The Propaganda of Transport

Propaganda is a very misused, overused and abused word today. Politicians use it all the time to attack each other. In such cases, we should take a closer look at the word Propaganda itself.

Merriam-Webster defines Propaganda as ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.

Of course, we can take the liberty of interpreting Propaganda as a more open nature of promoting oneself or ones interests to an audience.

The most well known example of Propaganda is the 1940 film The Eternal Jew, directed by Fritz Hippler and produced by the Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels under the Deutsche Film Gesellschaft banner. The film was nowhere near subtle, and portrayed Jews as Uncivilised, Parasitic and worse. However, times have changed and propaganda in its current form is very subtle, often using bias to have its way.

In the recent times, propaganda has managed to make its way into the Transport sector too. When we say Propaganda in the Transport sector, we do not refer to naming stations, airports, roads and bridges after people. Mumbai has one major railway station and its airport named after Chhatrapati Shivaji. Bangalore has its central bus station and airport named after Kempegowda. This is a global phenomenon. New York’s major airport is named after former President John F Kennedy while it’s secondary airport is named after the 99th Mayor Fiorello La Gaurdia.

The propaganda we look at is subtle, and in some cases, not so subtle.

A Nationalistic Bus?

A BMTC Atal Sarige on route AS-6.
A BMTC Atal Sarige on route AS-6. Image copyright Binai K Sankar.

At first glance, the Atal Sarige operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation [BMTC] looks like its livery is is draping the bus with the National Flag. But. It’s wrong. If you take a second look, you’d notice that the colour scheme is White, Green and Saffron/Orange. The party colours of the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]. Further, the name itself is a giveaway. Named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP, the bus was meant to serve the poorest of the poor.

Note: If you’re Mumbai, the highest fare is on a bus with its route number starting with AS, and if you’re in Bangalore, it’d be the opposite.

And now, for a little Aesthetics.

A TSRTC Metro Luxury Volvo at Lingampally.
A TSRTC Metro Luxury Volvo at Lingampally. Image copyright LoveOfZ, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons.

Pink is known to be a very soothing colour. It is often used to calm inmates in prison.

However, the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation [TSRTC] bus above did not turn pink to soothe its commuters. Telangana State was formed in 2014, and the party that won a majority in its Assembly Elections was the Telangana Rashtra Samithi [TRS], whose party colour is Pink. Thus, everyone who sees the bus will remember the colour pink and every time there is a campaign by the TRS, people will be calm, because, Hey, Pink is a soothing colour.

Switching Colours

And now, for the most interesting, and perhaps most noteworthy form of Bus-based propaganda.

Welcome to Tamil Nadu, where all the various divisions of the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation [TNSTC], the Metropolitan Transport Corporation [MTC] of Chennai and the State Express Transport Corporation [SETC] are like Chamelons. Remember the phrase “गिरगिट की तरह रंग बदलना” (Girgit Ke Tarah Rang Badalna)? That’s what TNSTC/SETC/MTC buses do. Change colours; Every time the government changes. It’s like an unwritten part of the party manifesto.

Here’s a picture of an MTC bus taken in April 2011 below. It’s blue in colour. Blue is also a soothing colour, although I fail to understand why anyone would want to say ‘Feeling Blue’ to refer to Sadness.

A blue coloured MTC Semi Low Floor bus on route number 21G.
A blue coloured MTC Semi Low Floor bus on route number 21G. Image copyright Vinoth Thambidurai/CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported/Wikimedia Commons.

This picture was taken in April 2011, a month before the All India Anna Dravida Munnethra Kazhagam [AIADMK] government won the elections. Colour combinations were aplenty across Tamil Nadu. Some buses bore different shades of blue and yellow, some were white with Red, Yellow and Orange stripes across them, there were many.

Now, they are all uniform. While, I did mention Fragmentation in an earlier post, it would be great if each city had its own identity in terms of colours. Here, Tamil Nadu is one single entity in terms of coloured buses.

All long distance buses, including all SETC buses are now Green in Colour. They’re light green in colour with dark green stripes, or dark green in colour with light green stripes, depending on how you may want to look at them. Local buses, including all MTC buses all sport the same Brown-Beige combination which makes it look like the bus wasn’t washed at all. Perhaps a plan to not wash the buses regularly.

Below, is one such repainted bus, taken in 2013, belonging to TNSTC Coimbatore.

A TNSTC CBE bus at Vadavalli in Coimbatore.
A TNSTC CBE bus at Vadavalli in Coimbatore. Image copyright Faheem9333/CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported/Wikimedia Commons.

See, what did I tell you? Where did this come from? Some people tell me that the colour has to do with what happened before this repainting. Barely three-four months before the buses got this brown colour, they had a different colour.

An MTC bus in the intermediate colour scheme.
An MTC bus in the intermediate colour scheme. Image: The Hindu

Notice the colours? Notice the photo of Jayalalithaa on the windscreen? I know it’s a bit difficult to see it, but can you see it. In the picture, Jaya is seen wearing a saree that is the same colour as the Maroon on the bus. Her complexion matches the beige on the bus. Tada! When the paint jobs were done, all buses sported a huge photo of the Chief Minister on the front windshield on the left hand side.

And now, finally …

Green Leafy Vegetables Buses

They say, greens are good for health. They say Green is a sign of Eco-Friendliness. But, the leaves here don’t exactly say that do they?

An MTC Small Bus [Mini Bus].
An MTC Small Bus [Mini Bus]. Image: The Hindu

 While MTC curiously chose to name these buses as ‘Small Bus’, not ‘Mini Bus’, they also decided to put a few leaves on it. No points for guessing why. The AIADMK’s Party symbol is: Yes, that’s right, Two Leaves! But, wait! You can see four leaves on that bus! Simple: 2+2=4. The more the merrier. Two more leaves is just going to reinforce things into the commuters head.

Now, notice something common among all these Transcos mentioned? They’re all State-level bodies, not Municipal ones. You’ll never see BEST, AMTS, or PMPML like this. Why? Decentralisation of transport management ensures that while Municipal Bodies have the wherewithal to run the Transco, they won’t have the time or resources to go behind such trivial stuff. They’ll have more important stuff such as banners, roads, naming of Chowks to work in their favour.

On an unrelated note: Searching for Purple Faeries on Google leads you to the Tag Purple Faeries. I call this, Purple Propaganda..

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My fascination with buses

Impromptu Post Alert: I’m going to try and explain where my fascination for buses comes from.

It all dates back to 1998. I believe I had mentioned this on the second blog post where I spoke about why Bus No. 56 meant to much to me. This pretty much predates that. I spent my early days growing up in in Madras, known to most people as Chennai, where buses have an interesting story of their own. Earlier operated by the Pallavan Transport Corporation, and since renamed to the Metropolitan Transport Corporation, these buses [originally green in colour] enjoyed a notorious infamy similar to Delhi’s Blueline buses. They had a nickname too: Pallavan Kollavan, which literally means Killer Pallavan. My first encounter with a Pallavan bus was aroun 1997 when a bus drove off the bridge over the Adayar River at Ekkaduthangal and landed on the older bridge below. For some strange reason, this incident remained on my mind for weeks.

Fast forward to 1998, shift to Bombay, also known as Mumbai. The city that I today consider my home. I had been to Bombay back in 1996, but it was when I shifted in 1998 that things started falling into place. Staying in Vashi, the first thing that was done was to find a school to get into. The school we found, was in Santacruz. Thus, my first trip in a BEST bus, a 505 Ltd from Vashi to Bandra occurred.

A BEST Bus No. 505Ltd in its current avatar, with a scrolling LED display.
A BEST Bus No. 505Ltd of the Bandra Depot heading from Bandra Bus Station to CBD Belapur in its current avatar, with a scrolling LED display. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Slowly, as I grew up, trips by buses increased. First, it was the school bus. Since we had multiple school buses going to the same destination, with different routes, several of my fellow bus mates started having mock rivalries with students in different buses. It became a matter of prestige when our bus reached before the other one.

Slowly, I started taking BEST buses when I missed the school bus, or had to come back late. I used to take BEST buses for various classes and my attachment to them began. Of course, living in Bombay meant that there would be an extra attachment to BEST because there were proper marked bus stops, both shelters and unipoles everywhere.

This slowly escalated to a point where I preferred my 56 to the school bus.  I used stuff all the tickets [then and now considered a Collectors item] in my backpack. I was once caught by a Ticket Checker and he went thru around 300 tickets in my bag looking for the right one. I’ve never had such a collectors fetish for any other city’s tickets.

Come 2008, and a shift to Bangalore. I have to take a bus home from college. I discover that the city’s buses were [and still are] lacking in many ways. No direct buses home! I had to switch buses for a 5km distance. This acute badly managed set of buses got me interested in how to fix the issues. I wrote numerous times to the BMTC and then Transport Minister R Ashok. I posted on Facebook, and Skyscrapercity. Not that it made much of a difference though. I had a box of BMTC tickets, and unlike BEST, had no special attachment to them. I decided to build a model plane [curiously named the Flightplane Vajra after BMTC’s Vajra buses from where most of the tickets originated]. I designed the template with a regular sheet of paper, and thickened it with layers of bus tickets. Of course, the plane never did get built, its fuselage and wings are lying in different sections of my cupboard, mainly because I abandoned my Engineering dreams to take up a BSc.

In 2009, I came to the conclusion that buses were the future of Transport. I badgered anyone around me who was willing to listen. It was the year I made my first long-distance bus trip from Bangalore to Bombay, one that was to occur frequently in the years to come. I just hunted around looking for validation for my theory. I thought I was right when Mercedes Benz launched their buses, but it fizzled out. Later on, Scania’s entry and its presently strong market share have proven me correct. The biggest validation I did receive, however, was in 2016, when R Jagannathan of Swarajya wrote an article titled Why The Future Of Urban Transport Is The Bus, And Not Necessarily The Metro. I lurk around Swarajya too, writing on transport and urban affairs.

Post Bangalore, I moved to Coimbatore. I took to buses again. I traveled around the city, the suburbs, nearby districts, exploring towns, villages, rivers, farmlands, temples, etc. During Republic Day 2013, I traveled 350km by bus to Ulundurpet and Villupuram to take a photograph of two Toll Plazas.

I made a few trips to Ahmedabad in this period where I got addicted to traveling by the Janmarg. Being my first BRTS experience, it had a profound impact on me.

Then came the next move to Pune. Along with Pune, came a few trips to Dehradun, Delhi and Gurgaon. I made full use this time, with complete travel across all cities, taking as many buses as possible. The Pimpri-Chinchwad BRTS has a special connection to me.

By 2015, I had decided that I *just had to* start writing about buses somewhere. Starting a blog seemed to be the most apt thing to do, and thus, I did.

Here is my philosophy behind taking buses:

  1. You learn the city. I don’t look at a city by its stores, malls and cafes. I look at it for its topography, its layout, the culture of each locality.
  2. Buy a Daily Pass, board a bus and just scoot off! Take a camera or a phone, and click random photographs while traveling. You learn a lot of interesting stuff.
  3. I learnt Kannada and Marathi thanks to buses. I went from knowing just Aai Kuthe [Where is your mother] to Bus kramank 56 ghe, ani Khar dandachya bus stop utara [Take Bus 56 and get down at Khar Danda bus stop. I know my Marathi is still weak].

So, that’s the story behind my bus-mania!

This post is dedicated to three very special friends:

  • Geetzy, who although doesn’t take a bus, encourages me to remain positive. To put it in perspective, don’t fret in traffic. You are in a bus with a Pass, not in an Uber, paying by the minute.
  • Nidhi, who till date is the only person who has understood my craze, and has bought a pass to accompany me in a bus with her camera.
  • Sammy, who clicked a photo of a bus when I badgered him to do so.

So go ahead, share my craze among your friends. We all have a passion or obsession. What’s yours?

I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter. Current rank: 696991 globally and 59804 in India.

Why am I fascinated by buses? #TransitStories Click To Tweet

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Buy the ticket, board the Bus

So I took a bus from Gurgaon to Faridabad. Just like the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation [TNSTC], the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation [KSRTC], Haryana Roadways [HR] and the Delhi Transport Corporation [DTC] make the mistake of running JnNURM buses on Inter-city routes. TNSTC-Villupuram runs Volvo B7RLE buses that the Metropolitan Transport Coporation [MTC] of Chennai received under JnNURM on Chennai-Pondicherry routes along East Coast Road and the Grand Southern Trunk Road, while its Kerala counterpart runs them from Cochin to Trivandrum via Allepy or Kollam. Similarly, DTC runs its JnNURM low-floor AC and non-AC buses from various parts of Delhi to Gurgaon. Haryana Roadways, meanwhile runs various AC, non-AC buses from Delhi, Faridabad, Chandigarh and Gurgaon to each other.

Now, my point with this post is not about the use of JnNURM buses on intercity routes, but something totally different.

Now, for some background on this topic, you might want read my earlier post on Conductor-less buses.

MSRTC
An MSRTC Mahabus-Shivneri ticket.
An MSRTC Mahabus-Shivneri ticket. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

MSRTC runs conductor-less buses on multiple routes; Mumbai-Pune, Pune-Ahmednagar-Aurangabad, Pune-Kolhapur, Pune-Sangli among others. The principle here is that there is a booth, wherever the Bus Stops, with a Conductor waiting, who issues you a ticket.

An MSRTC Mahabus-Shivneri ticket.
An MSRTC Mahabus-Shivneri ticket. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The purpose of this model, as discussed before, is to eliminate the need for a conductor on-board the bus, thus reducing travel time and costs on employing conductors.

Prior to Electronic tickets, ST conductors at these booths would issue punched tickets, and these would be logged under the individual conductors sales, and the numbers would be written on the trip-sheet.

 

Haryana Roadways

Now, for the Haryana Roadways model! If this can be called one that is. The bus I took was a Volvo B7RLE 8400 model, acquired by the Haryana Roadways Corporation – Faridabad Division under JnNURM. It was running on the Gurgaon-Faridabad-Ballabgarh route, as a city bus. Yes, as a city bus. I reached Gurgaon Bus Stand, and saw two identical Volvo buses parked next to each other. One had a Cardboard sign saying Ballabgarh in Hindi and the other had one saying Rohtak, in English. I asked a conductor if either bus would go to Faridabad, and was told that the former would go. I walked upto the Conductor and I was told to go to the Ticket counter in front of the bus. At the counter, I was given a punched ticket for ₹50. A punched ticket [yes HR conductors religiously punch tickets in all services, unlike their DTC counterparts], not a printed one.

A Haryana Roadways punched ticket.
A Haryana Roadways punched ticket. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

I expected the service to be similar to MSRTC. But, I was mistaken.

The bus started, and left with its front door open. The conductor stood there, shouting out Faridabad, Ballabgarh, as we pulled out. The door remained open till we crossed the Sikanderpur Metro Station, after which the conductor came behind. I was seated on the last seat. He asked all of us who had bought tickets at the counter to show him the tickets, after which he pulled out a stack and issued them to those who had just boarded. The real concern here is that these are punched tickets, not printed tickets. If you remember what I had said about MSRTC in the post on Electronic Ticket Machines, this would be tricky to handle. While I bought the ticket at the counter, the conductor was next to the bus. He took his set of tickets from inside his pouch, long after we had left the Bus Stand. Obviously the guy at the counter wouldn’t have handed over his set to this fellow. Won’t logging or tracking ticket sales then be difficult? What, pray, may I ask, was the purpose in making me go and buy the ticket at the counter, when you were going to sell it inside the bus anyway?

This is something that I find fishy. I sincerely believe that the three states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Gujarat have figured out the best way to run transport services and that every other State Transport Undertaking should learn from them.

If anyone can answer why this absurdity happens, please do let me know in the comments section below.

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