Chennai’s MTC bus service is static – a dusted up set of creaking buses built about a decade ago, hardly the system for a fast-growing metro. Its service culture is even more antiquated. The crew are often rude and mealy-mouthed, and commuters are glad to simply get a ride, never complaining.
As the bus service shrinks in real terms, people are migrating to two-wheelers and cars.
So it was no surprise for me that the conductor of a route 17 M Deluxe to Iyyappanthangal on Saturday night acted with customary haughtiness, when I requested that he stop at 5 lights in Rangarajapuram, which is my regular commute point.
“No. This bus does not stop there. You asked for Liberty, you get off there,” he said, puffed up with arrogance.
I tried to reason with him, telling him that all buses stop there, [they are doing so on their rerouting via Rangarajapuram due to ongoing civil works on the Kodambakkam bridge] and people board the buses there too.
He would have none of it, and flatly refused.
Surly bus crews get me all worked up, and this man was unusually rude. I decided to show him some commuter power.
I dialled the MTC complaints number from my mobile phone, and surprisingly, although it was 10.30 p.m, someone answered. I explained the circumstances to the complaints cell, and the operator asked if I was in the bus.
“Yes,” I told him.
“Please give the phone to the conductor,” the MTC official said, and I did. In the next 30 seconds, the conductor was convinced that he had better do something positive. He returned the phone, with a flat statement, “He asked me to stop for you.”
“Ok. Do that.” I said.
The man was smarting from the defeat, and he sat in his seat, swearing, and cursing his job. “What a job this is!” he said.
“Ask the guy on the street without a job and he will tell you,” I replied loudly. “I am done with my service, Sir,” he declared scornfully.
In about ten minutes, the bus had reached 5 lights. The whistle was blown and the doors opened. “Nanri, thanks” I said. The man raised his hand weakly in acknowledgement, and I was out of the bus.
If MTC conductors are boorish, who is responsible? Is it the invisible top management of the monopoly bus service, their political masters, the small minority of unruly commuters or all of the above?
With little investment in physical infrastructure in the form of better buses, bus stands, ticketing and information systems, and in training and behaviour improvement, Chennai MTC is an unattractive option, unlikely to shift people away from their own personal modes of mobility. And the State government is treating the bus commuter as a lesser citizen.