After being told to get off a BMTC bus only because she did not tender exact change, a citizen explores the reasons for the repeated scuffles between passengers and conductors.
If you are an average person travelling in Bangalore, whichever mode of transport you opt for, can be a daunting task. If you choose to travel by your own personal vehicle, haphazard traffic and the moon-craters called pot-holes only make sure your stress levels rise meteorically.
Recently, the menace of auto-drivers over-charging, arguing and misbehaving with passengers has been highlighted by many leading papers, citizen forums and on social-media. This has led to various endeavours to curb the problem such as the setting up of help-lines to report auto-drivers, Bangalore Traffic Police conducting an auto-raid in July and the Peace Auto initiative which is supported by the United Nations Information Centre for India and Bhutan. However, today catching an auto driver who agrees to take you to your required destination without trying to ask for “only ten rupees extra” is still a rarity.
Then, there are some who choose to take the public transport-the BMTC. My work place is quite far away from my house and luckily after I take two buses, I am able to reach my workplace. And although, I do find the BMTC convenient, I still am scared every morning of being yelled or abused at every time I step in to a bus because of an incident that occurred a few months back.
I was running late for work one morning, when I realised that I didn’t have any money in my wallet, so I ran into an ATM and withdrew thousand rupees. The ATM machine, handed me two five hundred rupee notes. I boarded the bus, and gave the note to the driver, who told me that he didn’t have change and I needed to get off the bus. I refused. He started threatening me saying that he would take me to KR Puram and “deal with me”. The bus driver stopped the bus and said he wouldn’t continue till I got down, but I still refused. The other passengers started abusing me, saying I was delaying everyone and begged me to get off. Finally an older lady paid my ticket for me and the bus driver continued. I was a bit shocked that this has happened. I didn’t see any signs saying that one needed to tender exact change on the buses, or that you could get thrown off for not having change.
Dysfunctional complaint system
Very upset by this incident, as soon as I got off the bus, I decided to call the BMTC help line and filed a complaint. The call centre gave me a number and told me that they would get back to me. A week went by, and I didn’t hear from them, so I called the helpline number again, to be told that the complaint had been handed over to the depot manager and I should call there. I called him, but he said he had no idea about the complaint. This back and forth between the call centre and depot manager occurred for about two weeks, after which I got sick and tired of it and started looking for citizen forums.
Let’s talk about Transport
I found “Let’s Talk about Transport”, an online platform on Facebook which allowed citizens to complain about transport in Bangalore. I sent a message to the admin, Mr. Sridhar of BPAC, who immediately got back to me and asked me to call an advisor to the BMTC. After a month of making a lot of calls and sending emails, I finally got an appointment with the BMTC. The conductor in charge was called, and was yelled as for the bit by the head of complaints. I was momentarily satisfied, but I knew that there would be many more conductors in many more buses to face.
Increasing violence in buses?
Research on the issue, showed me violence and arguments on buses was a very common. The BMTC official complaint page had comment after comment on how passengers were ill-treated for not having change; some were thrown out and others were verbally abused. More extreme cases recently have been a techie put in jail after she physically assaulted the bus conductor (leading to him being deaf in one ear) or a bus rerouted to the police station over two rupees. So who is to blame? Is the onus on the passengers, to always have exact change, or on the conductor to provide change?
The conductor’s story
After some investigation, I find out that the reason that conductors are always reluctant to part with change is because the BMTC does not provide them with change. Every day, officially stated as “due to accounting purposes”, conductors are sent for service in the morning, with no small denominations in their hands. They complain that they need to make their own provisions. I realised then, that there was no use being angry at bus conductors, who were equally a victim of BMTC. This was a nightmarish situation for all involved, and a solution needs to be implemented as soon as possible,
As long back as 2001, BMTC have been talking about change vending machines, “ticketless travel” and smart cards. However nothing has come to effect, and the passenger-conductor struggle continues to prevail. It is high-time that BMTC get serious, and introduce a mechanism for both passengers and conductors have access to change disbursal. Small steps such as keeping slot machines at bus depots, could go a long way in ending the increasing violence in the BMT buses. Till then, I guess I have to mentally prepare myself for combat mode, before I enter a bus.