Starting this week, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) is running its newly procured Mercedes-Benz luxury buses to the Bangalore airport and back, offering competition to the fire-engine red, poetically named Vayu Vajra Volvo buses that already ply the airport route. Some of the new buses will even have wireless connectivity.
Have you ridden the airport bus in Bangalore lately? I did this for the first time last week, I am embarrassed to say. But we Bangaloreans have an excuse. Unlike Mumbai and Delhi, which have well-connected train systems, and a culture of citizens using it, Bangalore is still working on its Metro.
Spiffy: These luxury buses are being tried out on the Bangalore airport route. PTI
Like most city dwellers, I believe in public transport; in principle. One of the pleasures of riding the Delhi Metro is to listen to a svelte girl deconstruct her first date in biological detail on her cellphone, completely oblivious of eagerly listening ears all around. And one of the pleasures of riding the trains of Mumbai is to watch a group of women deftly shell peas and diss their mothers-in-law at the same time. Come Kurla and they are done, both with venting problems and their dinner prep.
Public transport affords that cheapest of urban thrills: a chance sighting of an intriguing person across a sea of faces. Your eyes lock. You take stock. You wonder what he or she does for a living. This doesn’t happen when you are cocooned in a car.
Bangalore’s airport buses have been running for over a year. Yet, they haven’t been embraced by the “first-flight-out, last-flight-in” business crowd that ought to be their natural customers. For affluent Bangaloreans who are in a hurry, the bus is both an inconvenience and a waste of time. It isn’t necessarily cheaper either. The bus from the airport to Ulsoor costs Rs 165; a taxi for the same ride costs about Rs 550, so if three people travel together, it is cheaper to take a cab. Then why should we ride the bus? To set an example, I suppose; and to ease traffic congestion and pollution.
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Riding the airport bus is, in Bangalore, a civilized way to watch the world go by. It is air conditioned, uncrowded and brings you in contact with a variety of people for an hour—enough time for the imagination to wander and construct screenplays. A bright-eyed young man wearing khaki pants jumps on the bus at Mekhri Circle. He smiles at the sweet young thing in the back seat. Do they know each other or is he just sweet on her? Is this his way of making a move? Will it work? Are her parents conservative or will they allow a love marriage? What does he do? The briefcase says “Oracle”, but his long hair slots him as a copywriter rather than a code-writer. You see.
I have never taken the bus to the airport. I have waited for one and when it didn’t show up on time—schedules and times are available at www.bmtcinfo.com—I got nervous and took a car. For a first-timer, I would suggest that you take the bus back from the airport, particularly if you don’t have much luggage. Here’s what you do. Once you exit the airport, there is a large and convenient sign pointing you to the city bus services. You walk down and soon will see white-uniformed drivers hailing you by saying, “Bus”. You tell them where you want to go—Indiranagar, Richmond Road, Jayanagar, wherever—and they will point you to the right bus. Once you get in, the conductor will come with a nifty credit-card printer-type device. You buy the ticket and sit back. When you get close to home, all you head honchos can call your driver to pick you up at the bus stop. That’s it. Or walk home, like I did.
Bangaloreans are ripe for bus travel. Our well-meaning corporate citizens who take pride in travelling economy will have no problems being role models. Psychologists call this positive identification and it goes like this: Azim Premji flies economy; I fly economy; I must be like Premji. Wow! The same process will happen if celebrities take the airport bus. Hordes of others will soon follow suit.
The BMTC should come up with an ad campaign and plaster it inside the bus. A simple photo along with a caption that says, “Hi, I’m Kris! I ride the bus”. Or “Hi, I am Manish. I ride the bus”. Better yet, these ads should be placed in taxis or on billboards at all traffic signals. People can sit in their cars and look at the ads, while the bus sails past. That’s the other thing: Once the bus gets on to the highway, it is really fast. The drivers know when to get off and on to the flyovers, and usually end up being the fastest vehicle on the road. The inside of the bus is brightly lit and the ride is as smooth as licking an ice cream. You can read a book, listen to your iPod or even hammer out a business plan on the four seats facing each other. Corporate heads such as Vinita Bali, Wim Elfrink, Subroto Bagchi, and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw ought to consider trying it sometime: to set an example; to make bus-riding cool.
Shoba Narayan wonders what happened to that Delhi girl who had a dramatic first date. Did she ever go on a second one? Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org