Tuesday, 5 August 2014

No Route for my Bus

With the onset of the monsoon, I find that a whole lot of BEST buses, the commuter artery of Mumbai, lacking route indicators. Obviously the electronic route indicators that were installed on many a bus about a year or so back were not functioning. The reason can well be the rain water that may have seeped on to the circuit board rendering it out of order or just plain lack of maintenance.

I have multiple questions on the installation of these electronic route indicators starting with a very basic one which is are they really necessary as compared to the old generation low tech manually operated ones that had almost a zero chance of malfunction. And not to forget almost no or low maintenance.

The old route indicators were a simple mechanical system. It was a cloth scroll attached to rollers with different routes and route numbers printed on it depending on which depot the bus was to be assigned to. It had a glass frontage for visibility with a back light for easy viewing at night. The conductor was responsible for changing the route on the side indicator and the driver would do so for the front. All you had to do was roll the scroll till you got the route you wanted. There was another benefit to those scrolls and that was colour identification. If the route number was in red on white, it was a "limited" bus meaning that it halted only at a few stops. The regular ones were in white on black. And if it was an express bus, the route number was in yellow. Thus even if one were not able to decipher the route number from a distance, the colour of the route number would definitely indicate whether it was worthwhile to make a dash for it. It was highly uncommon for these indicators to break down. Maintenance possibly involved greasing the rollers and changing the back light. Once in a while the scroll would gather on one side rendering it difficult to read the route. However all it needed was a bit of straightening to bring it to order. No need for a specialist or waiting period to get it repaired.

Coming back to the present, you have an electronic indicator where the route and the bus number scroll from right to left without giving you a single window view. You are therefore left waiting for the entire route to scroll to figure out whether you need to line up for that bus or let it go. It can be quite frustrating.

Given that the quality of ride is the same, I wonder whether there is really a need for electronic route indicators on busses that nowhere come close to their western counterparts in all aspects. Some things can remain low tech or no tech without much disruption to life.

In all this there is one thing that has not changed and that is the bus route and number being written in chalk on the windscreen of the bus or on the body. Whether it be the old cloth scroll or an electronic scroll, the back-up is the same.