I grew up in a city with an extensive public transportation network, and have used it for as long as I can remember. I was four when my first bus trip was cut short by a wave of nausea with my mother scrambling to get us off the bus before the inevitable happened. My ability to handle motion sickness has since improved. And while my love-hate relationship with public transport continues, it is my preferred mode of travel. I’m sure a lot of you have questions and apprehensions. Isn’t public transport dirty and crowded? Isn’t it slow and unreliable? My answer to the first would be, “Very often”. To the second, I’d say, “Sometimes”.
My mother is a big proponent of public transport primarily because it’s the cheapest way to travel. When I was younger, owning a car was a luxury. Auto rickshaws and cabs were expensive. Trips with my mother usually involved multiple hops on buses and trains to reach our destination. Saving time meant running to catch the first available bus or train. As a result, I was often exhausted at the end of our journey. After a while, I dreaded my outings with her. If the destination was too far, I would prefer to stay at home. My father joining us was rare but always good news. When we exited our building, I would look longingly at the auto rickshaws lined up outside our gate silently imploring him to make a concession. He would take the hint and ask us to get into one.
I admit my perception of public transport has come a long way since then. And, while part of it has to do with how environment-friendly and cost-effective it is, the other part is probably because of how stress-free I find it. Plus, I don’t really enjoy driving and have never taken the initiative to own a vehicle. You may doubt the part that says “stress-free”. The more accurate thing would be to say that I find it less stressful.
There are different kinds of stress associated with using public transport and driving your own vehicle. With the former, the challenge is in catching a bus or train and, reaching your destination on time. There are several things beyond your control like the availability of the transportation medium and the speed the driver will drive. This is mostly applicable to buses. Trains are more punctual and reliable in this aspect, at least in my experience. In fact, if you live in a city which is known for its traffic woes, travelling by train will probably save you a fair bit of time. In some cities, however, boarding or alighting from crowded trains is a challenge in itself.
Another reason for preferring public transport is the flexibility that it offers. There have been times when I have come across severe traffic jams when travelling by road. This could be either because a vehicle broke down, an accident, bad weather or even construction work. In these situations, I have found it prudent to alight from the bus and find an alternative. If I were driving my own vehicle, I would have no option but to wait until the traffic cleared up. This can be both frustrating and a big waste of time.
The overwhelming factor, however, is that once I get into a bus or a train, I don’t have to worry about the road. While this may not seem like much for those who drive every day, being on alert for almost every second of your journey can be exhausting. Especially when clogged streets are a norm and most of the other drivers are concerned with taking shortcuts to reach their destination faster than obeying traffic rules. I’ve seen enough accidents and near misses to want to avoid being in one. Once I board a vehicle, my only job is to purchase a ticket and wait for my destination to arrive. It doesn’t matter how others are driving because there is someone to take care of that. I can, meanwhile, listen to music, read, plan for things to be done when I reach my destination or even take a nap. All of these seem like better ways to use my time than worrying about a vehicle that might appear out of nowhere or cut me off.
I concede that if you’re travelling by road, you’re likely to reach your destination faster by driving your own vehicle than taking the bus. But I don’t mind the extra time spent if my sanity is preserved at the end of the journey.
Thanks for reading this. Please feel free to share your preferences and your experience with public transport.