December 23, 2009

Fleece Frenzied

December 23, 2009 Posted by Vijay No comments
Private bus travels in India can be quite mean and unrepentant. I can cite my examples with those in Bangalore, but I can bet a dime a dozen, that it would be a similar case elsewhere in India too. One trip to Kalasipalayam in Bangalore, and you will be overwhelmed by the number of touts who want to make a quick buck by selling tickets to places as far off as Goa, Mumbai, Pune and so on. The irony of a booming Indian middle class is all too evident in such areas.

As more of the Indian middle class population moves around in the country, working in different locations, travelling back to their hometowns becomes a frequent necessity. With more of money and less of time to spare, the willingness to pay an extra 50 or 100 bucks has become commonplace. The extravagance is also on the rise with Volvo buses giving all the comfort in the world for the burgeoning Indian middle class traveller. But in the midst of all the hurry, the typical middle class traveller ignores how the bus agent goes about fleecing him/her.

When a festival season comes up, there is even more rush, and even normal air buses which would cost a few hundred bucks are plied at double the normal price. And the traveller is firstly left with no option (lack of time, hectic work, no time for booking in government buses .. reasons are endless ...), but has enough and more money to pamper the increasingly fraudulent bus agencies. Sadly for the passenger, there is seldom any guarantee that there will be atleast half the value of what is being promised in terms of comfort in the bus.

Such pampering of the private bus operators is now biting back the very same travellers. The tickets may be bought, but then cribs about the quality of the bus service, the timeliness, the comfort, all gets questioned. While questions are raised, the traveller is helpless, and is always at the mercy of the bus operator. The private bus travels are not only fleece frenzied, they are neither timely nor professional about keeping their promises.

More and more of the moving Indian populace is logging onto the online mode of reserving bus tickets. The private bus operators are now hooked on there as well. Instead of arranging touts to get tickets, the same bus operators now have tied up with online services such as redBus and MakeMyTrip which offer bus reservations. More often than not, the customer misses the fine print, and is once again only concerned about whether or not (s)he will get a ticket or not. These online services, have tie ups with the private bus operators, share a portion of the revenue, and leave the traveller once again at the mercy of the same private operators.

Cometh the hour, no cometh the bus. If one were to book a ticket online, the wait for boarding the bus could well end up spoiling the entire trip. The bus operator would wait for enough travellers to fill the bus. More often than not, the promised bus on the online ticket will never be available. Instead of an AC, an air bus will come along. On top of all this, the bus takes its own sweet time to start. It will roam around the entire city, picking up any or all passengers, and then inch out of the city. The responsibility of the online ticketing service like redBus is to only interface the customer through an online mechanism for a bus ticket. Beyond that what happens is left to the bus operator. See the adjoining terms and conditions of MakeMyTrip for online bus booking service.

As can be seen, literally everyone washes their hands off the traveller. The irony around all this is the professionalism and the timeliness of the government bus services. Atleast I can quote this about the Karnataka KSRTC service. Their online bus ticketing is very smooth, reliable. And what's more, the buses will be on time more often than not. Of course, if one is boarding a bus, via a certain route, delays become inevitable. That is an unfortunate reality about Indian commute. But unlike the private bus counterparts, there is no delay whatsoever in starting from the originating point. Not only that, there is atleast a basic security measure of identification using the PAN card or any other form. In the private bus scenario, only money matters.

I may have only stated the harsh reality of the times we live in. I certainly cannot deny I am not part of the travelling group I have alluded to. But the irony around this topic cannot be easily lost. We as the middle class keep cribbing about the lackadaisical ways of the government. But when there is such meticulous service (KSRTC in this instance) it does not get recognized or acknowledged. There is timeliness, security measure and reliability. While the private buses are anything but that. So now we crib about the private bus operators instead, while we find other means to accuse the government of not functioning.