A decade ago, my mother, a woman of great foresight, decided that it was time I began travelling by public transport. After a week of safety instructions, I was given ₹20 and I set off on my adventure. I caught a bus in no time, paid my fare to the conductor and conversed with the driver. The bus's height offered a new vantage point of my city. Ever since this enjoyable experience, I have travelled by Road Transport Corporation (RTC) buses. My pocket enjoys the cheap fares and my co-passengers always entertain by unwittingly offering brief insights into the inner workings of humanity. I am also proud of myself for using public transport and thereby reducing my carbon footprint. Unfortunately, the romanticized idea of travelling by RTC buses that I had held onto shattered when I began to travel long distances during peak office hours.
1. Overcrowding And Harassment
RTC buses suffer from inadequate service capacity. There are too many passengers and too few buses, inevitably leading to one's body being touched, probed, pushed and shoved aside by countless passengers. Since everyone is trying to navigate their way in the overcrowded bus, the depressing reality is that no one can reasonably expect co-passengers to respect the personal space of others. Sometimes, men enter the RTC bus from its front door, even though it is typically meant only for women and the elderly. I often don't blame them for this because the back entrance is so crowded that it is not unusual for young men to hang precariously from the edges of the door, risking their safety. But I will not absolve the men who enter from the front door of the bus with malicious motives. Every few minutes, the conductor makes his way through the bus to collect dues or shepherd more passengers inside. (I say his because there are few female bus conductors). Humiliation and disgust follow from the rough and unwanted bodily contact of strangers.
Travelling by the RTC bus can have detrimental effects on one's emotional wellbeing. I find myself angrier and less compassionate on the days that I am at the mercy of an overcrowded bus. As for sexual harassment, I'll tell you this -- if I were a sexual predator who wanted to harass someone, I would pick an overcrowded RTC bus for the infinite opportunities it offers.
If I were a sexual predator who wanted to harass someone, I would pick an overcrowded RTC bus for the infinite opportunities it offers.
Authorities can remedy the twin problems of overcrowding and harassment by ensuring adequate service capacity. The problem may be one of too few buses or the poor utilisation of existing vehicles. Whichever it is, a solution exists. There is no justification for making people travel in conditions that lead to physical, mental and sexual harassment.
2. No Concern For The Elderly Or The Disabled
Despite reserved seats, elderly and disabled people are often left struggling. One reason is that the number of reserved seats is ridiculously low. In the coming years, the number of elderly in India is set to significantly rise. Our RTC buses are not equipped to accommodate this change and ensure better service. Moreover, reservation of seats does not guarantee access to public transport. There are inconveniences and obstacles requiring one to expend considerable physical effort in every stage of bus travel -- from boarding to making one's way to a seat and finally alighting from the bus. Lastly, apathetic co-passengers occupy reserved seats and don't bother to get up when an elderly or disabled person boards the bus. The impatient bus drivers are similarly indifferent to the needs of the elderly or disabled.
3. Class Discrimination
I'm not trying to tar everyone with the same brush, but I have known some bus conductors and drivers to be unfeelingly rude, unhelpful and even malicious to passengers from rural backgrounds or those who have lower economic status. Class-based discrimination is wholly unacceptable. Unsurprisingly, it works the other way too. Some conductors have charged extra money from me or refused to return change because I am easily identifiable as belonging to the middle class.
It is high time we demanded adequate service capacity, female-only buses and better access facilities for the elderly and the disabled from RTC authorities.
Travel is integral to the everyday functioning of our professional and personal lives. For several people, RTC buses are the only viable means of transport. However, for centuries around the world, public transport and its policy-making has been dominated by able-bodied men of privilege. They do not understand the issues of people from different backgrounds. For women, the lack of affordable and safe transport facilities means an exclusion from the workforce. For the elderly and disabled, the issue of transport is riddled with problems of access as well as health concerns.
Thus, there is a need to diversify the process of crafting policy for public transportation. This must begin with public participation. We must vocalize our problems and make collective demands so that public transportation truly fulfils its purpose. It is high time we demanded adequate service capacity, female-only buses and better access facilities for the elderly and the disabled from RTC authorities. As a correlative duty, it is also imperative that we practice sensitivity towards our co-passengers.
Also see on HuffPost: