It was 759am when I got to ITPL bus stop in Whitefield, satisfied that I beat the odds to catch a 500C that usually takes off between 8-815. Even if I missed that, I knew I would get a 500K or 500NA.
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The opposite happened. As commuters lined up steadily, two 500Cs, one 500K and one un-named volvo, all took their expected U-turn at ITPL. As passengers started moving towards the doors, the buses simply shot off, doors closed. Drivers signalled ‘oota‘ from inside, in the characteristic style where the closely held fingers go to the mouth and back. Breakfast time.
Commuters were peeved. And none of the buses came back quickly. The whole idea of reaching work by 9/915 went up in smoke with BMTC’s Volvos ditching commuters for over 45 minutes.
One of the upset commuters was a senior engineer going to Bellandur. "I started experimenting with using the AC Volvos to my office at Ecospace (Bellandur) a month ago", said a disappointed Mukunda Krishnappa, in his forties. Krishnappa, an Electrical Engineer, says he was commuting for 3 years by car, before he switched to the city’s popular AC bus system. He lives in Whitefield.
Another stranded commuter, Vinod C Panda, 30, a Software Engineer says he has been going to Jayadeva circle by bus everyday for a year. He was frustrated too. Just yesterday, he says he saw four or five 500 series buses ditch commuters between 730-8am. It was action replay today for him, only irking him more.
I called up BMTC Traffic at 18004251663. (Panda told me they would not pickup since that was his experience yesterday). For several minutes, I got a message saying "All of our call agents are currently busy, please wait on the line, your call is important to us." No one picked up after that. Operations Head Sampangi Ramegowda, on the other hand picked up his cell. (Media folks like me tend to have a few extra ways to reach officials!)
Ramegowda said he was out of town, and heard out the complaint. He then politely hung up after asking me to complain to the same control room!
"There was BMTC cabin here earlier where drivers used to sign in. It was removed three months ago when the Ascendas Park Avenue mall opened up at ITPL", he says. Panda conjectures that the cabin’s removal has something to do with the problem.
Fact is, this wasn’t the first time. Last month, when the same thing happened, several bus drivers told Citizen Matters that they had no other choice. They needed to have breakfast at some point, and 7am at Banasankari was simply too early. So when they reached ITPL, they take their breaks and come back.
At 848am, finally, a new 500C showed up and finally all the south Bangalore-bound commuters rushed in with a sigh of relief and took their seats. ITPL origin commuters usually prefer the 500 series because they can get in seated for the long journey ahead. Some, like me, get work done on the bus – calls, emails, reading/reviewing work, etc.
It is nobody’s case that bus crew skip breakfast for the sake of commuters. It is also to BMTC’s credit that the AC bus system has become very popular along critical commuting corridors of Bengaluru.
But by allowing the situation to persist, BMTC says it does not care for bus drivers (no arrangements) and for commuters either.
Ashwin Mahesh, urbanisation advisor to Government of Karnataka, ABIDe task force member, and also advisor to BMTC acknowledges there is a problem. He says that the AC Volvos already have GPS, and tracking is already in place at BMTC. "It’s not being used for this type of problem", he points out. "However, the problem of breakfast for crew needs to be addressed first", he is quick to add.
For now, until BMTC finds a way, Whitefield-South Bangalore commuters are going to continue risk being stranded in the mornings. Some may even get back their cars. ⊕