the ticket, tear it out from the bunch, and then hand it to you.
All in all, riding in a bus in a city is sometimes entertaining and mostly exhausting. I hope that sooner than later, the B.E.S.T buses will be replaced by more efficient machines that match the technologically advanced century we live in. But then again, perhaps the state of our public buses reflect the atrocious state of our roads, both of them begging and hoping for a complete makeover!