The other day when I read a newspaper report that the Punjab Roadways Transport Corporation (PRTC) was planning to replace its existing fleet with air-conditioned buses, I was elated. But soon questions cropped up in my mind. Agreed, it is very much possible to ply such buses, but what about occupancy? How many can pay a fare, which is three times the normal? In fact, the drivers and conductors of the corporation’s old, rickety buses might feel out of place inside these brand new air-conditioned buses.
Let me share an experience, which might force our transport planners to give this new scheme a second thought. One winter night in 2003, I was waiting at the Jalandhar bus stand for a bus to Amritsar. After almost two hours, I suddenly spotted a PRTC bus. The bus was nearly empty and only four people boarded from the stand.
My fellow passengers got down at Beas and soon I was alone inside the rickety bus, which was trudging at a speed of not more than 20 km per hour. By the time it managed to reach Nihang’s gurdwara near Jandiala Guru, it was already past
2 am. The driver stopped the bus and asked me to join him for a cup of steaming hot tea at the gurdwara.
After we finished, the conductor came to me and said: “Babuji, is it worth reaching your house at this hour? Your wife will abuse you and you will also have to spend a lot on local transport. Why don’t you sleep with us here? We will push off before daybreak”. Reluctantly, I endorsed his plan. Early in the morning, the bus conductor woke me and told me: “Babuji utho, takka lagaiye (get up and push the bus).” Will AC buses work here?