Follow that (green) bus!

05 Oct 2014

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The bus fills up to capacity on the way. Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
The bus fills up to capacity on the way. Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: “Gulshan-i-Hadeed, Quaid­abad, Kala Board, Malir ...” repeats the conductor like a broken long-playing phonograph record as the passengers board the bus.

We are at Tower from where one of the recently reconditioned 35 or so green compressed natural gas (CNG) buses is about to begin its regular trip along the route between Tower and Gulshan-i-Hadeed.

“The first bus on the route leaves at 7am and the last one around 9pm or 10pm,” says Munshi Irfan Khan, the young man from Mianwali selling its tickets on the footpath. “A ticket can be Rs20 to Rs30 or Rs40 depending on how far you are travelling.”

“Earlier, I used to take that dirty, dented D-16,” says Ms Saman, who works nearby at the Pakistan Customs office. “But now I only take the green bus after its return. I have regular nine-to-five office working hours. It suits me very well.”

The women’s compartment could have been bigger.
The women’s compartment could have been bigger.

The bus, part of the city’s People’s Bus Service, is roomy and airy and very clean, too. Instead of old and torn fat rexine seat covers of most of the buses here, it has comfortable dark green and light green plastic seat covers. The engine next to the driver that can also be used for sitting on has green carpeting. Still, the compartment for women could have been bigger.

“It’s okay,” says Ms Saman, who getting in at the first stop is in no mood to give up her seat for anybody. “After the seven or eight seats here are taken, there is room for at least four more to sit on the engine. Then some can also travel standing up while holding on to the poles or handles hanging from the rods above.”

The conductor is still repeating the route and many in the bus have gotten so used to him that they don’t even realise what he is saying. Suddenly, one woman pokes another in the tummy with her elbow. “What did he say?”

Make way for the green bus.
Make way for the green bus.

Both focus their ears on him again. “Uh oh, better get off. This is not our route,” says the other.

“What a pity. It’s a nice bus,” said the other rather regretfully before getting off.

A woman boards the bus with her little five-year-old granddaughter, Maha, who looks around with wide eyes. “My poor little granddaughter hasn’t seen such a clean bus before,” the grandmother laughs at her behaviour. Another female passenger boards and the grandmother pulls the child on to her lap to make room for her.

Meanwhile, the driver mumbling some choicest expletives at the rickshaw driver trying to park in front of him, gets into his seat and starts the engine. But the bus isn’t full as yet. “That’s okay,” says the conductor. We stop here for just 10 to 15 minutes but we’ll fill up on the way.”

Different value tickets depending on the travelling distance.
Different value tickets depending on the travelling distance.

The conductor in comparison to the neat and clean Pakhtun driver with well-oiled slick hair has a rather menacing look and untidy appearance. But in reality, he is the most polite and caring fellow, looking out for everyone’s safety and comfort on the bus. “Here, sister, tie your bag’s strap to the back of that seat,” he suggests to a woman passenger. “Yes, chacha, come, hold my hand. Take that seat at the back,” he helps an elderly passenger up on the bus. “Hey, young man, surely you can run faster than this,” he encourages a youngster to hurry up and get on the bus as they start moving again.

Once on the bus, some passengers indulge in a bit of chitchat, discussing the different load-shedding schedules in their respective areas, some network, too. A nervous few not interested in talking much recite the safar ki dua or enjoy the moving scenery as others keep a watchful eye on their belongings.

The bus conductor is your best friend on board.
The bus conductor is your best friend on board.

Mushtaq Ahmed, a retired teacher, is travelling with his old student Noor Mohammad. “We decided to meet up at Tower and take this bus to Malir where our friend has invited us to dinner,” says the teacher.

Meanwhile, Anwar Saeed and Abdul Rauf say that though they have only just started taking the green bus, they became friends on a bus as living in the same vicinity both shared the same ride after getting off their work in the evenings. “People here don’t realise how convenient bus travel can be. Our roads are already so congested and imagine how much worse the situation would become if we who travel by bus also get cars of our own,” says Mr Saeed.

“We need more such big and clean buses here to get more people acquainted with the idea of taking the bus instead of travelling by their own cars,” Mr Rauf nods in agreement.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2014