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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ticket purchasing excercise in Chennai's MTC buses

Visualize this- You’re in a new city, do not know the local language, you’ve boarded the bus for the first time in this city to reach your office and you do not have a clear idea where exactly to get down. The bus gets crowded, jam packed. Now, suddenly someone gives Rs 10 to you and tells something that you don’t understand.

What will you do?
Option A: Say thanks and pocket the money
Option B: Ask the person what you’re supposed to do now...
Option C: Return the money
Option D: Pass the money to a person in the opposite direction and utter the same word uttered by the person who gave you money.


My first bus journey in Chennai, few years ago, I had to go to Tidel Park where my office was located. I didn’t have an idea where to get down and I was told- “There’ll be a huge blue building visible from a distance with Tidel Park written on top of it-it’s easy to locate” So I was in an overcrowded bus, trying to keep an eye outside the window so that I can locate the Tidel park building and get down.

Suddenly someone passes me Rs 10 and says something. I didn’t understand what he said, nor had a clue what I was supposed to do. There were so many people around I couldn’t exactly identify who gave me money. I was supposed to opt for Option D above, but I conveniently opted for Option A and kept quite.

Then some kind of turmoil started and lots of words were exchanged. I minded my own business and kept looking outside. Then someone shook me and said something. I could make sense of few words like 'Kaasu', 'Ticket' and felt that he might be asking the money back. I took out the note from the pocket and someone literally snatched it and gave it to someone else.

If you have travelled in Chennai MTC buses, you might have got a clue by now. If not read on.

In most of the cities, the conductor of a bus moves all over the bus and issues tickets. In Chennai, the Conductor will be permanently positioned in his designated seat. It will be the responsibility of passengers to somehow reach him/send money to him and collect the ticket.

Because of this, it is a common scene in MTC buses to see people passing money and tickets among themselves. You pass the money to the person near you, in the direction of the conductor and tell your destination. This money and destination reaches the conductor after passing through several hands and a ticket reaches you through a similar exchange of hands. If you’re sitting/standing in-between the conductor and a ticketless passenger, you’re required to the community service of passing money and tickets.

Some observations:

  • Those who have stuffed iPod earphones into their ears are bound to feel disturbed a lot. Whenever someone hands over money, they will be required to pause their ipod, take out the ear phone, ask the sender to repeat his destination, then pass the money to the person behind. By the time they restore earphone and press play button, either the ticket would have come back, or another person would have sent money…
  • Sometimes money undergoes multiple cycles. After a 10 Rs note reaches the conductor, he returns it saying “No change, give Rs 7” now the money flows back in the same direction and couple of coins amounting to Rs 7 come back.
  • Few adamant people do not budge. When money is held to them they simply refuse to cooperate (take it and pass). Now the arm that is carrying money quickly finds an alternate passenger in the vicinity and money travels in a deviated path.
  • 15 minutes after issuing tickets, Conductor says “Royapettah ticket change 3 Rs” and hands over 3 Rs to the crowd. I believe it reaches correct person.
  • Some passengers do not utter the destination. They just say “get me a two rupees ticket”. Conductor issues a 2 rupee ticket without verifying the destination and matching it with the price. No one will be there to verify if someone buying 2 rs ticket travels till the last stop.
  • Ladies usually prefer to pass money through ladies only and gents prefer gents only. (Left half is reserved for ladies-detailed post on this)
  • If the bus is not crowded, the conductor would cut the ticket the moment he hears the destination, before money reaches him. If felt necessary, he will cut short the journey of a note midway and send it back demanding that exact change be sent.
Looks like everyone are comfortable with this mode of buying tickets (Or may be they have got used to it) and the system seems to work with an efficiency at par with of Mumbai's Dabba walas. Do you see any merits in this system? Why can’t the conductor move around like in other states? Are there any advantages in this system that I am not aware of?
Some concerns:
  • If destination gets changed (because of mispronunciation etc) while changing hands and passenger pays extra/less who is responsible?
  • What should I do if my money gets lost while changing so many hands?
  • If the conductor moves from seat to seat and interacts with passengers, he will have an idea who all bought the ticket and who all have not. When he sits at once place, he won’t be able to identify who all have not paid. If money comes he issues ticket, else he keeps quiet.
  • Why should the passengers be disturbed every now and then for someone else to buy ticket?
  • Except Volvos all buses have this system. Ticket verification is almost nill
Veteran Chennai residents might be able to throw some light on this.

Update: Reader Vijay Anand points out 2 advantages:
1)the conductor doesn't have to go through the crowd, as the MTC buses are always crowded.
2)the conductor doesnt have to thrust on the passengers, especially female passengers are jabbed by male passengers in MTC buses, so this system avoid this. 


Similar: Left half for ladies-why? * Chennai Volvo buses * Innovative way to prevent footboard travel *  Sandesh's post- No reservations in BMTC

12 comments :

Vijay Anand said...

Hi Shrinidhi,

the advantages of this system are:
1)the conductor doesn't have to go through the crowd, as the MTC buses are always crowded.
2)the conductor doesnt have to thrust on the passengers, especially female passengers are jabbed by male passengers in MTC buses, so this system avoid this.

Dharanikar Kona said...

The practise of Conductor sticking to his seat is prevalant in the DTC & Blue-Line buses of Delhi also. The conductor sits on an elevated seat and screams at the top of his voice if he sees anyone passing by him without buying a ticket.

The Self-Proclaimed Wordsmith said...

I really like the system - this August, when I was in Chennai, I used the MTC extensively. Most of the time, a vast gulf of people would separate the conductor from me, and it was almost impossible to either wade through them to buy a ticket or to expect the conductor to do the same. I found that most people cooperate willingly and I was never short-changed.

I wondered whether the system was effective - would people know whom to pass the money on to? I realised that all a person who was a part of this chain had to do was to pass the money in the same direction it came from and didn't have to remember much else - sort of like a linked list.

Sandesh said...

I see this system working only if there is only one door to the bus and the conductor sits right next to it to issue tickets.

Or else, I see a major flaw! People could travel ticketless without the conductor noticing it. Not all are dharmarajas in MTCs i guess.

Also, I wanted to point one thing. I see you posting a picture of a conductor standing beside the door which had no steps in one of your post. Is that a MTC by any chance?

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@ Vijay Anand

Yes, agreed. Updated the post with your contribution. Thanks.

@ Dharani
Thanks for that info. I didn't get a chance to travel in bus when I was in Delhi

@ SPW
Yes, people are cooperative. Not that impossible task.
Other than passing money you're also required to repeat the name of the destination...

@ Sandesh
Yes, but the buses have 2 doors. COnductor sits near the rear door. Very ineffecient in ensuring that all passengers buy tickets.

Yes, the bus featured in that image was of MTC.

Jennifer said...

I lived in Chennai 99-01 and extensively traveled all over the city by bus. Now it seems like how did I manage all that? Even through the chain of sending money up and back and also sending arguments back and forth through that line wanting untorn notes as change.. invariably they conductor would always try to give the torn 2RS and 5RS notes as change but they hated to accept them.. how did they get them in the first place?
Of course I had the opposite experience when I went to Bangalore and the conductor came to me! I felt it was so luxurious!!

Actually maybe its just a need for more laborers, but I was always curious why Indian busses need conductors? In America, all enter the front door, when boarding, give money to the driver itself and then sits down..this also cuts down on interesting drama between conductor and driver experienced in Indian busses!!

Sandesh said...

@ Jennifer - We do have the system of driver acting as a conductor ehre in Bangalore. Only a few buses. That was a measure for cost cutting. Meanwhile, that system is hated by most of us because, it makes the journey slow as he driver has two roles to play.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@ Jennifer

Thanks for sharing your experience-I didn't observe the torn note issue..

As Sandesh said, that model-driver only buses where driver also collects money, is in practice in Bangalore, but isn't received well by public.

Driver's focus on road gets compromised, there'll be issues like not having change and such.

Arby K said...

The conductors is the deluxe buses generally come and collect the tickets. And in the case of the driver collecting at the entry in US, isn't there a gate that prevents the ticketless ppl frm getting on? When u think of the jam packed buses in India, it may be a huge inconvenience.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@ Arby K

Conductor moves around only during first few mins when bus has just left the starting point and there're not many passengers. After first round he goes and establishes himself in his designated seat. (That's my observation)

Yes, crowd is less in US and it is easy for driver to manage. Here that is a disadvantage

Ramanan said...

That was a nice blog.

I am not sure if this can be called co-operation or mass-indiscipline.

I would say it is the latter. Over the years, people have accoustomed to an unwritten rule against the formal rule that the passengers are supposed to board the bus at the back, get a ticket and push their way slowly to the front and disembark.

On the contrary, a few people conveniently board the front and and pass on the tickets to the law abiding passengers at the back.

(As a traveller in MTC for the past 4 years, I have always found that it is not a difficult task to board at back, get a ticket and reach the front to disembark when the crowds are manageable)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@ Ramanan

Thanks for sharing your insights... But the crowd is seldom manageable, during peak hours...