It was around 2007 when my job as a sales auditor meant that I travelled extensively in Western India cities viz. Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Surat and Rajkot. My preferred travel mode had always been trains and certainly they were the most convenient options for overnight journeys or when you have the option of travelling in a AC Chair Car – highly productive option as it enables easy use of laptop and even broadband connectivity was available.
But the luxury bus options too were useful – sudden and unplanned travel, shorter trips with travel time of 4 hours or less, trips between cities wherein train connectivity / timings were not convenient were all easily handled by availing the bus service.
Several things had improved dramatically in relation to bus travel – as part of the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ project the highways connectivity the popular cities had been rebuilt and were truly of international standards. Indeed they were known by a more apt name, ‘Expressway’ instead of their stolid counterparts. The road stretches were wide, provided for easy entry/exits by using service lanes and exit loops, the petrol pumps were upgraded to provide decent ‘Food Courts’ enabling one to refresh themselves during periodic breaks and even the buses used on the routes were the brand new premium ones. The older ones were presumably shunted out to the older and less popular routes.
Ticket booking had been a pain earlier and one would often find mistakes in the seat allotments that could mean that some customers found that they just could not travel. There were veiled hints of stories about the practice of deliberately ‘over-booking’ the seats as of course certain customers do fail to turn up and at the last moment the replacement passengers may not be readily available. Introduction of online tickets helped avoid such issues and provided a safe and secure way to do the transaction and make the payment from the convenience of your office or home.
The buses themselves were well-maintained and regularly cleaned. One did not have to put up with broken chairs or missing hand / foot rests. Certain innovative operators even provided a convenient bottle of Mineral Water at the start of the journey and a hand towel. Typical entertainment was hindi movies – comedies and particularly Govinda movies or even new releases used to dominate the scene. The bus operators would partner with favourite food joints but thankfully the food options had improved as well.
One saw of less of accidents and vehicle breakdowns and travel schedules became more predictable. One always noticed the change on exiting the Expressway and entering the City’s roads as suddenly the attendant traffic and chaos on the road would suddenly be visible. Motoring the best part of your journey without these hassles was certainly a great benefit of the new infrastructure.
None of this came cheap since the modern buses were expensive but the cost was offset by better occupancy and increased number of trips as travel time reduced. This meant that the ticket prices increased but were still affordable and the customer was happy enough with the proposition to opt for the same.
The competition forced even the Government run buses to improve their standards and one began to see enough options like one already saw down South in cities like Chennai and Bangalore. It helped one plan efficient ‘1-day’ trips without being left exhausted at the end of the day. Really an amazing transformation from the days when travelling by bus was considered to be a nightmare and my least preferred option.