It’s Tuesday’s rush-hour morning. A passenger looks at the empty seats in disbelief. After the opening of Metro rail services in south Delhi neighbourhoods of Saket, Malviya Nagar, Mehrauli and Green Park, commuting to business districts like Connaught Place is becoming civilised. No, we are not in the underground air-conditioned Metro train, but inside a blueline bus, route number 520, which connects Saket to Super Bazaar in Connaught Place.
Known for rash driving and over-crowding till now, blueline buses may become a well-liked option for commuting. Most of their traditional clients — office-goers and college students — are fast shifting loyalties to the Metro, which, ironically, resembles more and more like cattle-cars. The buses have suddenly become spacious.
Metro Vs Bus
When the Metro started early this month in south Delhi, 46,300 Delhiites filled its coaches on the first day, between Udyog Bhawan and Saket. By 2011, an estimated 3.6 lakh commuters are expected to use the route between Central Secretariat and Huda City Centre Section in Gurgaon daily.
Bus services are badly hit. “Around 20-25 people would stood here in mornings,” says Raja Ram, an MCD employee, sweeping the pavement at Green Park bus stop on Aurbindo Marg. “Now you see only two or three.” One of them was Jaidev, an Indian Railways employee. A Hauz Khas resident, who daily commutes to Super Bazaar, Jaidev would not walk to the nearby Metro station to catch a train to Rajiv Chowk in Connaught Place. “Why should I?” he asks. “Buses are starting to be less-crowded. I always get a seat. That doesn’t happen in the Metro.”
At the bus stop near AIIMS Metro station, no passenger gets into the 520 bus. The ticket collector, Lalit Chaupal, cries hoarse, “Regal, CP, INA…” Half of the seats are vacant. Opening his mineral water bottle, bus driver Nawab says, “We make six rounds daily. Before the Metro, our owner made R 5,000 a day. Now the profit has come down to R 600.” On the engine is a wicker basket, filled with ticket stacks, tobacco sachets and matchboxes.
Better times in the bus
As 520 pass by Rajiv Gandhi Setu, Dilli Haat and Safdarjang Airport flyover, the mood inside is peaceful. Till a month ago, there was shoving, shouting and cursing. Women looked distressed. Men fought for seats. Reckless boys stood at the doors. The air would be thick with a mixed stench of aloo parathas and sweat. All of that seemed history, at least this morning. The music stereo is playing seductive songs from Emraan Hashmi films. A women sitting close to the exit door is reading a newspaper. A young man, behind the driver’s seat, is texting on his iPhone. Laughter is heard from a middle seat in the row reserved for women. The air has no stink.
Looking out at the green expanse of Tughlaq Road from his seat window, 23-year-old Ganesh Singh, a cook in a Connaught Place eatery, admits that he is a frequent Metro traveller. So why is he in the bus? “I left home early,” he says. “The Metro is fast and I would reach my hotel early. The bus helps in killing time.”
On verge of extinction
In 2009, 2,545 bluelines plied in the Capital. The government plans to replace them with low-floor buses. As our blueline reaches Super Bazaar, there are only three passengers left. The driver will have chai. With the monsoon breeze rushing in through windows, it is easy to get romantic about these soon-to-be-extinct buses. Doesn’t the underground Metro take away the sightseeing joy of a journey? Doesn’t it block out the landscape? Yet bluelines are nowhere close to the comfort of the Metro.
“In the Metro, men don’t behave like savages,” says Nikita Sharma, a corporate secretary, who has started travelling in the Metro from her Gurgaon apartment to her office in Connaught Place. “It’s generally less stinky than buses. It’s faster and you don’t have the fear of getting stuck in traffic jams,” she says. You can’t beat the last point.