Red bus

No, not that red bus. I’m talking about the red BMTC buses in Bangalore. They used to be red till 1998 or 1999, and then the government of the day decided that the buses were due an image change (red being danger and all that). This coincided with the spinning off of the BMTC from the erstwhile BTS (which was part of the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation). The buses were all painted blue.

Over the years, new kinds of services have been launched. There was the Pushpak – coloured beige. Then there was the slightly premium Suvarna, coloured a very light purple. And then there were the pass-only green buses, women only pink buses (yes, really) and the red Volvos. For some reason, red buses have started making a comeback to mainline BMTC routes, though I don’t quite know the reason for the reintroduction of the colour, or if they are any different from the blue and white buses.

So for the first time in fifteen years or so, I rode a “normal” red BMTC bus today (in the intervening period I either rode “normal” blue and white buses or premium Volvo red buses). Some pertinent observations from this rather momentous (!!) journey.

I was close to Shivajinagar, and had to come home to Jayanagar. Considering that it’s a pain haggling with auto rickshaw drivers in that area, I decided to take a bus (especially since I was coming from a place really close to the bus stand). I quickly walked up to the Shivajinagar TTMC (“travel and transit management centre” or something). The footpath on the St Marks Road extension on which I walked was quite poor – I hope the TenderSure project that is rebuilding roads and footpaths in the middle of the city reaches there soon.

Even navigation within the TTMC is quite bad – it’s badly designed in the sense that there’s no space to walk where you have no chance of being hit by one of the hundreds of buses there. A helpful official told me where I would get the bus to Jayanagar, but to get there (walking fast) was quite a challenge. Finally I got there and found a red 27E (going to JP Nagar) and hopped on.

The BMTC is definitely not cheap – the journey set me back by 19 rupees (to put that in context, I had traveled there in the morning by auto rickshaw and paid Rs 86). It’s definitely been a long time since I’ve traveled by bus as I handed the conductor a ten rupee note and looked expectedly for change. I had to shell out another ten bucks.

I didn’t get a seat but found a comfortable place for myself to stand (right at the back of the bus). The concept of having the door in the middle of the bus rather than at the fag end is a good one – it allows you to go deep into the bus and find good places to stand. Also, you are looking ahead while standing and can look out for any shuffling in the seats which might potentially get empty!

What I noticed during my journey (which took 25 minutes which is not bad at all for that time of the day) is that each of these longish distance buses actually serve several small markets – if we can figure out a metric for how many times the passengers in the bus “churn”  (it’s not too hard, just feeling lazy right now) it might help us plan routes better in terms of multiple short routes rather than a few long routes (that can help cut down uncertainty in timings, etc.).

So the bus for example completely emptied itself out at the Shantinagar TTMC (which is a very good TTMC IMHO, since no buses terminate there), and then got refilled a couple of stops later in Wilson Garden. Earlier, there had been massive churn near Richmond Circle. And so on.

This is perhaps related to the cost but there seemed to be a very different demographic that populated the bus (based on looks – I’m being judgmental and all that, I know) compared to the type 15 years back. In terms of social strata the bus seemed much less diverse today than 15 years back, and it worked both ways. It seemed like most bus travellers today could be broadly defined as being lower middle class – I hardly saw any labourer types (might be a function of the route also) or too many upper middle class types in the bus. It is interesting how these things change!

Vegetable shopping – It’s not about percentages

Some habits are hard to change. One that is especially hard to change is bargaining for vegetables. I was trained well, I must say, in the bazaars of Jayanagar 4th Block Shopping Complex. I was taught that one needs to do a full round of the market before making any purchase, in order to understand the “market price”. I was taught  techniques that would make the shopkeepers give the goods for the price I offered, I was told what demographics to approach for what kind of vegetables, and over time I must say I became an excellent vegetable shopper, when sent to Jayanagar 4th Block that is.

Another thing that is hard to change is willingness to pay, and this is where I see some irrationality. For example, I’ve just returned from the fruit and vegetable shop close to my house, having refused to buy a cucumber because the shopkeeper asked for Rs. 10 for it, a 100% markup on the not-so-longterm average price of Rs. 5. And that is precisely the problem – looking at it as percentages.

We don’t usually consume too much cucumber. If I’d bought that cucumber it would’ve lasted about a week. So by refusing to pay the “100% premium” for it, I’ve essentially saved my family a maximum of five rupees over the course of a week (and this is in the best case – conditional on my being able to procure cucumber at the “normal rate” soon. Else the loss is larger). And given our not-so-inconsiderable weekly expenses, and the fact that our “discretionary spend” is an order of magnitude larger than the five rupees I’ve saved on the cucumber, this just doesn’t make sense.

The mistake we make here is to look at the percentage increase in weekly budget of the particular item, and base our decision on that. Instead, if we were to look at the increase in the “total weekly budget” (across all items), that could help us get a more realistic figure for our willingness to pay for certain things.

Of course, the big problem here is that even if my rational mind says this, there’s a behavioural issue in paying much more than the price we’ve been “anchored” to. I don’t know how we need to get over this.