Every bus driver in the world gets a book of rules on his first day at the job. That’s my conclusion, for how else can you explain the unique behavior of buses? Anyone who has ever traveled by a bus in any part of the world will know these rules.
I cut my teeth on Indian buses, and from a passenger’s perspective, these were the Rules I learnt:
Rule #1 is to never stop at a bus stop, if possible. If that is somehow not possible (say due to a traffic jam), then stop as far as away from it as you can, with a distance that is directly proportional to the number of people waiting for the bus.
Rule #2 is to seek safety in numbers. So buses will come in pairs, or not at all. Not only will 147 and 149 come together and block the stop, but the 147s will also come in twos or even threes. For the next hour, of course, you will never see a single 147, even if its supposed frequency is every 20 minutes.
Rule #3 is to load up with as many passengers as possible. In Bihar and other states, even the roof is considered a seat, but in other states people disdain the roof and think it is cool to hang out of the window bars. Perhaps we should send some of these people to try out for the Roman Rings.
Rule #4 is to travel as slowly as possible. The ideal speed is just a tad above the speed of a fast walk. So a passenger will be marginally better off staying in rather than walking. Although, he/she will look longingly out of the window and wonder if getting off would be a better idea.
Of course, this assumes that he/she has a view of the window. It is moot if the only view available is of the next passenger’s armpit. It is also moot if getting off the bus is only an option at the last stop, when the impenetrable wall of passengers surrounding you would suddenly turn into a wave that carries you to the exit (or to the floor if you are not careful).
Rule #5 is to come up with ad-hoc route changes. When the bus finally arrives, you will find that it will either take a detour and take longer to wherever you want to go, or stop well before your destination. The probability of this happening increases directly with how rushed you are.
Rule #6 is to have twenty different routes serving one part of the city and none at all (or very few) for another.
And of course, every passenger knows Rule #6, which is that you will get every bus in your stop except for the one you are waiting for. You will even see rare buses which you’d never known existed, and you will get hordes of those buses that you waited hours for yesterday. But the only buses you see in the route you want will be those following Rule #1.
I am sure there are some more rules, and I hoping you guys will remind me of those I missed.
Years later, as a student in NYC, these rules came in handy every time I had to catch a flight at La Guardia airport. From the Upper West Side to La Guardia, your options are really limited to a cab, or the M60 bus. I have tried the cab a few times, but at about $30 for a 20 minute ride, or $1.50/ minute, can you wonder it was not my preferred mode of transport? The M60, on the other hand, costed $2, and no, I don’t mean per minute either.
Picture courtesy: Mike
The M60 followed every one of the rules above, including Rule #1. In fairness, though, there were no people handing from the windows (Rule #3), and a “full” bus still did have breathing space.
The drivers also followed Rule #2 very enthusiastically, and I remember standing at the stop on many occasions, convinced I was going to miss my flight and berating myself for not arriving at the bus stop earlier. I think the M60 drivers have already run rigorous statistical analyses to find how late they can arrive at a specific stop. It goes something like this:
Max delay time ? Max time customer will wait before calling a cab + Time taken to get a cab.
Of course, variable 1 (waiting time) will vary by passenger demographic , and variable 2 (time to get a cab) will vary depending on which part of the city you are/ one-way streets etc. So the equation is actually much more complicated than the simplistic version above.
I am sure the M60’s statistical models are pretty good. I don’t remember if I ever had to take a cab because the bus was late – maybe there was the rare time that I had to. But mostly, the M60 would arrive just as I’d finally decided that I was going to get into the next yellow cab I saw. The bus drivers had it down to a fine art (or science).
The M60 drivers also followed Rule #4 with missionary zeal, taking about 25 minutes on 125th Street alone (I’d think longingly that I could walk to the end of the street in 30 minutes). Their mission obviously was to stop at every single light on 125th Street. If, by chance, a light was green, they would promptly duck in front of the bus stop right before the light and wait there until the light turned red. I always wondered why the bus stops were always just before the light, and perhaps that too, was strategic.
Once they crossed 125th St, of course, they wanted to show everyone the sights of Astoria. Ditmars Boulevard does have some lovely houses. Finally, reluctantly, the bus would arrive at the terminals after 40 or 45 minutes, or double the time a cab would take.
But why am I saying all this? Well, this post about the Pokey awards reminded me of the M60. The Pokey awards are given by two transit advocacy groups to the slowest bus in NYC and this year, it was the M96 which received it.
I wonder why the M60 did not get the award. Is it because the awardors have never traveled by it? After all, who would take a bus to the airport? Even in public transport-friendly NYC, only students took a bus to the airport.
Or is it possible that the M96 is really even slower than the M60? Given that the M60 traveled at the rate of a brisk walk, how fast would that make the M96?