Thursday, August 01, 2013

Thoughts on Commuting in Bangalore

Long time readers of this blog will know that I'm against people using cars for their daily commute. It's a belief that has evolved over the past four years in Bangalore, and probably has a lot to do with how terrible Bangalore is traffic-wise. 

I also ascribe this belief in part to my first company, which tried to promote green values in its employees. (Though it was slightly schizophrenic in its actions. People were encouraged to cycle to work, but manager grades and above had subsidized car loans as a benefit. It ran buses for its employees, but the monthly charges were prohibitively expensive. It sent out nice colourful mailers to promote Bus Day, but refused to have parking fees for car-users.)

Anyway, back to topic. 

My daily commute offers me contrasting perspectives on Bangalore traffic. It's a pretty short commute by most people's standards - only 5-6 kilometers each way. But thanks to Bangalore's convoluted system of one-way roads, the commute becomes about eight kilometers long if I choose to travel TO office by bus. AND I would have to walk about two kilometers in total - not an easy thing to do in heels. So I take the easy way out - I get the long-suffering husband to drop me part-way, and then I take an auto. 

Yup, that was quite the decision to make for a bus-supporter. But I tell myself autos run on CNG, so it doesn't matter. (If you know otherwise, please don't tell me - I want a clear and ignorant conscience.)

But here's where the contrast comes in. 

In the mornings, sitting in my cold and windy auto, I curse pedestrians. And it's not me being elitist, by the way. To get to my office, I have to cross a junction where cars from my part of town turn into and join the main arterial road that leads to my office. It's a crazy place, with people trying desperately to get across before the allotted thirty seconds are over. And that's precisely when some amazingly intelligent person will decide that it's a good time to cross the road.

I've noticed this phenomenon at other places too - the pedestrians of Bangalore seem to have a biological urge to cross the road when the lights are green for vehicle movement. I've seen this over and over and over again. This may be forgivable in places where there are no traffic lights, but not at busy junctions, where there are separate timings for pedestrians to cross. Is it lack of common sense or lack of awareness of traffic rules?

But then I reach my office and get off the auto, and it's now my turn to be a pedestrian. Not for long - I just need to cross the road and enter my office building. And what a road it is - cars and buses and scooters and autos all screaming past like they don't know they're going to be stuck in a traffic jam just a kilometer ahead. 

Since I'm the pedestrian now, my resentment is towards the people in the vehicles. Would it kill them, I wonder, to slow down and pause for the pedestrians to cross? Do they think the zebra crossing is funny road graffiti that they can happily ignore? 

There have been times when I've stood at that zebra crossing for as long as ten minutes before being able to get across. And my chief entertainment at such times is to curse the men who're happily and ignorantly and idiotically driving their cars all alone to work. (I don't curse the women though - given what I hear from my friends, it's generally the women who do all the work at home, so they need all the extra time they can get. But my thoughts on that particular topic need a whole different blog post of their own.)

The evenings are better though. To assuage the grief that my conscience is giving me for having taken an auto in the morning, I take the bus back. I have to change once, and it takes double the time - but at least I feel better. To be honest, I like BMTC buses - the service is pretty frequent, the buses are generally clean, and the conductors are (mostly) civil. I keep wondering why more people don't use buses for their daily commute. 

Personally, I can't understand why anybody would voluntarily put themselves through the torture that is Bangalore traffic. Driving anywhere in evening rush hour takes an hour. Instead of torturing yourself, wouldn't you prefer to travel by bus - read the paper, watch people, get some more exercise than you generally do?
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