Tag Archives: buses

Traveling in India: Transportation Travails

I think there are many great tales that often take place around transportation: planes, cars, trains, buses, elephants, camels, bikes, rickshaws, etc. Especially if you’re traveling (obviously) there are more tales than the everyday commute, but even living in one’s own city will afford you adventures.

India was probably the most diverse in terms of transportation and terror. I already wrote about flying in “Frightful Flights” but the rest was its own adventure. I never did ride an elephant and though I saw one being ridden it was definitely not the most common form of transportation in India. That would be feet, as most people are too poor to afford more.

I took a few buses from town to town. Many of these were Greyhound size buses and usually without incident But a few trips were driven by kamikaze drivers on winding hills through treacherous roadways. These buses tended to be more like school buses with a picture of one or several Hindu deities up from as well as bright color trims or other decoration. The bus could be one where everyone had a seat and was a mixture of tourists and locals, or one that was a reservation only, air-conditioned, elite tourist only bus. Reservations certainly didn’t guarantee the type of bus or a seat.

On one supposedly reserved bus it was jam-packed full of locals with live chickens and other produce. We knew that we’d paid extra for the privilege of riding locally. It was a bumpy, dusty and long ride and we were packed close enough to examine the weave of each other’s clothes. After someone managed to puke on the bus, the answer being to put paper over the acrid mess and continue onward, several of us opted to ride on the roof of the bus. The tourist luggage was up there anyways and this was a good way to keep an eye on our goods and get some fresh nonvomit-ridden air. Of course this is illegal and had we been stopped some baksheesh would have changed hands, probably from tourist hands to police hands.

As it was, it was a fun way to see the country, and not experience the claustrophobia of the overcrowded bus. I had a couple of bus rides in Nepal too but they were calmer and cleaner. Busing to the next town wasn’t that far but the seats were narrow and metal. Metal is fine in a warm climate but at 5’4″ I was nearly too tall to sit in the seats. I would have stood but I was hit so badly with dysentery I nearly fainted and had to sit, thanks to the Nepalese who noticed my state and motioned for me to sit. Three of them can fit on a bench but I could barely jam my knees down and they were pressed against the seat in front of me. I also took up the room of 1.5 Nepalis. And anyone taller than me had to stand because they just wouldn’t fit. Imagine a 6’2″ man standing next to a tiny Nepalese woman.

Perhaps the most terrifying ride of my life took place in a jeep. The Himalayan hill tribes in the state of Meghalaya tended to drive mostly jeeps, which makes a lot of sense when you see the winding, curving roads with nothing but the foothills of the Himalayas framing them (those foothills equal some of our mountain ranges). One day we went out to Cherapunjee with Hanocia’s brother driving us in the jeep. I had tried to the drive the jeeps there but with the handling of a jeep which is somehow different and tippier, and the right-hand steering, left-hand gear shifting, I just couldn’t get it to work. (Oddly in Ireland with the same type of driving but a car instead, I had no problem.)

So we drove up and took the day looking around. We were there in Oct./Nov. and the days get shorter sooner. We ended up driving back in full darkness. There is no light pollution from distant cities in the foothills of Meghalaya. And the roads are narrow hairpins. As we found common and strange in India, cars would drive with their lights off and only turn them on when they encountered another vehicle. Imagine how terrifying this is as we wind through a hairpin, get to the outside curve and then there is a truck barreling at us, and they both turn their lights on to blind each other.

Hanocia’s brother swore he had to do this to save his lights and that the battery was going. Usually driving regenerates the battery but needless to say we were nearly breathless with fright. After a few encounters with oncoming trucks on the narrow roads we insisted he turn the lights on or we were going to get out and walk. We were miles and miles from Shillong but a long walk in the dark was preferable to dying in the dark.

Since this post has gone long enough I’ll leave off the train rides for a another time, but I can say this: after all these years I still vividly remember the transportation and the tales attached with traveling in India.

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Hit and Run, and Gang Killings

A couple were killed walking home on Saturday, by an 18-year-old driver, possibly drinking and speeding, who then tried to run from the scene by leaping into False Creek. (False Creek is indeed false and only a puddle really.) The police dogs tracked him down.

And on the news they talk about how that 18-25 year range of male drivers tend to have the highest accident rate because they take bigger risks. That poor couple don’t get another chance. Their lives are stopped short and early. The driver will. A speaker today said that BC has some of the toughest driving measures for getting a license and it has dropped deaths caused by young drivers by 20%. The accidents have cost the province $1.6 billion dollars.

So here’s one suggestion to get young people from driving like crazy maniacs while drinking. Make public transport more accessible. This is one of my pet peeves. Take some of that $1.6 billion and run the SkyTrain later than 12:30 am on weekends especially. Make it reliable and frequent. Run other buses that will take people from the bars. Taxis are too expensive for almost everyone so TransLink and ICBC and the city should get together and figure out that alternative ways of getting home after being at the bar will save lives and dollars. Make it part of the infrastructure.

For that couple and all the people killed by cars every week, it doesn’t make much difference. Such a waste, because someone wants to speed and show off and be tough or sexy or whatever power they think driving fast imbues. But we can also blame car manufacturers that put out numerous ads equating speed with sex and cool. Zoom zoom zoom. Just look at a billboard or an ad on TV and you know what I’m talking. Since Canada successfully sued the tobacco industry for health costs with cancer, maybe it’s time to sue the car companies for encouraging unsafe driving.

The other half of people dying this week in Greater Vancouver is the six shootings in seven days of various organized crime/gangster members. Brazen shootings in broad daylight in malls. So far, no one innocent (as in, not involved in these gangs) has been hit but that doesn’t negate last year’s rampage of gang shootings where several innocent men were murdered for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I cannot imagine the horror of what they had to endure in those last moments. And of course their families and loved ones will pay the price forever of organized crime.

The only good thing about the shootings it that they’re eliminating themselves but there will always be other scum that rises to the top, the shooter that lives. If I had my way I’d punt them all to the moon without spacesuits. But I don’t, and the police aren’t having as much luck tracking them down.

I’ve said it before; I hate this type of growing up that Vancouver has had to face. Sure, every city has murders but we could still count them under 100. They were crimes of violence and passion but still few and very rare. The gangland shootings are almost doubling our numbers and innocent people are getting hurt. Shootings in malls? I’d like us to go back to the little granola city where the pace is slow and we have more restaurants than days in the year.

I’ll happily sign any petition that gets rid of these guys. It’s never good news if organized crime is involved. Police are asking people to deny service to known gang members. Not a bad idea. Like days of old, a tribe would ostracize a member who committed a terrible crime, ignoring them like they didn’t exist. These outcasts usually moved on or died of loneliness.

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Weather and Commonality

My neighbor's Victorian painted colors are the only ones that show up in snow on snow.

My neighbor's Victorian painted colors are the only ones that show up in snow on snow.

It is alas, snowing again in Vancouver. I’m supposed to go to a friend’s for Boxing Day but may very well not make it out.

What I have noticed over this last week of weather, snowy, slushy, slippery, trudging weather, is that people have opened up. Where normally we walk down the streets minding our own business, not making eye contact or glancing briefly and away, that has changed.

I’ve passed people shovelling and shovelling and shovelling their walks. A few of us have popped out with our cameras to take pictures of the record breaking views. I’ve followed behind people stepping into foot-deep slush and water puddles, squeaking and shrieking as we slip and the wet seeps through our boots to later freeze our feet.

We’re clumsy, we’re beleaguered by snow and stuck cars, we laugh at our silliness, because we can’t curse and grumble the whole time. People have looked at each other and smiled in commiseration. In the long pre-Christmas holiday line-up I started talking with the woman behind me about how we both almost got rid of our old boots this year. And she said she was originally from New York but wants to get her maple leaf in Newfoundland (when she applies for citizenship). I was wearing my cat hat (with ears) because it’s the warmest I have. Another woman commented on that and how it seemed to suit me.

Me in cat hat on my very snow street.

Me in cat hat on my very snowy street.

In our conversation about weather the second woman said she worked for the government and they’re staging all sorts of disaster scenarios to prepare for the 2010 Olympics. We were making comments about how bad it’s gone at the airport this year. On Dec. 24th Air Canada cancelled all of its short and medium haul flights (my friends going on West Jet were luckier), and Greyhound cancelled all buses in and out of the Lower Mainland due to road conditions.

We thank the bus drivers for stopping over the three-foot banks of snow in front of the bus stops and smile at the people shovelling to ease our way. One thing the adverse weather is doing is making people much more friendly. We have a certain commonality in weather and in dealing with it. Even Christmas does not have that commonality because we come from different backgrounds and beliefs, have had good or bad Christmases.

But snow and more snow and dealing with it in a city where we don’ t normally have to, has given all of us something we can talk about, safely and freely. If it wasn’t for all the other unsavory aspects of bad weather I’d almost welcome it for the aspects of bringing out camaraderie in everyone. I have actually really liked this side effect of weather.

Photos are courtesy of my neighbor Rob.

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On the High Horse: Greater Vancouver’s Attitude Toward Transportation

Transportation has always been an issue, but as gas prices bloat and government brings in carbon taxes, toll bridges (the Port Mann bridge is scheduled to have a toll booth, which will slow down the traffic even more) and other measures, all under the guise of being green, it means that people will want to seek alternative means.

Over the years, yes, people have relied more and more on their cars. When I was a child I would walk the ten-twenty blocks to school. These days everyone drives their kids. That’s partly because of the greater fear of predators, not to mention traffic has become exceedingly congested and inconsiderate, making it unsafe for younger children.

Housing prices have become exorbitant so people have to buy farther and farther out and then commute to work. If you live east of Vancouver you have the choice of taking buses; not a time efficient mode. There is the West Coast Express or a combination of SkyTrain and buses. The first is prohibitively expensive for many. But let’s look at using buses and SkyTrain. The farther out you live, the more you pay for a bus ride as the GVRD (now changing their name to Metro Vancouver)/Coast Mountain Bus  have conjointly allowed for the area to be split into zones. Which means you are punished for living farther from the downtown core.

Many people, including me, have opted to continue driving as it was cheaper for gas than a bus pass and more time efficient. Mexico City, with a population of plus 25 million keeps their trains cheap or the city would freeze from gridlock and completely decay from the pollution, which is already extremely bad. Cities like New York have an efficient subway system that runs frequently to all the boroughs and is comparably priced.

Efficiency means reliable. The bus/train system here has suffered from numerous breakdowns, especially in the winter. The stations are filthy and have a high criminal element lurking about. There has been a recent change to the stations with brighter lighting being put in and more security around the platforms. However, the level of filth (dirt, spit, gum, spills) on some of the platforms is still fairly high.

As well, people have been stranded when an overfull bus passes them by and there is no later one running. “Reliable transportation” would include buses running frequently and on time. Somehow the city decided it was a good idea to let downtown clubs and bars be open till 4:00 am if they wanted, but Coast Mountain closes down the SkyTrain just after midnight and the buses become infrequent or stop running to some areas far before most bars close. Incidences of weekend car thefts go up because somebody has come to town to party and find they can’t get home. I’d love to know who was the brainiac that thought that part out.

Taxis are likewise impossible to find on a weekend and would be too expensive to most other cities. Sure you can ride a bike, if you trust the drivers. I don’t, and that’s a story for another day. The public is held by the short and curlies. The GVRD, Coast Mountain and the BC government continue to tax everyone, raise prices of local transportation and add more tolls. They want to encourage us to use less fuel, mostly to garner votes in the “green” category. But where are the viable alternatives? Not enough public transportation that is affordable, reliable, safe and timely leaves people with spending more for not better.

Stress levels will increase, pollution won’t lessen because the green alternatives are missing. In the long run, this is the GVRD’s and the government’s ways of having more money coming in without putting effort in to true alternatives.

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