Taking the red bus home: a joyride in New Delhi
Riding home in the air-conditioned comfort of a gleaming red bus, I find it hard to believe I am travelling in New Delhi.
Buses in India’s capital are not known for being commuter-friendly. The state-owned ones are mostly rickety slowcoaches while the privately operated Blue Line buses zigzag their way through traffic, dangerously negotiating bends and racing each other in a bid to pick up passengers.
Their abysmal safety record led to calls for banning the “killer buses” but with the city dependent on CNG-fuelled public transport to counter the rising number of petrol- and diesel-powered cars, an alternative was needed and fast.
With a state-of-the-art subway already in place and expanding, a revamped public bus transport system could further showcase the city’s potential as it gears up to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Swanky new low-floor buses were introduced in phases over the past year. Only around 500 of these non-AC (green) and AC (red) buses ply on Delhi’s roads right now — not enough for a population of 14 million. But more will be added in the coming months.
For many of Delhi’s long-suffering commuters who spend precious minutes haggling with autorickshaw drivers, it’s cheaper and convenient to hop on to one of the AC buses, which usually charge double fare compared to the rest of the non-AC fleet.
It’s also a good idea considering the city’s roads are crawling with cars and newer vehicles are adding to the mess (cheaper cars like the Tata Nano will only make it worse).
To encourage people to take buses more often, authorities are experimenting with the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor — with dedicated lanes for buses, cars and two-wheelers. A pilot project in south Delhi has met with limited success, with daily traffic snarls reported by irate car drivers.
I am not sure how the government will solve the traffic problem but if you are ever stuck in Delhi on a hot summer day, I suggest you take a ride on the gleaming red bus.
That’s one joyride you won’t regret.