It was exactly 11.12 am as the train chugged out of platform 5, Haarlem Central station. The public transport here is so unbelievable, each time it leaves me amazed. Of course, most times I have only used it to make a day trip to Amsterdam. However, yesterday was different, since I was going to visit Gopal at an off the mainstream location of Heemskerk.
This was the 6th day of my visit, having reached Haarlem on Thursday evening last week. I have been visiting Gopal every day except Saturday, of that another time. Heemskerk is 28 km from home and takes 30′ by car – a smooth, .easy ride through relatively quiet roads. But yesterday, there was no ride available and I did not want to miss a visit. Although the destination was in Heemskerk, I was told that it would be more convenient to take the train to Castricum – a bus was available from there. Looking up the train schedules was easy, and a train left Haarlem station at 12 and 42 mins past the hour direct to Hoorn via Castricum – a distance of 22 Km taking all of 22 minutes.
I was comfortable reaching Haarlem station, but finding the bus connection at the other end was more of a challenge. All the websites were only in Dutch and so I had to enlist help and there a number of glitches in websites. What I gathered was that the bus 167, from Castricum station ran only once an hour at 42 mins past the hour. So, working backwards, to catch the 11.42 bus, I needed to catch the 11.12 from Haarlem station and to do that I would need to catch the 140 at 10.46 from the bus stop near home. And that is what I did, with everything going dot on time, and after a short 10′ walk at the other end, I was with Gopal a little before noon. The return journey was equally smooth, the 167 at 14.36, the 14.56 train and back at Haarlem station at 15.15. I opted to walk back home from the station through the shopping street.
Now to discuss the cost of that ride. The return train ticket for the 22 km ride was Euro 9.5 or Rs 800+ at the current exchange rate. An equivalent ride, say HUDA city center to CP on the Delhi Metro, would cost far less than one Euro. And although recently, I have been travelling less and less by rail and am not fully familiar with the fares, on the great Indian Railways, one could probably travel more than 1000 Km by II class sleeper – and even more using my privilege of ‘senior citizen’ for that sum!
The 3 bus rides, a total of about 10 km, cost me about euro 7. I cannot be more accurate, as I paid by using a smart card from which fares were deducted. This card works across all buses and trams in the country, which makes it easy on the user. But it is not to say that all these are Government owned – the various private operators have negotiated to use common fares and one payment platform. It’s something we in India have done fairly well in the telecom sector – a new sector modelled on those existing across the world. But in other sectors, like transport, in the face of pre-existing, un-supervised growth, it is almost impossible to expect cohesion to fall in place!!
There is no doubt that without robust promotion and support of public transport, the future is bleak. In the first four decades of my own life, public transport was the default choice – buses to school and during college days in Delhi, in Chandigarh just walking or using Haryana roadway buses for trips to Delhi and other week end get always, in Mumbai travelling by bus to movies, concerts, shopping, trips to Andheri, Sion and colaba to visit friends and relatives, the sleeper class on the Indian Railways for holidays, visits to Bangalore…..in fact, my daughter took the BEST bus to school when she was as young as 8 or 9.
The 2 decades in Lucknow, which had no public transport to speak of, made me more dependent!! In the early days of the late 80s, a bus used to leave our campus around 8.30 pm – just the right timing to catch the Lucknow mail to Delhi. But even that stopped, and I don’t remember using any kind of shared/public transport after that. So, the habits changed, the entitlements changed, affordability changed, and I like everyone else has become the cab-flight-driver/ driven person. And now, Gurgaon is another story altogether…… As public transport unfriendly as you can get!! How I would love to have the freedom and independence of public transport for my daily activities – and I do not expect them to be at European standards either. But, I fear that it is not something I will see in my lifetime! Does that sound pessimistic? Well, I hope I am proved wrong.