Ever since I moved from Bangalore to Kodungallur, my hometown in Kerala, I have been traveling extensively on KSRTC. KSRTC - acronym for Kerala State Road Transport Corporation - was always considered a passenger unfriendly corporation, which focused more on reaching the destination on time, than carrying more passengers. The entire-outlook of KSRTC changed a bit after ministers decided to flog the horse, and get it back on its feet.
I travel daily by KSRTC, from my hometown to my college - about 36 kms away. Each day is a new experience on KSRTC - but none of them were bitter till date. Here is a narration from a recent journey to Alappuzha, my mom's hometown. Alappuzha is about 90kms from my home town (my mom's exact place is about 14 kms from Alappuzha). Last Friday (October 09, 2009), I had to travel to Alappuzha, to attend a function. I had college till afternoon, and started from there by around 1500 hours. My aim was to reach my mom's place before too late at night.
I called up mom, and she was just about reaching Ernakulam. I made a plan to head to the bus station, and join their bus from there. Unfortunately, things took a bad turn, when it dawned that there were no buses from near my college to Ernakulam till 1600 hours. I had to walk longer to get to the next bus stop, and by the time I got a bus, my mom was already close to Ernakulam. I still decided to make an attempt, by getting down at Kaloor and taking a rickshaw to the bus station. By the time my rickshaw neared the bus station, I saw my mom's bus pulling out. I did not attempt to get on board that bus, since it was already crowded.
There was one Super Express bus heading to Thiruvananthapuram at the bus station - but this bus too was crowded. I did check if there was a chance to get a seat, but returned dejected. I then got into a Super Fast (RAC569 of Mananthavady depot) heading to Thiruvananthapuram. I got a decent seat at the rear of the bus. Just as I settled, I saw a Mavelikkara bound Super Fast backing up. I got out of RAC569, and rushed to the Mavelikkara bus. This bus had just about two seats vacant, and I quickly grabbed one - this was at the last row, and a middle seat. The bus (RRE998 of Mavelikkara Depot) started at about 1620 (thats about three minutes after I got into the bus). The ticket cost was Rs. 39.
The driver appeared to be at hurry to reach back at home, and was speeding through the city. Call it luck, we got greens at almost all the signals en-route. More passengers got in before we could get out of Ernakulam City. Somewhere near Cochin Port, our driver broke the rear-view mirror of a city bus. A brawl ensued, with the crew of the private bus shouting at the crew of my bus, and vice-versa. The entire episode ended up wasting 10 minutes, and a huge traffic pile up. Later, the crew decided that there was no use fighting among themselves.
Once on the highway, the driver decided to stick to his guns. He maintained an amazing pace on the highway, and was on the overtaking lane for most of the time. We reached Chertala at around 1745. My bus was not very crowded, and there were no people to alight at way-side points. After Cherthala, we made a halt at Kalavur. Finally, the bus reached Alappuzha at around 1820, exactly two hours after it started from Ernakulam. A point worth noting is that my bus was just 10 minutes behind my mom's bus (which had left from Ernakulam a full 20 minutes before my bus). From Alappuzha, we took a bus straight to my mom's place. This bus came at 1850 and we reached home by around 1930.
The return journey commenced after lunch on Saturday (October 10, 2009). There was one bus from my mom's place to Alappuzha at 1500, which connects perfectly to our onward bus that leaves at 1600. The bus arrived exactly at 1500. The bus (TS268 of Alappuzha) was partly full, and got crowded as it reached the main road. The driver picked up speed as we approached the destination. There were too frequent stops, but that did not restrict the driver from speeding. We reached Alappuzha exactly in 30 minutes. We alighted from this bus and walked slowly towards the place from where our connecting bus would depart.
The bus reached soon after we reached the platform. There were a lot of people waiting to board this bus, almost leaving me awestruck. My bus was RT765 of Kodungallur, in Fast Passenger livery. The bus got crowded in just 5 minutes. The bus started at 1555, a whole 5 minutes before time. All seats were taken, and there were some standees as well. The conductor gave a surprised look when we heard of our destination - this bus sees too little end-to-end passengers. Most passengers travel only to certain points. The ticket fare was Rs. 53.50, for end-to-end travel. The driver was aggressive, and picked up speed quickly.
We reached Cherthala at around 1620. Many passengers got down here, and were replaced with more passengers. We were back on the highway by 1630. The driver picked more speed. The bus appeared to be just back from maintenance - the rear axle assembly made more noise than the engine itself. To add to the misery, the seats were at a bad angle and my back was aching just an hour into the journey. The next major unloading point was Vyttila - this bus does not enter Ernakulam City, and hence saves a lot of running time. Many passengers use this bus to reach the outskirts of the city. The bus remained less crowded from Vyttila onwards.
The next major halt was Aluva - we reached Aluva bus station at 1755, exactly 2 hours after we started from Alappuzha. The bus almost emptied at Aluva, but was replaced with twice the amount of passengers who alighted. The bus took a 10 minute break at Aluva. I changed my seat at Aluva, and took a more comfortable one, near the front exit. The conductor asked me to keep the front door locked, since the crowd was too heavy inside. This instruction led to a brawl inside the bus, with a drunkard arguing with the conductor on his decision. What followed was an exchange of swear words, and slight manhandling. The conductor asked the driver to pull aside, and he was adamant about unloading the drunkard. However, the conductor changed his mind, and let the bus continue.
However, things took an ugly turn a while later, the drunkard had to be forcibly evicted from the bus. The entire turn of events cost the bus about 10 minutes. However, this bus had a non-stop run for a majority of the distance from Aluva to Paravur, which helped us regain some lost time. The bus reached Paravur bus station at 1850. The bus was refueled, and we started our onward journey at 1857. The bus wasn't very crowded, and the driver decided to take advantage of the situation. The driver covered the 13 km distance from Paravur to Kodungallur in under 25 minutes. We reached Kodungallur at 1925.
The drunken brawl incident showed the kind of attitude the conductors have. The conductor remained composed for most of the time, and did not respond to provocations from the drunkard for a pretty long time. He responded in a polite manner initially. The scene turned ugly only after things went really bad - I appreciate the conductor's attitude.